Well, the moment that This Is Us fans both wanted and didn’t want finally happened. During the special Super Bowl Sunday episode, viewers finally learned how the Pearson patriarch fell – cardiac arrest due to smoke inhalation. Almost all of the fan theories came to be, but in the end, Jack went back into the house, after heroically getting his entire family out, to save Louie and gather some of their most precious possessions. He makes it out of the fire with some second-degree burns and a looming cough with all signs pointing to “we made it.” The kids were dropped off at Miguel’s while Rebecca and Jack go to get some routine checks done at the hospital, but while she is on the phone saying that the two of them will be home soon, Jack suffers a heart attack due to the strain of the smoke on his lungs and dies.
When Rebecca hears the news she’s in disbelief and goes to tell Jack just what the audacious doctor had the nerve to say to her, only to see his lifeless body in the room where she was just speaking to him moments before.
First off, I had to lay as still as I could because poor Mandy Moore, she did not know that I was going to be laying there [in the hospital bed], Milo Ventimiglia told EW. She didn’t know that I was going to be there. I think she thought she was walking into a blank room, and walking in on me, not knowing that the shot was also picking up my reflection, dead-still. So that was — it was a moment. And I can hear her; I’m laying there and I can hear Mandy breaking down and just crumbling, take after take after take. I wanted to give her the space and lay there, still, not moving. We even filmed bits where she would walk up to me, and I’m just laying there staring at a point on the wall, barely breathing, but having to feel her over me or near me — just losing Jack.
It was a devastating scene that Mandy Moore acted beautifully. Jack’s sudden and unexpected was incredibly hard to wrap your head around, but that was Fogelman’s plan all along. He didn’t want the viewers to catch on to the fact that Jack was suffering.
But then the other hardest [part] was just making sure that I wasn’t in the performance giving any indication that these are the last moments that the kids are going to see their father or Rebecca is going to see Jack. Everything had to be played in a way that was, “We think Jack’s okay — he’s okay.” Glenn Ficarra and John Requa [the TIU executive producers who directed this episode] even said, “Mi, we know that the intake of smoke is what ultimately kills Jack, but we don’t want to tip that off. We want to have you not cough, we want to have you not do anything, but we have to show some kind of discomfort.”
So among the three of us, we put in there me clearing my throat a lot, or just being a little more still and focused and almost just distant from what was happening, but still trying to hold that little thread of nostalgic Jack in there. I know a lot of clearing the throat and coughing didn’t get used because Dan really didn’t want to tip off that there was something really wrong with his lungs that was sending his heart into cardiac arrest, but the real-life statistics of smoke inhalation is horrible. A house fire like that — if you’re in that kind of smoke for five seconds and you take two full, deep breaths in, you’re done. You’re just done.
So, after Jack and Rebecca share their final conversation, one in which he ends with a joke, it makes you wonder if Jack knew that something wasn’t right.
He could probably sit there and have his wife in the room and all of that, but I deep-down think maybe he knew and he didn’t want her to have to see that or be around for that — I don’t know the real answer behind that, but I do feel like Jack knew something was wrong.
While Jack’s death was always a given, the “how?” remained the bigger force for the most part of two seasons. When the house fire was revealed in the Season 2 opener, it opened the gateway to the assumption that Jack would perish amongst the flames saving his family. However, that wasn’t actually the case. Jack does make it out of the fire, which leads to his jarring demise in the hospital. So, what was Milo’s reaction to the twist?
I mean, it was nothing but applause for Dan Fogelman. He is never one to give us an obvious answer, but he’s also never one to make it so complicated that we can’t understand it or process it or accept it. His creation of these moments is so beautiful — they’re perfect. They really are perfect. It’s hard to say someone had a perfect death, but it really felt like a moment that was real, that you don’t see, that doesn’t carry this, “Yeah, okay, but…” I mean, his wife was eating a candy bar when she heard. Who does that as a writer? Dan Fogelman does —and it’s heartbreaking and beautiful and it’s unique.
One of the biggest takeaways from Jack’s death, and the series, in general, is much like the Painting of Life Kevin explains in the first season, we know that yes, Jack is dead but he’s still in the painting and he’s still impacting people’s lives. So, even though we’ve seen Jack die, it’s really only just the beginning of his story.
This is episode 14, so that’s only the 32nd hour we’ve ever known this family. So now, if Jack died in 1998, when the kids are 17, there’s still a lot to know — different sides of him, what made him, what shaped him, what inspired his romance with his wife, what happened with he and his brother in war…. That we’ve invested as much as we have as an audience in 32 hours is pretty remarkable. There’s a lot of life left in him — even in death, there’s a lot of life left in Jack.
It was a difficult episode to watch, but it was certainly one that needed to happen sooner rather than later. The reveal of Jack’s death has now opened up so many doors for the characters and so many potential stories and flashbacks, and the fact that Jack died when his entire family was sure he was going to live only adds more depth to the surviving Pearson’s.
Be sure to catch the third and final episode of Jack’s death reveal this Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. EST.
Having studied Media & Writing at James Madison University, I always knew that I wanted to do some type of creative writing, but being able to write about zombies, Starks, and superheroes on a daily basis for Fan Fest is my actual dream. While I probably shouldn’t be as proud as I am to be so similar to Nick Miller, I do hope to one day write my own “Pepperwood Chronicles’.