At approximately 10:45 p.m. EST on Sunday the 2018 Super Bowl officially became the Super Bawl as This Is Us premiered its biggest episode yet – the episode that revealed how the Pearson patriarch we have all grown to love died. While many thought that he would fall victim to the roaring flames of the house fire, Jack’s death was something much more devastating. It was real and it was ordinary and at the end of the day, that’s what This Is Us aspires to be, a show about the things that happen in our every day lives. Death happens. Heroic deaths happen and unexpected deaths happen, and Jack Pearson had both. He died the way that he lived, protecting and supporting his family and even though he didn’t go out in a blaze of glory, Jack Pearson was a superhero and an extraordinary man.
Much like last week, I’m not doing the typical “Top 5 Moments” format so that we can really dive in and discuss everything that happened during this remarkable hour of television.
The episode picks up almost immediately where the last one left off. When a loud bang wakes Jack up he notices smoke coming through the crack of the bedroom door. When he opens it, he’s met with a raging fire making its way up their stairs. Jack doesn’t panic, he remains eerily calm and alerts Rebecca that the house is on fire. His first instinct is to go get Kevin, but Rebecca thankfully tells him that Kevin isn’t home.
It was a poignant moment for us as viewers to see that Jack’s very first instinct was to go and rescue Kevin, who would have been trapped in the basement with a cast on. We know that Kevin always felt like an afterthought when it came to his family, so it was touching to see him be Jack’s immediate thought. Jack is able to get to Randall’s room and back to the master relatively quickly, but it’s Kate, whose bedroom is on the other side of the staircase, that’s more of a challenge.
Hannah Zeile’s performance as Kate in this scene is probably the most accurate to how a lot of us would react to a house fire. Randall, Rebecca, and Jack all appear relatively calm whereas Kate is legit terrified and doesn’t want to leave her room. Jack is able to get to Kate, but by the time they go to leave, the path he took is already being engulfed in flames. So, he takes Kate’s mattress (which I thought he was going to use as a cushion for them to jump off the roof) and uses it as a shield to get them back to the master bedroom. On the way, you see Jack’s hand hitting the flame and begin to burn, but nothing will stop Jack Pearson from getting his family to safety.
Once they make their way onto the roof, everyone is lowered safely onto the ground and right as Jack is about to go, what do we hear? Louie barking from inside, of course, cementing the number 1 theory as to how Jack will die. Kate screams in despair for Louie to come out but when he doesn’t Jack makes the call to go back inside. The three of them stand out in the yard yelling for Jack and watch in horror as the bedroom he just went into goes up in flames, blocking off the only exit he had.
Rebecca tries to run back into the house but Randall stops her. As they all stand sobbing on the lawn the dog barks and out walks Jack freaking Pearson, Occupation: Superhero. Not only does he have Louie, but he is also carrying a pillowcase full of the families most prized possessions including the tape of Kate signing. So, while Kate screamed for the dog and Jack chose to go back in, he also made the decision to go around the house, spending extra time in the smoke, and gather their memories. Kate’s guilt isn’t misplaced, but she surely isn’t the reason that Jack died.
All of the Pearson’s breathe a sigh of relief – they’re in the clear, but we know that the worst is yet to come. While it was surprising for many to see that Jack actually does make it out of the fire, the moment only became more heartbreaking because that joy on Rebecca, Randall, and Kate’s faces, the joy that they all somehow made it out of this horrific event unscathed, will be short-lived.
The ambulance paramedic wants Jack to go to the hospital to have his burns treated and some tests run due to the amount of smoke that he inhaled. He and Rebecca take the kids to Miguel then go to the hospital where Jack receives a relatively optimistic diagnosis from the doctor who only wants to run a couple more tests before sending the pair home.
Rebecca and Jack get to talking about what they’ve gone through and joke about who should have gotten the fire alarm batteries, but something seems a little bit off about Jack in his and Rebecca’s final moments. It’s almost like he knows something isn’t right. When she says she’s going to make some hotel reservations and get a snack, there’s a pit in your stomach because you also know that this is most likely their last conversation.
As Rebecca is on the phone telling Miguel that she and Jack would be heading back to his place soon, there’s commotion in the background. Doctors are running into Jack’s room, but since her back is to them Rebecca doesn’t notice.
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She makes her way over to the vending machine and as she’s picking out something she hears Jack say “Becs?” I’ve heard that people have often felt a shift or a change when their loved ones pass on, and I got chills that at this moment, the moment when Jack is most likely passing, Rebecca heard him call her name – she even turns around.
