There was an overwhelming sense of dread underlying tonight’s episode of This Is Us, even before I realized that Rebecca was wearing the same football jersey that we saw in the season two premiere, the night the Pearsons’ house burned down. NBC told journalists ahead of this week’s episode that they would not be sending out advance screeners, which was a tip-off that something significant was about to happen regarding Jack’s still-mysterious death - and boy, did it.
As it turns out, "That’ll Be The Day" chronicles the day of the 1998 Super Bowl, which is also the day the Pearsons’ house burned down - and the day Jack Pearson died. While we still don’t have absolute confirmation that Jack died in the fire, there are a lot of deeply upsetting clues scattered throughout this episode that suggest he did.
We see the origin story of the slow cooker which started the fire - it was given to the Pearsons by their sweet, elderly neighbor George - and how the fire spread with devastating speed to engulf the entire house. We also realize that Randall and Beth’s present-day storyline, about buying the building where William once lived, is a heartbreaking echo of the life Jack and Rebecca once dreamed of for themselves. Jack asked Rebecca to be his business partner on Big Three Homes, on the very night of the fire, and she was thrilled: “I’ve always dreamed of having a home office,” she enthused, while Jack admits he’s always wanted an office with a view. They’re so in love in this episode - with each other, and with the possibilities of their future, now that their kids are about to go off to college - and watching this all play out knowing that Jack is about to die is unbearable.
In the present day, Kevin very sweetly shows up to help a way-overwhelmed Randall with the DIY elements of his housing project. Inevitably, they have no idea what they’re doing - and end up unleashing a plague of roaches when they knock down some drywall - but all that manual labor leads to some overdue brotherly bonding, and so Randall and Kevin finally discuss their grief over Jack. “It’s hard for me to picture myself outliving Dad, you know?” Randall tells Kevin, in a line that literally, without exaggeration, made me cry on the spot. “He’s already been gone for twenty years. He’s already been gone for longer than we had him.” Predictably, Sterling K. Brown sells every second of this heart-wrenching monologue, which hits on something incredibly real about the experience of losing a parent young.
In terms of the ever-looming mystery of Jack's death, there are two major clues that suggest the fire really did kill Jack. First, in the present day, Kate adopts a dog named Audio (that everyone thinks looks like Jacob Tremblay), but almost gets cold feet; there is a devastating scene in which she tells Audio she can't adopt him - because of all her dog-related baggage - and Audio looks at her with these sad, watery doggo eyes. It was the most manipulative heartstring-tugging, and I bought every minute of it. Kate and Toby now own Audio, which might finally make me care about Kate and Toby as a couple. But let’s go back to that dog-related baggage. Toby notes that dogs are a touchy subject for Kate, which is the first indication we’ve had that Kate’s dog played a role in Jack’s death. Kate says that Jack’s death is “her fault” - so did Jack die going back into the house to save Kate’s dog?
The second clue was also the moment that truly broke me: Kevin got Jack’s necklace back from Charlotte, with whom he’s apparently made amends as part of his recovery program, along with Sophie, Randall, Beth, and many others. Kevin clings onto the pendant and cries, then flips over his list to reveal that there’s one final name he still need to make amends with: Dad. Kevin and Jack exchanged some bitter words on the day of the fire, and Kevin ended up staying at Sophie’s that night, meaning he never got to make up with his father before he died. Because Jack died that night. Brace yourself for some future emotional devastation, everyone.
If you’ll excuse me, I am now crawling off to weep underneath a duvet, like any well-adjusted This Is Us fan should tonight.
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