On Sunday night, This Is Us finally revealed the truth about what happened to Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia). As expected, it was gut-wrenching: Though he did survive the fire, Jack died just hours later when he succumbed to a heart attack triggered by smoke inhalation. He had stayed in the burning house longer than he should have in order to rescue his daughter's dog and a few precious mementos.
Jack's death was heartbreaking, and was yet another example of why so many of us can't get through This Is Us without openly weeping. But in the wake of Jack's expected demise, it's worth remembering that Jack is more than just the subject of the NBC series' greatest mysteries: He's also the rare television man celebrated for his empathy and compassion. In 2018, he's exactly the kind of man we need to see more of.
The mass unmasking of sexual predators via the #MeToo movement has painted a bleak picture of what it means to be a powerful man. Harvey Weinstein, for example, was widely known as a bully, even by people who heard nothing of the sexual misconduct allegations against him. (Weinstein has denied allegations of sexual assault.) It may finally be "time's up" on people like Weinstein, but there's no question that the idea that powerful men act without care or consideration for the feelings of others is pervasive in our society.
We know this because of, well — television. Consider the most celebrated television characters of the last decade: For men, they tend to be the "anti-heroes." For them, the feelings of others are insignificant.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) of Breaking Bad was a meek man who wanted to make money for his family before dying of cancer. He had no power, no influence — until he became a drug dealer and sacrificed all moral compass. Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm) was a womanising jerk who was excused, partially, because he was very good at his job. Then there's Hugh Laurie's titular character on House who treats the rest of the world like they're a bunch of idiots. He also happens to be a brilliant diagnostician, so, who cares, right?
I was disappointed to find that this trend is still alive and well on television. I love the new series The Resident, but upon viewing the pilot episode, was unsettled to find that it didn't escape the House-like trope. When we first meet the smart, savvy titular resident, played by Matt Czuchry, he's berating his intern Devon (Manish Dayal). Later, he seems incapable of actually listening to his ex-girlfriend Nic (Emily VanCamp) when she tells him she does not want to hook up with him in the storage closet.
There's something refreshing about how This Is Us has allowed Jack to lead with his heart. It's something that men on TV are almost never allowed to do — or, at least, are rarely celebrated for.
On This Is Us, Jack's family is his whole world, and he takes pride in raising his children well and keeping his wife happy. He is shown as a compassionate, loving dad, who would give everything he had for the people he loved. (He told the doctor treating him post-fire that he saved Kate's dog because he "loved the girl who loved the dog." Ultimately, he died because of it.) Never snarky or cruel, Jack was revered because he loved deeply and honestly. He set an enormously high bar for his children, not because he had some intense career or achieved some great external accomplishment, but because he was good. Kind.
Jack's tragic end will still be one of television's saddest moments, but Jack didn't have to live a long time to make his mark on his family. Let's hope his influence extends to all of television — because you don't have to be a jerk to be worth admiring.