Almost immediately after this, the doctor approaches Rebecca and what begins is by far Mandy Moore’s career-defining scene. He tells her that Jack suffered cardiac arrest as a result of the smoke inhalation. It was catastrophic and he died. The first thing she does is just take a bite of her candy bar, completely out of the moment in shock. She doesn’t even process it and assumes that the doctor has her confused with someone else.
She goes back to Jack’s room to tell him about the audacious doctor and the absurd thing that he just tried to tell her, only to be met with Jack’s lifeless body on the hospital bed. We don’t actually see him, but we see his reflection in the glass window, and as jarring and real as it is for us, it’s completely devastating to watch Rebecca finally realize her reality. Her husband, who she was just joking around with moments ago, is gone and she wasn’t there.
We see brief glimpses of Jack including the moment he first saw Rebecca, the moment he told her he was going to be a 12, and when he was Pilgrim Rick. Give Mandy Moore every Emmy that exists, please.
It’s hard to wrap your brain around the way that Jack died. In our eyes, someone so perfect and heroic deserved more and on any other television show we may have gotten that, but like I said earlier, This Is Us has always grounded itself in the real moments. Jack Pearson had the biggest heart of anyone we knew, he loved unconditionally and with no bounds, so the fact that he died from a heart attack after saving everyone he loved and the things that they loved is almost tragically poetic.
We’ve become so accustomed to death on TV being a huge moment or through a character’s sacrifice, but so often death doesn’t give you hints or warn you when it’s about to happen – it’s sudden and it can be unexpected and that’s exactly what This Is Us accomplished here. It hurt, it hurt really bad, but we knew that there were layers of grief the Pearson’s had that we hadn’t even begun to peel back, and now we know what that is – they all thought he was fine, that he was coming home.
The one thing that hurts the most is that he died alone. It makes this line that Randall spoke to William last season all too real.
At the same time though, I think that Jack wanted it that way. I don’t think he wanted Rebecca to be in the room when it happened, he wouldn’t want to burden her with the sight of it or the thought that she could have done something more.
Rebecca returns home to Miguel’s, who is the first person she has to say the actual words out loud to. I continue to say that Miguel has grown to become one of my favorite characters. He’s so dynamic in both of the timelines and just has such a good heart. The moment when he finds out that his best friend died is truly heartbreaking. He’s been with Jack through the decades, he has watched him become an amazing father and husband, he’s helped him battle his demons. So, when he hears the news he’s bewildered, his voice cracks and no matter how strong he may want to appear he can’t hide his devastation. Rebecca knows this so she tells him that they can’t grieve or mourn right now. She needs to go in the house and tell the kids what happened and “ruin the rest of their lives.” If Miguel can’t do that then he needs to take a walk around the block.
After Rebecca goes inside all of the things from the season premiere fall into place. We see Randall with his girlfriend and the photo album that Jack saved and Kate crying into Louie telling Randall they have to find Kevin. It’s sad to watch Rebecca tell the kids the horrible event that just happened that will alter their lives forever, but I wish that we were able to hear it. It happens again later in the episode when Kate finds Kevin. We don’t get to hear her tell him the news, which I would have liked to have seen Kevin’s immediate reaction.
Rebecca steps out later and then drives by the house where she lets out that guttural scream. She reaches into the pillowcase of stuff and sees that Jack saved her Moonshadow necklace, which explains why she has never taken it off.
In the present day, the Pearson’s are commemorating the 20th anniversary of their dad’s death in different ways, or as Randall likes to put it: Kevin avoids, Kate wallows and he celebrates.
Kate likes to spend the day watching and rewatching the videotape that Jack saved in the fire – the one of him filming her audition song when she was younger. She’s going extra hard on the 20th anniversary though and the tape almost gets destroyed in the VCR. Now, since he’s Toby and always has an answer, he actually has a guy that can help. Toby’s guy is able to save the day and the tape and also gets it uploaded on to Kate’s cloud.
She finally begins to open up to him a bit and tells a story about this leaky window that she used to have in her room growing up. Every time it would rain the window would leak and Jack would always come in and fix it. He was always so patient and so sturdy and she thought that none of them would ever be the same after his death, especially her.
She was always crying and always sad after he died, essentially Kate became the leaky window. That is until Toby came into her life and showed her that same patience and unwavering love, and slowly she began to heal and feel again.
