From its beginning, This Is Us has been a show about connections. Remember Uncle Kevin’s attempt at explaining death to Tess and Annie in season one? A family is connected and sprawling, living on through each other, never ending because of each other. Or “The Big Day,” an episode that looked back at the day the Big Three were born, but from the perspective of Dr. K and Joe the Firefighter, to see how strangers can unknowingly touch one another’s lives. In “Moonshadow,” we saw how seemingly unconnected choices can lead us to certain pivotal moments, like Jack and Rebecca ending up in the exact same bar, at the exact same time. This Is Us explores the idea of connections again in the quietly emotional (or loudly emotional, depending on your ugly cry particulars) “That’ll Be the Day,” as we see how moments in the Pearson life that should have nothing to do with one another — neighbors gifting the young new couple on the block their old semi-functional crock pot, or Jack hiding jewelry in two red towels as a Christmas gift for Rebecca — all lead up to the defining moment for one family.
“That’ll Be the Day” tells the story of Jack’s last day. Like so many things with this show, what’s actually going on isn’t anything monumental, but every single scene set in the past has extra weight to it because we know what we know. Everything has a tinge of sadness once you realize that this Super Bowl day is also the day Jack dies. (Once we see Rebecca in the same Steelers shirt we saw her wearing as she wailed in the car outside of her burned down house, we know for sure.) Every conversation Jack has with his kids has extra meaning because we know it’s the last one.
If only his dumb, angsty teenagers knew it. Honestly, how many times did you yell, “Just be nicer to your dad!” or “Tell him you love him!” or “Talk to him right now, Kevin! TALK TO HIM NOW.” But that’s life, right? You usually don’t see the defining moments coming.
If you did, one has to assume the Teen Big Three would have gladly stayed home and watched the Super Bowl with their parents. Instead, as Jack and Rebecca attempt to get their kids pumped up for their last family Super Bowl before college, all three of them make plans to go elsewhere.
Teen Randall is super into his new girlfriend Allison. So he passes on the game and what is probably delicious chili, in order to take Allison to go see Titanic for her sixth time. I mean, I get that. #NeverLetGo
Teen Kate is having an emotional day. She’s made it into the next round of auditions at Berklee and needs to submit an original song. Jack thinks they should make a video of her singing, but she refuses to be on camera. She tries to explain to her father that he is the only person who sees her as beautiful and him continually telling her that only hurts. Jack, of course, has taken video of his daughter anyway, and when she watches it back she notices Jack’s reflection in her bedroom mirror. He is beaming. She changes her mind, and tells her dad that she never wants him to stop seeing her the way he does. He calls her Katie-girl, which is tear-inducing on its own, but even more so in this moment as she heads out of the house to hang out with friends.
At least Kate gets to make up with her dad before everything goes to shit, which is more than we can say for Teen Kevin. He’s still dealing with anger over the loss of his football career, and he’s taking that anger out on his parents. Hard. Before he goes over to Sophie’s house, he pretty much tells Jack and Rebecca that he’s angry because he’s going to end up ordinary like them. You can tell Kevin knows what he said was wrong when he calls the house later to ask Rebecca if Jack is mad. She tells Kevin that Jack isn’t mad, just hurt. Kevin says he didn’t mean it. She asks if Kevin wants to talk to his dad and tell him that. No, he says, he’ll just talk to him tomorrow.
Oh, Kev. He’s been living with that decision for his entire life.
That leaves Jack and Rebecca home alone. Which honestly, isn’t the worst. They make plans for the future. Jack is going to start small with Big Three Homes, and just flip houses for awhile. Rebecca has the perfect first house for him. Suddenly, it dawns on Jack that Rebecca should be his business partner. They are giddy with excitement and celebrate with a super hot makeout session that leads them to the bedroom. What a good Super Bowl!
And that’s how Jack’s last day goes. It’s just a normal day: He fights with his teenagers, he eats some chili, has sex with his wife, makes plans for the future. Just a normal day.
That night, Jack heads downstairs thinking he’s heard Kevin come home. You can tell he wants closure on their earlier argument. Instead, he finds Randall in the kitchen, reeling from his first kiss. Jack makes sure his son was a gentleman (duh) and then Randall goes to bed, with a good night shoulder pat from his dad. And then Jack, ever the dutiful husband, cleans up the messy kitchen that Rebecca decided to leave for the morning. He puts the food away and sweeps the floor. He wipes down the counters with that red towel and tosses it next to the crock pot that he turns off, but forgets that his neighbor who gave it to him all those years ago when they first moved in told him that the knob was a little finicky. And in the dark kitchen, that finicky crock pot turns back on and begins to spark, which lights that red towel on fire, and then the kitchen curtains. Quickly, the entire kitchen is in flames.
Because This Is Us loves to cut to the core of us via montage, “To Build a Home,” one of the saddest songs in history, plays while we cut back and forth between happy memories in the Pearson house and that house being engulfed by flames. It ends just as the flames begin to creep upstairs. But we’ll get to the actual tragedy next week.
So, anyone else dreading Super Bowl Sunday, or is that just me?
• Like I said, everything is tinged with sadness — even Kate and Toby buying a dog. (We haven’t seen exactly how Kate’s dog is tied to her father’s death, but I’m assuming he goes back into the burning house for her dog.) Kate doesn’t think she can have a constant reminder of whatever happened around, but eventually she thinks about how happy a dog would make Toby and gets over it. That seems like a big step for Kate and her guilt. Also, Audio the dog is so stinkin’ cute.
• Lena Waithe is the person who helps Kate at the dog rescue, which is cool but also … can she come back and do more?
• Randall and Beth’s first day of work together does not go well, mainly because Randall is Randall and he is incapable of slowing his roll, as it were. The day ends with all the tenants being moved into a hotel due to a roach infestation. Beth won’t say “I told you so,” but she won’t not say it either.
• Kevin needs a distraction — Jack tells Teen Kevin he keeps his hands away from a drink by keeping them busy with a hammer — and so Kevin helps Randall do some ill-advised renovations, much to the pleasure of the female tenants in the building. The Manny is knocking down some possibly load-bearing walls!
• I treasure any Randall and Kevin scenes, but especially love this one of them talking about their dad and grappling with their own mortality. Randall can’t imagine outliving Jack and is struck by the fact that Jack’s been gone for 20 years — he’s been gone longer than they had him.
• Kevin is making amends and pays an extremely sad visit to Sophie. It feels like a real good-bye, but it can’t be, can it?
• Kevin mentions to Randall that there are some people on his list who won’t be so easy for him to make amends with. He’s talking about his dad. Can we all just be blubbering idiots over this together? Don’t leave me alone in this!
• Let’s end this overall depressing evening on a happy note: Kevin gets his dad’s necklace back! He sent Dr. Charlotte a letter to make amends, and she sends the necklace back. I’ve never been so attached to a piece of fictional jewelry!