Most of us didn’t sign up for a whodunit when we began watching NBC’s “This Is Us,” but it’s basically turned into one. The big, gaping plot hole that the show builds around is just how perfect-specimen-of-a-dad Jack Pearson met his maker.
Plenty of details have been revealed so far, but the entire picture won’t be complete until Sunday’s episode, which directly follows the Super Bowl.
“It’s just an absolute soul-crushing event,” Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack, has said about Jack’s death. And the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman, called the next installment a “very, very heavy episode.”
We do know a few things (spoilers ahead!). The mostly aired recent episode, “That’ll Be The Day,” reveals that a faulty slow cooker sparked a major house fire. And Fogelman said that for the first five to 10 minutes of the upcoming episode, “we spent a fortune, we went into the middle of nowhere so nobody would see us, and we built our house. We brought in the people who had done ‘Backdraft,’ and for you, as an audience member, it’s very hard to breathe. It’s extraordinary … It’s fair to say that he goes out like he lived.”
To prepare for the final reveal on Sunday, let’s review what we’ve learned so far about Jack’s end, an event that is so traumatic for the Pearson clan that they can barely talk about it, 20 years later.
Season 1, Episode 5: “The Game Plan”
Can you even remember a time before you realized Jack wasn’t still alive? Well, this major plot point wasn’t revealed until five episodes in, when Kate tells Toby that she likes to watch the Steelers games at home alone with her dad. Her dad, in this case, being the urn of his ashes she keeps on her mantle.
Season 1, Episode 6: “Career Days”
Kevin inadvertently crashes a memorial service, and ends up talking with the man’s widow about her 15-year-old son. During the conversation, he reveals he used to build model planes and boats with Jack — “I used to pick the most complex ones,” Kevin explains, “because they took the longest. I was one of three kids so you really had to strategize to get your alone time with dad.”
While the pair eventually had a fleet of models, Kevin threw them all away after Jack died. “I threw every one of them away, and I don’t know why I did that,” Kevin says. When asked how old he was, he simply responds, “It was a long time ago.”
Kevin points to his necklace as belonging to Jack’s. “It’s the only thing I have left of him.” It’s a detail that maybe didn’t fully register with viewers this early in the series, but it became clearer in Season 2.
Season 1, Episode 13: “Three Sentences”
This is the first time we get a sense of when Jack died. This episode ends with scenes from Jack’s funeral, including Rebecca and her kids mourning. Kate, Kevin and Randall are clearly teenagers.
Season 1, Episode 17: “What Now?”
“You remember when I told you I couldn’t talk about my dad’s death?” Kate tells Toby. “Well, that’s because it’s my fault . . . I’m the reason that he’s dead.”
When she says these words, the flashback cuts to Jack thanking Kate for encouraging him to surprise Rebecca at an out-of-town gig. We’re sort of led to believe that maybe something horrible happens on this trip. But we later discover that isn’t the case, so Kate’s feelings of guilt remain a mystery to viewers.
Season 2, Episode 1: “A Father’s Advice”
Okay. This is the big one when we see the immediate aftermath of Jack’s death.
Rebecca is driving while wearing a Steelers jersey (the team, if you remember, are pretty important in Jack and Rebecca’s relationship). The passenger seat holds a plastic bag with a few things presumably belonging to Jack: a watch, a set of keys, an American flag key chain, a wedding ring and a notebook. The items all seem unscathed and undamaged.
The kids, meanwhile, are at Miguel’s house. Kate cries into her dog, and Randall weeps while holding the hand of a redheaded girl. Miguel, teary-eyed, shows up with linens and says he’s going to find pillows.
“We have to find Kev,” a crying Kate tells Randall. “He needs to hear it from me.” Kevin, meanwhile, is shown in his letterman jacket, with a cast and on crutches, kissing a girl (Sophie, the love of his life, right?).
Then we cut back to Rebecca pulling over to the side of a road. She looks at the red mailbox reading “Pearson,” and the house completely gutted by a fire, and loses all composure, yelling and beating the steering wheel. The caution tape is still up, and a few firefighters assess the scene.
