by Kelly Connolly | via Entertainment Weekly
If you were to rank everything that has ever happened on This Is Us by how quintessentially This Is Us it is, killing Jack Pearson on Super Bowl Sunday — in an episode set on Super Bowl Sunday — because his wife made some chili that nobody ate in a Crock-Pot that he steadfastly refused to give up on…well, that would be No. 1. By the length of a football field. Were the details of Jack’s long-teased demise a surprise in the end? Yes and no. He lived a few hours longer than most of us probably expected, but he still went out the only way he could: trying too hard not to let anyone down.
“Super Bowl Sunday” picks up with flames licking at the Pearsons’ upstairs bedrooms, which Jack announces with a yell that feels almost too casual: “HEY KIDS, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE.” He’s a little bit in denial, maybe, and a little bit in dad mode; it’s not the last time tonight a parent will compartmentalize to be “strong” for the kids. Jack guides Randall to the master bedroom — which has a better exit window — easily enough, but a panicking Kate is further away and harder to protect. When Jack grabs her mattress from her bed, it looks for a second like he’s about to throw it out her bedroom window to give them both a soft lan, ing, but instead he uses it to cover them on the walk back to his room. His hands pay the price. It’s a horrifying, effective visual: Jack holding too tight to his daughter’s shield even as it burns him.
He manages to lower the rest of the family to safety from the upstairs ledge, but when Kate screams at the sound of the dog’s barks, Jack disappears back inside the house. This feels like the end. The second floor is engulfed in flames as Rebecca screams and Randall holds her back — and then Jack emerges from the smoke, sooty but alive, holding not only Louie the dog but a pillowcase full of family mementos.
Years later, as we know, Kate will blame herself for the death that’s still to come, but even she knows this is her father’s personality: He died because he couldn’t disappoint her, and he clearly couldn’t disappoint the rest of the family either. “Take a breather, Superman” is right. Jack played hero, and he almost got away with it — and if he had survived, the family would celebrate this day, two decades later and every year in between, as the anniversary of his brave act. There’s such a thin line between helping others and hurting ourselves.
Rebecca goes with Jack to the hospital while Kate and Randall wait at Miguel’s, and for a while, the prognosis is good. Jack shares a sincere moment with his wife (“I’ve still got the only thing that I ever really needed”), but he also makes time to joke; the last thing he says to Rebecca is that she’s blocking the post-game coverage on the TV. As Rebecca calls a hotel about rooms, she misses — turn around, Rebecca! — some commotion unfolding in the background, slightly out of focus. She gets a candy bar from the vending machine. The doctor interrupts, asks her to sit. And when he tells her very gently that her husband’s lungs, and therefore his heart, were under a tremendous amount of strain, and that he went into cardiac arrest, she takes a bite.
Rebecca, in denial, assumes that the doctor has mistaken her for someone else and hurries to Jack’s room. We see his body only in the reflection of the window of the door; the camera stays locked on Mandy Moore as she turns in one of her best performances to date, crumpling to the floor in tears. After eventually pulling herself together enough to fill out the necessary forms, she returns to Miguel’s home hollowed out, her eyes somehow both deadened and teary. She tells Miguel outside the house that Jack fell victim to a widowmaker heart attack (of COURSE) and then, in one of her all-time coolest moments, tells him to take a walk around the block if he can’t pull it together. “I have to talk to my kids and I have to ruin the rest of their life,” she says, “so I’m going to be strong for them.” This Is Parenthood.
Click HERE to read the rest of “Super Bowl Sunday.”
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