Kevin and Rebecca
Kevin is the only one who is somewhat spending the day with family. Rebecca tells him that Miguel tends to give her space on Super Bowl Sunday while she makes Jack’s favorite lasagna and watches the game while waiting for him to send her an annual belly laugh. You see, the first year after he died, Rebecca turned on the radio in the car and “You Can Call Me Al” was playing. When she changed stations it was playing on the second one. Every year after that Jack always sent her a laugh on the day of his death. When she invites Kevin to join her, he decides to stick with tradition and avoid it altogether.
However, years of avoidance are bound to catch up with him because before he knows it he’s at the tree where they scattered some of Jack’s ashes. Jack is still the only one on his list that Kevin never made peace with, but this year more than ever he needs Jack in his life so he sits down and begins to open up about the terrible year that he’s had. It’s another home run scene for Justin Hartley who continues to be the most underrated actor on this show. Just this season alone he’s had the scene where he hurts his knee, the scene on the football field, and the scene in front of Charlotte’s house – all heartbreaking.
He’s almost certain that Jack would be disappointed in him if he was alive, but he promises that he’s going to make things right even if it takes 20 more years to do so. It’s a very poignant scene and a good step forward for his character who has just had so much building up over the last season. I really hope that Hartley gets some award love this year because man, does he deserve it.
He then calls Rebecca to check in and see how she’s doing. He fills her in on what he’s been up to and tells her just how good it felt to finally talk to Jack, although he’s not even sure if he’s at the right tree. This sends Rebecca into laughter and it dawns on her that Jack sent Kevin as her laugh this year. He’s always been the prodigal son of the Pearson family and he’s finally come home.
It’s been really sweet watching the Kevin and Rebecca scenes these past few weeks. They’ve already come so far and I feel like there’s still so much more for them to unpack.
That leaves Randall, the Pearson optimist, and bright light. He celebrates Jack on Super Bowl Sunday and this year he’s throwing a party for his girls who really only care about Justin Timberlake. Things start to go a little downhill though when Beth steps on Annie’s new lizard Mr. McGiggles, forcing Randall to eulogize him and confront the suppressed feelings he’s had about Jack. He tells the room full of people just how painful it is to lose someone so suddenly and how you never know when the last time you see someone is going to be The Last Time.
While things are fine on the Mr. McGiggles front, things seem a little off with Tess who leaves the room after her dad’s speech. Assuming he’s done something to upset her he goes up to apologize but comes to find out that things go much deeper. She tells him that he went to find his new dad and he started fostering and it feels like he wants a whole new life. Being just like his father, he looks at his little girl and promises her that no matter what she will always be his number one and that one day when he finally lets her leave the house he will still be having dinner with her once a week at her fancy new office. He does ask if she has a problem with them fostering though, but she says that she doesn’t – she thinks it’s cool actually.
At the same time, Beth gets a call and you think that it’s the social worker telling them they will be fostering that adorable little boy we saw earlier this season, but that’s not the case at all. It turns out that cute little Jordan has found a foster family but when they walk through the door it’s not Beth and Randall. Meanwhile, Beth opens the front door at it’s Deja!
The woman who helped Jordan find a new foster family is watching them, beaming with pride as her dad walks in to take her to dinner. Who is it? Old Randall!! The social worker is Tess and we are officially in the future, people!
This Is…The Rest.
A few comments on the Tess/Future reveal:
- How brilliant is the This Is Us casting? Adult Tess is the literal spitting image of young Tess, I’m ashamed I didn’t pick this twist up earlier in the season.
- Also, Tess growing up just goes to show one of the amazing things about This Is Us and how it all ties back to Kevin’s “Painting of Life” It all comes back to how even a man, a father, who has been gone for two decades, can still influence his family for many generations. Jack was the one who wanted to adopt Randall, which prompted Randall to become incredibly passionate about it, who influenced his own daughter to pursue a career in it. Tess never met Jack, but she is living his truth and his spirit every day.
- I really don’t want to get too much into the future too soon, but I think that it is super cool they’re going there eventually. I think it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that now that Jack’s death has been revealed, a new mystery could appear in the future timelines. Hopefully, we see all Big Three in the future or we are going to have a problem!
On the Super Bowl:
Okay, This Is Us had actual footage from the game playing on the TVs in the show – that is just incredible and goes to show just how hard they work to make the series as authentic and real as possible. Every detail matters.
Be sure to check out the after show below!
This Is Us returns tonight with an all-new tearjerking episode as we follow the Pearson’s on their way to Jack’s funeral and their life as told by the family Jeep.
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’.