Warning: Spoilers ahead for This Is Us episode “Super Bowl Sunday.”
For the last year and a half, television fans have been feverishly wondering one massive thing: How does Jack Pearson die? Well, after The Big Game ended and Tom Brady wallowed in his feelings, This Is Us answered one of TV’s biggest, most macabre mysteries with season 2's “Super Bowl Sunday.” As we suspected, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) doesn’t technically die in the Crock-Pot-created fire we see begin in last week’s “That’ll Be The Day.” Rather, the Pearson patriarch survives the blaze and dies later in the hospital of a horrifyingly-named medical complication called “a widowmaker heart attack.”
While the shocking death is heartbreaking, it isn’t exactly a shock if you've been paying attention to the many clues Us dropped throughout season 2. That’s why the only way to decide if the landmark reveal lives up to the nearly two-year hype depends on what you believe the NBC family drama’s real strength is: its impossible twist or its ability to make the mundane emotionally epic.
If you expect true, head-spinning surprises from This Is Us, Jack going into cardiac arrest in a hospital doesn’t exactly cut it. As we saw in season 2 premiere “A Father’s Advice,” it was essentially impossible for the father of three to have burned alive in the Crock-Pot fire. And, why is that? Because a distraught Rebecca had a handful of her late husband’s extremely flammable possessions following the fire, including his wedding ring and a notepad. Rebecca could only have those items, especially something Jack would wear on his person like his wedding band, if Jack both survived the blaze and was taken to a second location.
On top of that evidence Jack likely went to the hospital, fans have also long-suspected Louie, the beloved dog of Teen Kate (Hannah Zelle) is the key reason Adult Kate (Chrissy Metz) blames herself for her father's death. And, sure enough, Jack, who initially make it out of the fire safely, ends up returning to the blaze to save Louie for his Katie Girl. The extended exposure to the soot and fumes of the fire is what actually causes Jack's death — not the flames themselves. So, if you came into “Super Bowl” looking for some wild, unforeseeable twist à la the series premiere’s “It was 1980 all along!” gotcha moment, it’s unlikely the proceedings were all that thrilling.
But, if you tune into Us for its habit of making the day-to-day things we take for granted — jokes with loved ones, slow cookers, candy barrs — and proves they can have the biggest impact on our lives, then “Super Bowl” is the perfect episode. Every single point in this tale is purposefully unremarkable. A Crock-Pot of all things starts the fire. Jack uses a mattress to shield himself and Teen Kate (Hannah Zelle) from the flames while fleeing to the safety of Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack’s bedroom. The family use bedsheets to shimmy to safety. Jack eventually dies in the exact same hospital where our story began with the birth of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley), along with the adoption of Randall (Sterling K. Brown).
Nothing here is something we don’t see or experience every day, which is the point. Every piece of the Jack Death Puzzle is heart-wrenchingly average and earnest.
This highest example of this “Super Bowl” tendency is Jack and Rebecca’s unwitting final moments together. We all know the couple is billed as an epic romance in the style of Titanic’s Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) or The Notebook’s Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams); in fact, it’s almost surprising Jack has never yelled at Rebecca something about them both being birds. So, after their grand love story, you would expect these two to have an fittingly grand parting scene.
But, they don’t, because that’s not how real life works. Instead, in the hospital following Jack’s post-fire health inspection, they talk about whose fault it was no one bought new batteries (the end resolution is both and neither). Believing everything is fine and Jack has a relatively clean bill of health, he jokes about Rebecca blocking the television, and she responds by making a funny face at him. The entire moment is sweet and light-hearted, and their absolute final moment together, because, again, that’s how life really works.
As Rebecca’s portrayer Mandy Moore notes in after show featurette, “People were so expecting [Jack’s] death and the circumstances around it to be so cinematic, when, in reality, it’s really ordinary.” If that grounding factor is what you appreciate about Us, over the Lost-style twists and turns it deploys, then it’s likely Jack’s death was exactly what you had always hoped it would be.
Yet, no matter which camp you fall into when it comes to your This Is Us style preferences, we can all agree the level of Moore’s performance actually exceeds the hype. Her shining moments arrive after Jack has died, which is to be expected among all the obvious emotional upheaval. The first is the moment she realizes Jack’s doctor wasn’t joking around when he informs Rebecca her husband died from cardiac arrest while she was getting a candy bar. Watching Moore’s face crumple into a teary mess the second she sees Jack’s limp body in a hospital bed will make you cry, no questions asked.
But, it’s possible Moore’s subsequent scene, where the mom tells a distraught Miguel she doesn’t have time for his emotional meltdown might be even better than her own hospital breakdown. While Moore rarely gets to steal an Us scene at the consistent frequency of a Milo Ventimiglia or an Emmy-winning Sterling K. Brown, this interaction proves Rebecca has a fearsome mettle we rarely get a glimpse of.
We can debate the merits of Jack’s death until the cows, or, tiny beloved rescue dogs, come home, but, there’s no questioning Mandy Moore is the powerhouse of “Super Bowl.”
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