Season 2, Episode 8: “Number One”
It doesn’t seem much is left of Jack, physically. Kevin has a meltdown when he realizes, in his rush to get more painkillers, he’s likely left his father’s necklace at the home of the woman he just slept with and walked out on after stealing her prescription pad.
“That necklace is the only thing I have left in my life from my dad,” Kevin cries out in desperation. “It’s the only thing I have.”
Season 2, Episodes 8, 9 and 10: “Number One,” “Number Two,” “Number Three”
We see the same day replay in these three episodes, including the lights cutting out in the Pearson house.
“Jack! Fuse!” Rebecca cries out. “Yup, I’m working on it,” Jack yells back. Rebecca puts lit candles all around the house. Once the lights kick back up, Jack says, “I think the power’s gonna hold.”
Could it be a case of faulty wiring that burned the house down? Or all those candles? Or something else? And if so, why would Jack die in the house fire?
Season 2, episode 12: “Clooney”
Rebecca and Jack list items they need to buy at the mall — batteries for Rebecca, a suit for Jack — in what turns into quite the dramatic trip. Then off they go! Teenage Kate has a meltdown in a fitting room. Teenage Kevin drowns his injury-related sorrows with chicken wings then gets teary-eyed with dad. Teenage Randall asks a girl out using the ol’ personalized Magic 8-ball trick (the kid’s a genius).
Back at home, Rebecca and Jack share a heartfelt moment after all that heavy-duty parenting. All seems well. Then Rebecca asks Jack if they forgot anything at the mall. Nope, he doesn’t think so. Suddenly, we cut to a close-up shot of the smoke detector.
NO. NO. NO.
Rebecca had told Jack not to let her forget the batteries. Then they both forgot.
A few other things are revealed in this episode, included the identity of the red-haired girl who was with Randall soon after Jack died. She’s the girl a teenage Randall asks out during the mall trip.
Season 2, episode 13: “That’ll Be the Day”
We start with an older couple cleaning out their garage in hopes of finding a buyer for their home. Okay, cool, who are these people, though? We’re led to believe they’re owners of the house Rebecca found for Jack to buy and flip so they can start a husband-and-wife construction business venture.
Back at the Pearson home, it’s Super Bowl Sunday. Rebecca is in the same Steelers jersey that she’s wearing in “A Father’s Advice.” Teenage Kevin snaps at his parents and goes to Sophie’s, but later calls his mom to say sorry. He asks to stay the night, and promises to apologize to Jack in the morning. Teenage Kate shares a heartfelt moment with Jack, and we see a bunch of close-ups of her dog. Late at night, Jack gets out of bed, gets the lowdown from Randall about Randall’s date and cleans up around the house. Jack’s gotta keep busy to keep sober, as he told Kevin earlier in the day. He wipes down the counter, puts out a note for Kevin and shuts off the crockpot.
And then it happens. The appliance shorts out, catches fire and the Pearson home starts to go up in flames. Turns out that scene with the sweet old couple, George and Sally, was actually another flashback to the time when Jack and Rebecca were still expecting the arrival of their triplets. George, hoping to salvage some of the junk his wife wants tossed, offers the cooker to a newly married Jack and Rebecca. “Only two years old, but there’s a lot of great family meals to be cooked in that. You gotta fiddle with the switch, but it works.”
Hello, yes, please go replace all of your smoke detector batteries, check the electrical integrity of all your appliances and, you know what, just pull every unattended cord out of its socket.
This episode also reveals more about adult Kevin’s addiction, as he tries make amends with all those he’s wronged. But he’s overwhelmed with the weight of not being able to apologize to his father.
As for adult Randall, the apartment rehab job he’s undertaking with Beth echoes the unrealized dream Jack and Rebecca shared just before Jack died.
And present-day Kate has serious emotional issues when it comes to dogs. All the flashbacks to her beloved pet, anyone? She ends up adopting a dog named Audio, who should win all the pet-acting awards.