Last week’s episode of This Is Us finally revealed how Jack died. Speculation had been rife for months, but nobody predicted a faulty crock-pot handed down from a kindly neighbour as the perpetrator. It’s this kind of surprise twist that This Is Us executes so wonderfully and keeps us hooked.
The knowledge that Jack was going to die didn’t make this traumatic episode less emotional to watch. Show creator, Dan Fogelman defined it as the “saddest episode”, and whilst we’d argue that the less dramatic demise of William came pretty close, it was Mandy Moore’s stunning performance as Rebecca that got to us most.
Jack’s death is a pivotal moment for his family. Fogelman described it as the hinge upon which the characters’ lives swing and this is never more evident than in this episode where we witness the family dealing with their loss on that fateful day and 20 years later.
Our pick of the Pearsons’ performances
Jack: In recent episodes, Jack’s been flawed, struggling with his alcoholism. But here, he’s pure superhero from the get-go. He discovers the fire and takes control, issuing orders to Rebecca, Kate and Randall. He rescues his loved ones with the aid of nothing but bedding - a mattress to protect his Katie-girl, blankets to shield them and sheets to lower them from the first storey to the ground. In hindsight, his final act of valour was a step too far, but by heading back into the fire to retrieve the ‘important stuff’ (the family dog, photo albums, videos and the like), he proved that family is everything to him.
Rebecca: At the hospital with Jack, Rebecca takes control. Under the belief that Jack’s only suffering from a burn, she leaves his side to organise essentials for the family. Whilst she makes calls cheerily, the medics try unsuccessfully to revive Jack when his heart stops. It’s whilst she’s carefully choosing a chocolate bar that the doctor delivers the life-changing news. Nonchalant, she bites into the chocolate not believing what she’s being told. Later, she admits that action haunts her. The subsequent scenes veer between her sobbing violently and staying resolutely strong for her kids. It is pure Rebecca, and an outstanding performance by Mandy Moore.
Kate: In the present day, Kate is wallowing in nostalgia, watching the video of her and Jack that he rescued from the fire. When the tape gets chewed up by the video recorder, she freaks out and the stoic Toby steps in. He gets the tape fixed and backed up to the cloud. This simple, loving gesture confirms to Kate that Toby is her saviour. It dawns on her that it’s not just Jack who “never gave up on her.” Jack may have been her original superhero, but Toby looks like the cape fits him too.
Kevin: A reflective Kevin heads to his father’s tree for a ‘chat’ with him. Having issued apologies to everyone else, he has one for Jack. He says sorry for not being there on the night of the fire and for his awful last words to his father. He promises to do better and make Jack proud. Before it gets too schmaltzy, the rhythm changes and he checks in on his mum. It’s then that he admits that he may not even be at the right tree - and it’s this silly confession that delivers the much-needed belly-laughs and brings light from shade.
Randall: The ‘hot dad’ pulls out all the stops to make Superbowl Sunday fun and memorable. He channels Jack and his enthusiasm for the day claiming that whilst his siblings wallow, he celebrates. Randall’s mask slips when he delivers an overpowering eulogy for Mr McGiggles the newt. But it’s his beautiful conversation with his daughter, Tess, that pulls at the heartstrings. He allays her fears that her dad wants a new life, reassuring her that she will always be his number one.
Tess is also the one that provides another surprise twist to the This Is Us tale. We’re used to seeing episodic flashes back to when the Pearson kids were young, but this episode brings in a new kind of timehop - looking ahead to when Tess is an adult. Is this a sign of things to come? With another time dimension to explore, we can rest assured that This Is Us has many more stories to tell, with or without Jack.
This Is Us continues 8.30 Wednesdays on TEN and tenplay