NBC’s breakout drama “This Is Us” is known for its plot twists. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the show’s first season finale threw viewers for an emotional loop.
This week’s episode revolved around Jack and Rebecca at two distinct points in their lives: when they first met, and during a rough patch in their marriage nearly two decades later. The finale was at turns heartbreaking and exciting, but it avoided the reveal that many fans were expecting. We still don’t know how Jack died.
A promo for last week’s episode showed Jack driving to Rebecca’s gig in Cleveland with a back seat full of empty beer cans, leading many fans to speculate that the show would finally reveal how Jack died. Some thought he may have died in a drunk-driving accident on the way to see Rebecca, though other fans thought that would be too obvious a move for the hit TV show. In the previous episode, Kate told her fiance, Toby, that she feels responsible for her dad’s death, and flashbacks showed a teenage Kate encouraging her dad to make the two-hour drive to Cleveland.
The show’s cast, including Milo Ventimiglia, and creator Dan Fogelman teased fans ahead of the finale. “Think you’re right Dan, people are gonna go crazy,” Ventimiglia tweeted while sharing a screenshot of him telling Fogelman via text that the finale would “be heartbreaking and beautiful.”
Though tired and bleary-eyed, Jack made it to Rebecca’s show. Unbeknown to him, Rebecca had decided to leave after her bandmate and one-time fling, Ben, tried to kiss her. “I should be watching ER,” Rebecca told Ben in a cheeky shout-out to NBC’s must-see TV era. As she called home to tell her husband that she missed him, Jack was inside at the bar, getting even more drunk. Eventually, he made his way backstage to try to find Rebecca, but got into an argument with Ben instead. When Rebecca came back inside, Jack was being pulled off Ben after punching him several times. Rebecca left the show minutes before the band was set to perform and drove Jack home in near silence.
Ultimately, the decision not to reveal Jack’s cause of death became the finale’s biggest twist. But it wasn’t a throwaway episode, either. It was an intimate look at Rebecca and Jack’s relationship, and how their marriage had changed the course of their lives. And because it’s “This Is Us,” there were plenty of tear-jerker moments.
The Pearson children, known as the Big Three, weren’t prominently featured in Tuesday’s episode, but we did learn a bit about their plans. Randall told his wife, Beth, that he wants to adopt a child. Kevin is auditioning for a Ron Howard film with the support of his ex-wife, Sophie, with whom he recently reunited. Kate is going to pursue a singing career - like her mother.
Before she married Jack, Rebecca was a struggling singer, overwhelmed with record label rejection letters and disapproving comments from her family and friends. Jack, meanwhile, was a 28-year-old Vietnam veteran, and had been working odd jobs in hopes of getting out of his abusive father’s house. He was becoming disillusioned with always doing the right thing, which led him to a risky gambling scheme that didn’t pay off and a plot to rob a local bar.
Both Rebecca and Jack had reluctantly agreed to be set up on blind dates. Jack completely forgot about his, focusing instead on the robbery plan. Rebecca showed up for hers, but left halfway through to perform at an open mic. It was there that she spotted Jack, watching her sing from across the room.
After the Cleveland incident, Rebecca and Jack returned home, where they had an epic fight — yelling over one another and blurting out hurtful statements. Rebecca told Jack that she had been reduced to being a stay-at-home mother instead of pursuing her dreams. “I have no life. I’m a friggin’ ghost,” she said. “You’re a 40-year-old woman singing covers in pubs,” Jack told her. “That’s not a career.” As the argument lost steam, Jack headed toward the door. “We love each other,” he reminded her. But Rebecca asked Jack what he loved about her, and he didn’t have an answer. “The next time you tell me you love me, make sure you’re not just doing it out of habit,” Rebecca said.
In the morning, Rebecca came downstairs to find Jack sitting on the couch. She suggested he go stay with Miguel, his best friend and Rebecca’s future husband. He agreed, but not before answering her question about why he loved her. Here’s an excerpt:
“I love the mother that you are. I love that you are still the most beautiful woman in any room. And that you laugh with your entire face. I love that you dance funny and not sexy, which makes it even sexier. But most of all, I love that you are still the same woman who, all those years ago, ran out of a blind date because she simply had to sing.
“You’re not just my great love story, Rebecca. You are my big break, and our love story — I know it may not feel like it right now, but baby, I promise it’s just getting started.”
Even if you had made it through their big fight without crying, you probably didn’t stand a chance after that. The good news is that “This Is Us” has been renewed for a second season (not to mention a third), so there will be time to find out more about what happened to Jack — and his marriage to Rebecca.
And there will certainly be more tears.