"This Is Us" just blew the door open on its past, and possibly its future with an epic super-sized Super Bowl episode. As promised, the fire that destroyed the Pearson home in the last episode consumed their world and ultimately took Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) away from them, but not as expected.
In another fakeout, we were presented with a sequence featuring a foster child and the woman prepping him to meet his new foster family, only it wasn't Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) family. There were so many unexpected twists and turns in this one, we couldn't always keep track of whether or not we were crying in sadness or shock. Sometimes it was both.
Remarkably, the house fire didn't dominate the episode, as we might have thought it would. Instead, it merely set the events in motion that would lead to Jack's death and upend the Pearson's collective world.
As we do after every episode, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
We Didn't Know We Would Never See Him Again
This week was about last moments, as each of the Pearsons wrestled with what that was for them with Jack. Randall nearly traumatized a group of little girls as he eulogized a dead lizard and started talking about Jack. It got a little real, but so were his memories of the last time he saw Jack alive. It was alongside Kate when they were dropped off with Miguel (Jon Huertas) after the fire. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Jack were headed to the ER to get Jack's burns treated, only things went horribly wrong there. Even today, the haunted look in Randall's eyes proved that not getting that proper goodbye haunts him still.
You're In Front of the TV
We can't always choose our last words, but these were the last words Jack ever said to his wife. She was off to secure rooms for the family and food from a vending machine. Jack was simply waiting, but the smoke he inhaled saving the dog and family photos and VHS tapes led to a massive heart attack, killing him instantly. This scene was filmed beautifully, with Rebecca in the foreground booking the room and talking to the kids at Miguel's while the hospital staff was in slow-motion responding to the crash she knew nothing about. It created a dreamlike quality to the moment, as in hindsight she may be aware that she was peripherally hearing her husband's final moments.
After finally achieving his rock bottom, Kevin (Justin Hartley) is on the rise and trying to finally regain control of his life. He went to Jack's tree on Super Bowl Sunday to finally face his loss rather than do his usual avoidance. And so he talked candidly to Jack about his life and the failures he's racked up, and the flaws he's inherited from his father. Both men suffer from addiction, but Kevin acknowledged he doesn't deal with his weaknesses as well as Jack did. He vowed to be a better man, and turn a corner. Here's hoping he can do it. Time with Miguel and Rebecca has been very good for him.
You Changed My Life, You Saved My Life
Kate (Chrissy Metz) still has a long way to go in processing and dealing with the guilt she feels over Jack's death. Yes, it was her anguish in the moment over the dog still being in the house that urged Jack to go back in, but it was his decision. As the fire engulfed the home, the family thought he was gone, but he came out the front door with the dog and a pillowcase full of family photos and videos ... and two lungs full of smoke, and that's all Kate can think about. If she hadn't been so worried about the dog, Jack wouldn't have gone back in. What she realized after he salvaged her tape from a hungry VCR was that Toby (Chris Sullivan) is every bit as good as her father was, and more importantly, Toby's goodness to her and his love for her is what she needed in her life. Hopefully, she will continue to push herself and grow and get past her demons.
This Year He Sent Me You
Rebecca told Kevin that every year on Super Bowl Sunday Jack sends her a laugh to remind her he's there. She watches the game at home alone eating his favorite lasagna and she always gets her laugh. This year, it came from an unexpected source. Kevin called her from Jack's tree and told her he was there talking to Jack. He also told her he wasn't sure he was at the right tree, and there was the laugh. "This year he sent me you" was more than just the laugh. He also sent her Kevin to help both of them find some closure and allow one another back into their lives.
After shock and disbelief, Rebecca finally saw Jack lying on his hospital bed and realized the shattering truth that her husband was gone and everything had changed. Mandy Moore was phenomenal in this scene as the horror and reality slowly consumed her. She uttered almost inaudibly those two words before collapsing to the ground. This man was her world and he was fine when she left him. How could this have happened? Moore expressed all of that with no words; just the power of her expression and performance, and the audience was right there with her.
For almost two years now we've all been talking about how strong and amazing Jack was as a father, and he was. Can we start talking now about how strong and amazing Rebecca was and is as a mother. This woman shelved her grief to be there for her kids. She was strong in the most difficult moment of her life so her kids would have someone they could lean on in their grief. Even as she was falling apart, she was a rock when they needed one most. It wasn't easy, and her relationships with them have suffered because of it, but dammit, she is amazing. It's her time to shine!
You're the Little Girl That Made My Life Somersault
Randall has been running full steam this year trying to figure out what to do with his life, and this week he got a reality check about the life he already has. Tess was starting to feel a little unloved, like Randall was seeking a new life. And so he gave her a Jack Pearson-worthy speech, telling her about how he feared living up to his dad's epic example of fatherhood, but those fears were erased the moment he saw her and loved her. These scenes were juxtaposed with scenes of a little boy prepping to meet his new foster parents, and we thought it was going to be Randall and Beth. But the show threw us a huge curveball. Just like "Lost" went flash-forward, "This Is Us" jumped into the future to show that this was adult Tess working as a social worker, just as Randall came to visit. We don't know if there will be more of these, but the storytelling possibilities are nearly endless if they were to start incorporating glimpses into the future as well to inform the story of now. We're totally down for it as this one totally touched our hearts.