Typical This Is Us, just heaping on the sadness before we even have a chance to recover from the last installment. We’ve barely processed the details of Jack’s death and it’s already time for more ugly crying. At least let the puffiness around my eyes go down, yeesh! “The Car” may not be as intense or dramatic as “Super Bowl Sunday,” but it is just as emotional — maybe even more so. It is quiet and bittersweet, which, to be honest, is how I prefer my This Is Us.
The episode uses a very This Is Us–ian plot device: As we follow the day of Jack’s funeral, we also jump back and forth through moments in Pearson family history that take place in or around the family’s Jeep Wagoneer. (So, yes, sadly, we’ll have to wait until after the Olympics to dive into Deja’s return and the reveal of Future Tess and Randall.) But really, we’re seeing all the little gifts Jack left for his family. Moments that maybe didn’t feel so important at the time, but became very important after Jack’s death. Rebecca tells her kids that their father had a way of seeing things before they happened. He used this power for both good (he so clearly saw his three kids) and evil (he could annoyingly guess the plot to a movie within minutes of its starting). Whether he intended it or not, it feels as though Jack knew what his family would need once he was gone.
Let’s start with the first gift: the Car.
We’re in pre-Pilgrim Rick territory here, people. (Remember, they are in the Wagoneer on that fateful Thanksgiving when they run into a ditch.) Jack and Rebecca need a new car, so the entire clan heads to the dealership. As soon as Jack sees his three kids playing in a shiny new Wagoneer that is definitely out of their budget, he has to have it. He has a private meeting with the salesman and comes out the owner of a new, expensive car. Good thing Jack is so darn cute, because he sure does make a lot of big family decisions without including his wife. Sorry, I know it’s wrong to speak sarcastically of the dead, but it’s such a Jack thing to do something big and impulsive and make it charming and wonderful. Alas, that’s why we love him.
Anyway, the Car is great. The Pearsons use it for things like taking the kids to a Weird Al Yankovic concert. I mean, sure, who doesn’t love a little “Lasagna”? On the way to the concert, they hit traffic on the one bridge that terrifies Rebecca. She closes her eyes and grabs Jack’s hand and makes her kids tell her silly things in order to distract herself.
It’s one of the nice memories the kids are surely thinking about when they pile into the Car to go to Jack’s funeral. (Why is Rebecca driving all day, though?) It’s a tough and purposeful juxtaposition to go from the young family of five singing Weird Al, to a broken family of four driving to the cemetery. But Rebecca is in a rush, you see, because she has to get to the service before Jack’s urn arrives. Later, she’ll confess to Dr. K (Gerald McRaney stops by to collect his Emmy nomination) that she feels so guilty about not being with Jack when he died, she’s been keeping that urn in her sights at all times. She let him down in life, so she won’t let him down in death.
Let’s talk about the origin of another one of Jack’s gifts: the Tree. We already know that they spread some of Jack’s ashes at this tree, but we’ve never known why.
Some time in the mid-to-late ’90s, Rebecca has a cancer scare. She gets an MRI, but they have a few hours to kill before getting the results. Instead of sitting around worrying about a possible brain tumor, Jack tells Rebecca he’s taking her to a special spot, his favorite tree. They sit by the Tree and Jack says a lot of very Jack things about Rebecca living forever because how is the snow still going to fall if she’s not around to see it, which isn’t how science works but I will choose to believe it because it is so darn swoony. They get the news right there in that park that Rebecca is totally fine, and then Jack reveals why that tree is his favorite: It is the closest to a pay phone and he just made the whole thing up to calm Rebecca down. TYPICAL JACK.
If you’re keeping track, Jack’s Gift List includes the Car, the Tree, the Mustache (always and forever), and it also includes a very cute moment with Teen Kate. She and Jack listen to Alanis Morissette and Bruce Springsteen and he encourages her to pursue music — which, as we know, she finally is. But my favorite of Jack’s gifts is the one he’s attempted to give to his sons for their entire lives.
While Jack is trying to teach Randall and Kevin how to drive, the two boys start arguing and almost cause an accident. Jack makes them walk the five miles home. Upon their return, he tells his sons how confused he is by them. His brother Nicky was his best friend (we get another info kernel about Nicky, who died in Vietnam), and he hopes that Kevin and Randall can fix whatever problems they have with one another because the bond between siblings is so important. Their shared history is more special than they know.
At the funeral reception, it is clear that this message still has not sunk in. Kevin sees Randall wearing their dad’s watch and goes off on him. He tells his brother that he never would’ve let their dad go back in the house. Randall responds with an equally biting remark about how Kevin wasn’t there and he’s never there for anyone. Boys! I mean, we already know it takes the brothers well into adulthood to realize what Jack was talking about, but still, this is hard to watch.
After a very nice chat with Dr. K about lemons and strength and Rebecca being able to keep her family safe without Jack, Rebecca is inspired to be more like her husband. She will soldier on and make the best out of a bad situation. So, she takes her three kids to the Tree and gives them a speech that would make Jack proud. She tells her sons that neither of them should be filling in for Jack — they should just be teenagers. She tells Kate that Jack’s death was not her fault — he was a grown man who made his own decision to go back in the house. She also tells them that Jack left them one last gift: He was going to surprise them all with tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert that night, and Rebecca thinks that is the perfect way to honor Jack.
They spread some of Jack’s ashes around the Tree and then Rebecca has a moment alone. She tells her husband that they are going to be okay.
Which, as we learn thanks to a glimpse back to the conversation Jack has with the car salesman, is all Jack ever wanted. He wants a car that is sturdy and tough because it will face so many bumps and scratches and spills (some of which we see in a lovely montage), that the car will tell the story of his family. Jack needs the guy to cut him a deal on the Wagoneer, because he knows that with that car, The Car, his family will be okay. He needs his family to be okay.
And they are. Or they are trying to be. Not having Jack, as we know, makes life for the Pearsons much, much harder. But there is Rebecca, taking her three kids to a concert and having to drive over that scary bridge again. Only this time, she doesn’t have Jack’s hand to hold and her eyes are wide open.
See, I told you this was a very This Is Us episode of This Is Us.
This Is the Rest
• There were so many nice little moments, but I was particularly moved by both Kevin and Randall having flashbacks to Jack teaching them how to put on a tie.
• Rebecca seeing that Jack’s coffee cup was still sitting in the car’s cup holder where he left it Super Bowl weekend was soul-crushing. It’s a small, sad detail that is so true to life.
• Kevin reaches for Randall’s hand in the back of the car!
• In Randall’s eulogy, he wishes that one day he’ll find love like his mother and father had, and all I want to do is hold that poor kid and tell him that he will. Beth is coming!
• We’ll definitely see some of those secret visits Jack made to Dr. K’s office while the Big Three were kids, right? Milo Ventimiglia and Gerald McRaney together are [insert chef’s kiss here].
• Dr. K married the hottie from the grocery store! You go, Dr. K.