(Spoiler Alert: This post reveals details from the season finale airing Tuesday, March 14.)
Creator Dan Fogelman pulled the rug out from under fans of his hit NBC drama "This Is Us" during its first season finale Tuesday night. The penultimate episode spent the entire hour building the drama and tension that this episode would finally offer the moment where we would find out definitively how Pearson family patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died.
And yet, we're still waiting.
After the bombshell revelation that he had passed away months back, each week has been an agonizing experience in breath-holding to see if this was the week the truth would be revealed. Let's face it, this is not a show that's easy to watch. Even happy moments end in tears for both the characters and the viewers at home.
Kleenex profits have to be on the rise with as many tears as "This Is Us" induces on a weekly basis. Store shelves were bare in anticipation of this finale, teasing answers. And yet, despite a few tears at Jack's uplifting speech at the end about the strength of his marriage to Rebecca (Mandy Moore), most of those boxes are still sitting there ... unused.
It's odd to say that the episode was a huge letdown considering that it was still a fantastically produced, directed, written and acted hour of television, but the bar was set pretty high. This is a show that started dropping bombshells with its very first episode, and followed up pretty consistently every other week or so. Viewers got used to their jaws dropping into the puddles of their tears. It was heart-wrenching television, but in such a satisfying way.
That's why it's so disappointing that this felt more like one of those nice little interstitial episodes where nothing huge happens, rather than a season finale. "This Is Us" won't be back on the air until September, and that's a long time to leave fans waiting. The most impactful season finales in television history have left fans wondering throughout the hiatus, exemplified best by the infamous "Who shot J.R.?" summer of "Dallas." No one even knows the answer anymore, but we'll never forget the question.
Last week's reveal that Kate (Chrissy Metz) blames herself for Jack's death would have been a more satisfying season conclusion than what happened here. At the same time, maybe the fault is in us for putting our own expectations (albeit expectations that were hinted at incessantly) on the show. It has subverted expectations since the beginning, so this was just more of the same.
There were no answers as to how Jack died, and in fact no mention of it at all in this final hour. We were treated instead to the birth of Jack and Rebecca's relationship, spotlighting a clean-shaven Ventimiglia for the first time on the show. The bulk of the hour jumped from 1996, the fateful night Jack drove drunk to Rebecca's show two hours away, and the parallel stories of their lives just before fate brought them together in their 20s.
It was the best of times and the worst of times, painting a very real portrait of the ups and downs that happen in a relationship. In one moment, we're witnessing the events that put the couple in the same bar on the same night that would begin this whole story, and then we're abruptly thrown into the ugliest fight we've seen between them yet.
That fight was as much about what wasn't said between the couples as it was about what really happened, which was painful to watch as a viewer. Jack had been right about Rebecca's ex and current bandmate, Ben. He made a pass at her before the show, which only solidified in her that she truly loved her husband.
If only Jack had found her at the bar before he found Ben, things might have turned out differently, as she had just left a voicemail message at their house reiterating her love for him. Instead, he found out Ben had overstepped and socked him right in the jaw, which of course was just as Rebecca walked in. So instead of being reminded of why she loves this man, she got to see the worst of him.
The couple seethed in silence on the two-hour drive home before erupting in a terrifying argument that looked on the verge of getting physical several times. Hurtful things were said, with the pair shouting over each other. It was painful to watch, and easily one of the most realistically filmed domestic arguments seen on television. This show captures truth in such a profound way, and that is why audiences are responding to it so strongly.
Both Jack and Rebecca were ugly in that moment, saying hurtful things and letting out their raw emotions, but they were also so very real and believable, it only made us love them more. It's a testament to the capabilities of the performers, and the material they're working with. That moment elevated beyond television into what felt like real life.
The hour ended with Jack agreeing to go stay with Miguel (Jon Huertas) for a while. When Rebecca asked him what to tell the kids, he insisted they know the truth. He believes their marriage is stronger than this moment, and doesn't want to shield their children from the trials and tribulations of two people trying to commit their lives to one another. Sometimes it gets difficult, but it can absolutely be worth it.
While he gave this powerful speech, we got brief snippets with "The Big Three," and then that was it. Even the revelations of what their children are going to do next didn't come as a big shock. Kate is going to pick up the mic her mother set down and try to make it as a singer. It looks like Kevin (Justin Hartley) is going to take that meeting with Ron Howard about that movie project. And Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has decided that he wants to follow in his parents' footsteps and adopt.
This was a finale of little moments and little revelations, but no jaw-dropping cliffhanger moments, but maybe that was by design. There were so many of those throughout the season, maybe it was intentional to surprise fans by not having one in the season finale. The biggest bombshell is that Jack moved out. Is that enough to keep people talking about the show over the next six months? Does it matter?
"This Is Us" doesn't need the hook to lure people back in, but it still would have been nice to have.
The biggest news may be that the entire season is being made available on demand starting Wednesday, March 14th. So if you're frustrated that there was no huge moment in this finale, go back and relive all the moments that shocked us all season long while we wait for the next one in Season Two. And maybe finally some answers as to what happened with Jack.
See what Chrissy Metz told TooFab about Jack's death prior to the finale.