After those cruel, hot months of summer, we are finally back in the warm embrace of the Pearson family. It’s the least they could do after leaving us all in such an emotionally fragile place. If you recall, last we saw clan Pearson, things were, to borrow a word from Randall, muddled.
A quick refresher: In the present-day timeline, the Big Three are all making moves. Looking to honor his two fathers, Randall wants to adopt a baby. Kate is set on finally pursuing a singing career back in Los Angeles. Kevin is offered a role in a new Ron Howard movie, which would be cool and all, except he just rekindled things with his ex-wife Sophie. Ron Howard has terrible timing.
The past timeline is where things really get dicey. Beautiful angel people Jack and Rebecca had an epic fight about how unfulfilled their lives are and it made all of us very uncomfortable and very sad. In the light of day, Jack said some lovely Jack-like things about why he loves Rebecca and about how they’ll get through this, but even that isn’t enough to stop Mom and Dad from deciding to take some time apart. It’s devastating and I’ve had Mandy Moore yelling, “I’m a friggin’ ghost!” in my head on a loop ever since. That’s not a complaint.
Let’s dive into the Jack and Rebecca stuff because it is begging for a deep dive. Also, it’s only episode one and already Moore and Milo Ventimiglia are bringing it. Buckle up, kiddies. Season two is going to be intense.
The premiere picks up right where we left off: Jack has gone to Miguel’s house, and Rebecca, looking resplendent in the morning light (is crying all night the real secret to perfect skin? I’ll try anything!), picks up the kids. They immediately know something’s up. The five Pearsons gather at a diner to talk about Jack and Rebecca’s relationship status, thus ruining diners for Kevin, Kate, and Randall forever. The kids are understandably upset and they quickly take sides. Kate wants to go with Jack, Kevin is, predictably, Team Kate, and Randall … oh, Randall. Randall is the only one of the three trying to comfort Rebecca because in a This Is Us twist (did you miss those?), we discover that Randall left the party he was at and walked in on that epic screaming match between his parents. He watched just long enough to hear Jack call Rebecca’s “singing career” ridiculous. Teen Randall has some context that his siblings aren’t privy to. It’s a nice touch that adds a new layer to Rebecca and Randall’s relationship in the present day.
Here’s the thing: Mom and Dad don’t do so well apart. Rebecca tries to make things better with Tom Hanks and a good book. Jack spends all day by the phone waiting for Rebecca to call, except for that hot minute when he embarrassingly tries to get her a solo gig at the jazz lounge. None of this works.
After what seems like years, but is seriously only hours (Jack doesn’t even need Miguel’s sheets!), Rebecca comes knocking on the door. She has things to say to Jack. Don’t worry, they’re mostly good things. Things like how she’s still upset and angry, but also how giving up and walking away from one another is not what they do. They’re Jack and Rebecca! They’ll work through this together. It sounds like she stole the words right out of Jack’s mouth, only this time, Jack’s mouth has something very different to say. He can’t come home. He has a confession to make: He’s drunk. He’s been drunk for weeks. He has a drinking problem and he won’t go home until he fixes it. That’s what Jack does, he fixes things. He then does something I honestly never thought we’d see: He closes the door on Rebecca. I mean, Rebecca makes him open it immediately, but still, that gesture signals that Jack isn’t messing around. He’s in trouble. The thing is, Rebecca meant what she said: They’re a team and they get through problems together. Jack has always been the one to fix things, but now it’s Rebecca’s turn. She gets him in the car. She tells him things will be okay. In a few months, everything will be better.
Only, it won’t.
We know this because for the first time, This Is Us offers up an answer to the question fans have been incessantly, relentlessly asking: How did Jack die? You know how sometimes you think you want to know the answer to something, but then you finally get an answer and you really, really wish you never asked? Yeah, that’s pretty much what happens here.
We jump a little bit forward — Adult Kevin tells Toby he was 17 when Kate broke the horrible news of his father’s death — to reach that fateful day. Rebecca is driving alone with Jack’s effects in the passenger seat. Kate and Randall and some redhead girl are crying at Miguel’s house before Kate runs off to find Kevin. (Kevin, sporting a leg cast, is sucking face with Sophie.) And then Rebecca pulls up to the Pearson house … and it is completely burned out. There was a massive fire. The whole place is roped off by police tape. Rebecca wails.
We don’t know all the facts yet, and I’m sure there is some sort of emotional twist to make this event even more horrible, but it seems as though our lovely Jack died in a house fire. The first follow-up question is: Why does Kate feel so guilty about this? But honestly, I’m all set with the mystery of Jack’s death for now. Hopefully, revealing this detail will give the show a little more freedom to jump into the past without having to focus directly on the day he died. Watching a young family deal with grief? That’s interesting. Discovering how Rebecca and Miguel end up together? Sure, let’s see that. Watching Jack and Rebecca attempt to repair their relationship? Yes, please. And hey, remember when the Big Three were babies? Those babies were cute! Let’s go back there, too.
There is so much in the past to mine, I sincerely hope people aren’t just sitting around with bated breath waiting for Kevin to break his leg and signal that the end is nigh. Let Jack live, so to speak. Let the show live. It’s never only been about the “how” of his death anyway.
• Yes! Finally some real twin time. Toby is frustrated with the bizzaro threesome he’s trapped in with Kate and Kevin, but Toby should just BACK THE HELL OFF. Kevin is way nicer about it than that, and he knows he needs to let go of Kate (a little bit) now that she’s getting married, but caring for his sister is pretty much the one thing he’s good at. Aww, Kev.
• Kate has some great moments telling off Toby and Kevin as they try to make decisions for her, and then again when she feels dismissed at a wedding band audition because of her weight. The highlight, though, is Kate realizing she wasn’t dismissed because of her weight, but because she needs practice. Is this the show acknowledging that not everything has to be about Kate’s weight, or am I just projecting?
• Cheap move, This Is Us, having the montage voice overs be William soulfully reading a poem he wrote for Randall. Just kidding, it was perfect and I’d like more, please. Even more perfect? That William pops up in a recent flashback with Beth.
• Randall and Beth are still holding it down as the best married couple on television, in case you were worried. (No one was worried.) There is some tension though, as Beth is not on board with Randall’s desire to adopt a baby. After some thought at William’s favorite park picnic table, and a few imaginary cigarettes later, Beth has a compromise: If they are going to adopt, she wants to adopt an older child. Someone who has nowhere else to go. That is the real way to honor Randall’s fathers.
• BRB, still swooning over Randall’s speech about he and Beth having a perfectly imperfect marriage. He loves his parents, but he does not want to be exactly like them, with one person pushing the other into big decisions. Only Randall could make talking about “adjusting plans” sound romantic.
• Sterling K. Brown holds a baby. I just thought you should know that.
• The entire conversation between Randall and his daughters as to why Beth is working and he is now at home is stellar, but the real standout is the delicious burn he doles out to Stacey Dash and Omarosa.
• I know Rebecca is a complicated character and all, but I will not STAND for her hating on Tom Hanks. That man is a national treasure!