We Knew It Was Coming, So Why’d It Hurt So Much?
For almost a year, the millions of people who have avidly been following This is Us — I include myself in the number — have been dealing with one big question. How did Jack die? People were pissed when the first season ended, and the reveal never came, and for the last six months, the writers have been very carefully parsing out details. We knew that there would be a fire that burnt down the Pearson family home. For the last month, we have been getting clues as to how the fire started. First, they forgot to buy batteries for the smoke detector. Then, two weeks ago, we actually saw the fire start — in a way that will no doubt have Crock Pot manufacturers making apologies for the rest of their lives.
But the final reveal came yesterday immediately after the Super Bowl. And to the very last, it seemed like This is Us was going to continue to defy expectations. We saw the fire blaze. We saw Jack, Backdraft like dodge flames to save Kate and Randall. We then saw him jump back into the house to rescue the family dog with a very long pause that made us think, oh no — and then emerge carrying it and a few family mementos.
Jack and Rebecca went to the hospital, and the family patriarch seemed remarkably fine, just smoke inhalation and a few burns. He was even well enough to make jokes about the smoke detector. Rebecca left to call for a hotel reservation, and then the series played its final card. While in the background, we could see doctors running off-screen, our focus was on Rebecca as she called for a reservation, and checked in on Kate and Randall,. She then went to get a candy bar from a vending machine — and the same doctor who moments ago had told her Jack was fine, now told her that her husband had suffered a massive cardiac event and had died. The next moments were all about Mandy Moore as she took a bite out of her chocolate bar, floated in denial, and then exploded in grief.
I can’t think of any other series that would build itself around a single defining moment for two years — and then not actually show us when it happened. As we now know, everything about This is Us only measures the past as it affects the present. So now we saw how they handle the anniversary of Jack’s death in how they deal with the Super Bowl. (One could be a true nitpicker and say that’s not the real anniversary, because the Super Bowl always happens on a different Sunday, but that’s a level of heartlessness I don’t want to engage in.) Rebecca deals with it by making Jack’s favorite lasagna and waits for her husband to ‘send her a laugh’. Kate watches a video of her father recording her sing. Kevin usually gets drunk and bangs a model, but considering he just got out of rehab that ain’t gonna happen. And Randall overcompensates by throwing a Superbowl children for his daughter’s friends, who really aren’t the games target audience.
Naturally, nothing goes according to plan. Kate’s viewing of the videotape ended in possible disaster when the tape exploded. Randall’s celebration dissolved very quickly when he stepped on his child’s pet lizard, and kind of collapsed eulogizing it. Kevin spent much of the day trying not to drink. But because the series has spent the last year showing how much the Big Three have grown, we saw how much they’ve changed. Toby got the video uploaded to a cloud, and Kate realized just how much she owes to her fiancee. Randall went to see his daughter afterwards, who had been struggling, and told her in no uncertain terms how much he loved her. Kevin, who has struggled the most this season, went to the tree where his father had been memorialized, and gave a very impassioned speech in which he apologized for not being the man Jack was, and that he would make it better, ‘even if it takes me another couple of decades.” And for the first time, we got a glimpse at the future. For the last few episodes, we’ve been seeing a boy that looked like it was going to be Randall and Beth’s next foster child. Turned out this was the series first flashforward, and that the social worker was Megan. The episode ended with the return of Deja.
Most episodes that follow the Super Bowl are usually huge disappointments. This is Us’ ‘Super Bowl Sunday’ may have been the most powerful one, and engaging one since The X-Files aired its episode of Leonard Betts. (Check my blog.) This is Us has spent the last month picking up award after award. It would not shock me if this is the episode that every cast member submits for Emmys this spring as Moore, Sterling Brown, Crissy Metz, and particularly Justin Hartley, were all magnificent in it.
Some might wonder where does This is Us go from here, now that the elephant has been revealed. But so much of this series has been about every corner of the Pearson’s lives that I think that there might be an endless amount of material to mine. And given what we saw in ‘SuperBowl’, maybe the future might have some great moments. This is Us: The Next Generation — there’s a spinoff I’d actually look forward to.
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