This Is Us Recap: Are You Ready for Some Football?

This Is Us

The Game Plan
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
This Is Us - Season 1

This Is Us

The Game Plan
Season 1 Episode 5
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack. Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Who shot J.R.? Who killed Laura Palmer? Where is Jack Pearson? Okay, so the whereabouts of our favorite mustachioed father of triplets isn’t quite a national obsession. I mean, we’ve only been at this thing for five episodes!

To be honest, I thought This Is Us would stretch out the mystery much longer. We asked for Jack’s location in the present-day timeline, and tonight, we got our answer: He is dead. Moreover, he’s been hanging out in an urn on Kate’s mantle for at least a decade so she can dress it up in her and Jack’s lucky Steelers hat every Sunday during football season.

Just so we’re clear: No montage, no matter how heart-warming, will make what Kate is doing seem endearing. It is sad. And a little bit creepy. And I really don’t think Jack would approve.

Regardless of how disturbing the urn reveal is, “The Game Plan” gives us a lot to digest. We have no real details about when Jack died, how Jack died, or if he and Rebecca were still together at the time. All of these loose ends are sure to be answered throughout the run of the show, which means there’s a lot of story left to tell. And, of course, that story seems primed to give our tear ducts a workout.

On the flip side: Does this mean we’ll never get to see Old Milo Ventimiglia? I demand some salt-and-pepper facial hair, people! But more important, knowing that our “I’ll be a 12 for you” guy is no longer with us casts a sadness over every flashback to Jack and Rebecca’s story. I don’t want to feel sad every time I see Jack and Rebecca! They’re too good-looking for me to be sad all the time.

Sure, I want emotion, but the good kind. The butterflies-in-your-stomach kind. The hopeful kind. The kind of feelings I felt during “The Game Plan” before we saw that urn. Pre-urn, the Jack and Rebecca story was quite lovely.

It’s 1980 and the Steelers are facing the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl. The only Big Three making an appearance at the Pearson house are Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, and Jim Beam. Jack and Rebecca are Steelers superfans, so this is a very big day. It doesn’t seem as big of a deal to BFF Miguel and his wife (a wife!), who show up late to the bar and deep-dive into a story that ends with them, their babysitter, and their children (children!) crying. Rebecca asks Jack to promise her that they’ll never have kids. She hammers the sentiment home and Jack starts to believe it’s gone past joking. So, he decides to question her about it. In a bar. With his friends. During the Super Bowl. The heckler who Jack later punches in the face has a decent point: Not the right time, dude.

Jack feels like there must be something bigger than just the two of them. It’s all the football in the air, apparently. He came from a troubled childhood, his father mainly ignored him, except when Jack was allowed to sit on the floor and watch Steelers games with him. Jack always imagined that when he had kids, he’d watch football with them too — but they’d be allowed to talk as loud and as much as they wanted. Rebecca never hid the fact that she wasn’t going to be like one of those women whose sole purpose is to raise kids, someone like her mother. She sees kids in their future, but she’s scared of how kids might change their lives.

When it comes down to it, though, Jack tells Rebecca that if it’s between her and having kids, she wins. “Every time.” Are you feeling those butterflies yet? Savor them while they last, because as Jack and Rebecca are making out on a bench, Kate is showing Toby her dad’s urn. It seems that Jack successfully instilled a love of the Steelers in his kids — heck, they were even conceived in the bathroom of the bar on Super Bowl night — but as if we needed another reminder, Jack is dead. Better pour one out for all of those butterflies, because they’re dead, too. See? I’m sad. Is this what watching This Is Us will feel like from now on?

“The Game Plan” attempts to offer up an answer to that very question, by way of Kevin’s painting monologue. Yes! Kevin “Ski Cap” Pearson has an emotional painting monologue. God bless this show.

Kevin’s been tasked with babysitting Tess and Annie (and William) while Randall and Beth utilize the budding theater actor’s swanky, empty hotel room for the evening. He enlists the family to help him run lines. The exercise starts with him insulting William by asking if he’s illiterate and ends with Kevin trying to explain death to Tess and Annie. His explanation boils down to “everyone dies, including you two and mommy and daddy.” It could use some work.

Kevin has been doubting himself all night — about the play and about his inability to tend to children — and William calls him out on it. (He won’t tolerate seeing the Man-ny in such a state.) Kevin knows he’s spiraling; the theater people are just so smart and he feels unworthy. I’ve seen a bunch of complaints about the Kevin character, but I like him. Sure, his “actor trying to find himself” story is riddled with clichés, but Justin Hartley does so much with the little he’s given, it’s hard for me not to care about him. I love the dopey Labrador, sue me!

Thanks to William’s pep talk, Kevin decides to give it another shot with Tess and Annie. This time, with a visual aid! Kevin tells the girls that whenever he gets a script, he secretly paints how that script makes him feel. (Um, what does a Man-ny painting look like?) He shows them a Pollock-esque painting he did for the play. He explains to the girls that he thinks the play is about the interconnectedness of life; even when a person dies, they’re still a part of the painting, a part of our lives. There’s no beginning or end to life. It’s all one “sloppy, wild, colorful, magical thing.”

The speech eases some of Tess and Annie’s fears, but mainly it reads like a thesis statement for the series. Everyone plays a role in each other’s story — from the immigrant who arrived in the U.S. a hundred years ago, to a facial-hair god with a passion for Pittsburgh sports teams, to the Man-ny himself as he backtracks on a traumatic conversation he had with his nieces. It’s all one painting. In theory, I guess that means we don’t need to be sad about Jack’s death because he’s always a part of the story.

… Nope. I’m still sad.

This Is the Rest:

  • Honestly, who throws a “sports party” and only invites his girlfriend and one other friend? Toby’s plan was a disaster even before Kate excused herself to go home and finish the game while spooning with her father’s ashes.
  • Some urn-ing questions: Does Kevin know about Kate’s bizarre grieving process? Has anyone tried to help this woman? Also, why is Kate the one with Jack’s ashes? Is this a clue to the status of Jack and Rebecca’s relationship before he died? Will there be a moving family scene where all the Pearsons gather to finally spread Jack’s ashes? The answer better be, “Yes, right around the holidays.”
  • Mandy Moore finally sings! What a day.
  • Will flashbacks to Jack and Rebecca’s childhoods be a recurring thing? I’m not totally against it, if only for the ’50s clothes.
  • Floor heart-to-hearts must be a family quirk. Randall and Beth take to the hotel-bathroom floor as they wait to find out if Tess and Annie will become big sisters. She isn’t pregnant, and the whole story line seems unnecessary. I already knew Randall and Beth are the best couple on this show.
  • Jack’s death adds an emotional new layer to Randall’s story: He lost one father, and now we know he had to grapple with losing a second. During the painting montage, it looks like we get a glimpse into him doing just that. I already miss that Wise Owl.
  • “Randall is going to punch me for that conversation.” More brother stuff, please.

This Is Us Recap: Football Night