From the Super Bowl to the Super Bawl, am I right? Sorry, not sorry: A cheesy dad joke just felt like the right way to honor the King of All Dads, Jack Pearson. As promised, “Super Bowl Sunday” provides the answers to how our beloved Jack dies. But it also does so much more. Before we get to that big This Is Us twist (haven’t you missed those?), let’s finally put the mystery about Jack Pearson’s death to rest.
The episode opens right where we left off, with that little kitchen fire started by a faulty Crock-Pot (not all Crock-Pots are bad, even Milo Ventimiglia says so) that quickly engulfs the house. Jack wakes up in the middle of the night and opens his door to find a stairwell full of flames.
These first few minutes of the episode — in which Jack somehow remains calm enough to have Rebecca stay in their room and wet towels, while he runs over to get Randall out of his bedroom and then a very frightened Kate — are harrowing. The sequence is intense and awful and I wanted to look away, but like, this is my job.
Jack is a superhero. He uses a mattress to provide cover as he and Kate (Jack screaming, “Katie-girl!” across the burning hallway pretty much broke me) make their way into the master bedroom, burning his arms in the process. He builds a rope out of sheets and towels and lowers Randall, Kate, and Rebecca to the front lawn one by one. He is about to join them when he sees the pain in Kate’s face as she calls out for Louie, that mangy little dog, who last we saw sleeping soundly on the first floor. This Is Us has done a great job reminding us just how Jack and Kate have an unbreakable connection, so when Jack turns around and goes back into the burning house, we can all agree that it was an inevitable choice. Jack has spent all of Kate’s life trying to keep pain at bay.
So this is how Jack dies, right? With Teen Randall having to physically hold back his mother while she tries to run in after her husband who has been inside for much too long?
Well, no. Remember when I called Jack a superhero? He busts out of the front door with both Louie and a whole sack of family mementos — including that tape of Kate singing. Rebecca can’t believe it. The Pearsons have survived this tragedy and Jack is somehow, impossibly, an even better, stronger man than she knew. He still needs a trip to the ER because of his burns and the paramedic is concerned about how much smoke he inhaled, but he made it out of the house.
At the hospital, the same one where the Big Three were born, things still seem fine. The doctor is surprised, given how much time Jack spent inside the house. Jack and Rebecca reminisce about Dr. K and his “sourest lemons” speech, they kiss, and they talk about how lucky they are to have each other. While they are simply ready to get out of the hospital, we have the unpleasant knowledge that they never will. So when Rebecca leaves Jack’s room to make some phone calls and get a snack, and their conversation isn’t anything special, you know it’s about to go down.
Still, the knowing doesn’t make it any easier as we see Rebecca on the phone while the hospital staff races into Jack’s room. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier when the doctor finds Rebecca buying a candy bar and has to tell her the horrible news: The smoke inhalation put a tremendous amount of stress on Jack’s lungs and heart, and he went into cardiac arrest. He’s gone.
Mandy Moore is tremendous in this scene as she attempts to comprehend something that, just minutes ago, seemed impossible. She takes a bite out of her candy bar, she tells the doctor he’s mistaken, she runs over to tell her husband how loony the people here are — and that’s when it hits her. We, thankfully, only see Jack’s lifeless body through the reflection on the glass door, but that’s all we need since we’re focused on Rebecca’s horrified face. As she breaks down, she has flashes of memories of Jack. Pilgrim Rick. His “I want to be a 12 for you” speech. The night they first met.
But Rebecca can’t let this consume her. She still needs to tell her kids. In another great Moore scene, Rebecca tells Miguel the news outside of his house as she summons all of her courage to do something no one should have to.
Finally, the scenes we’ve previously seen come together: Kate and Randall crying at Miguel’s, Kate deciding to go find Kevin and tell him, Rebecca screaming in the car outside their burned down home. Obviously, there is so much more story to tell about the Pearsons (the next installment covers the direct aftermath, the funeral, and a visit from Dr. K), but at least now we can move forward with all the information surrounding Jack’s death as we continue to explore a family’s grief.
We also spend some time on the present-day Super Bowl Sunday. (Go Birds!) The day is an emotional one for all the Pearsons, and each deals with it in his or her own way. Kate spends her day watching the video that Jack saved, staring at her father, and feeling bad about herself. The video is almost destroyed by her VCR, but Toby saves the day, and Kate ends up reflecting on how she never thought she’d be strong enough to recover from Jack’s death, but then she met Toby. Toby saved her life.
Rebecca typically spends the day alone. She makes Jack’s favorite lasagna, watches the game, and waits for Jack to send her his annual sign and make her laugh. The first year after Jack died, Rebecca turned on the radio on Super Bowl Sunday and “You Can Call Me Al” was playing … on two different stations. He sends her something like that every year. Rebecca invites Kevin to join her this year, but he typically avoids the day altogether.
This year, however, Kevin’s avoidance tactics don’t work, and he ends up at the tree where they scattered some of Jack’s ashes. Now more than ever, Kevin needs to talk to his dad. He fills Jack in on the terrible year he’s had and makes us all burst out into tears (if you weren’t still crying from one of the 50 other tear-inducing things in this episode), when he tells Jack just how disappointed he’d be in his son, but promises to make things right. It’s a nice little speech that hits all the right notes, and is a reminder of how overlooked Justin Hartley’s work on this show has been.
Kevin ends up calling his mom from that tree, just to check on her. He fills her in on what he’s been up to and, also, that he’s not sure he even has the right tree. This really makes Rebecca laugh. It’s what she’s been waiting for. She tells Kevin that she knows what Jack sent her this year — he sent her Kevin. Therapist Barb would be so moved. (And that woman is very stoic, so that’s a big deal.)
Of course, we can’t forget Randall. While his siblings and mother are big downers on Super Bowl Sunday, he uses the day to celebrate Jack. And also honor all of us by wearing an apron that says “Caution: Hot Dad.” Bless you, Randall, for so many things, but mostly that.
As much as Randall tries to make the day a happy one, plans go awry when Annie’s pet lizard, Mr. McGiggles, ends up on the bottom of Beth’s shoe. Randall makes a speech about how painful it can be to lose someone suddenly, not knowing the last time you see them is The Last Time, and obviously the speech is not about the tiny lizard they only got yesterday. After the speech, he notices Tess is upset and goes to apologize to her for being so off. But Tess isn’t upset about Mr. McGiggles.
Tess has been keeping the landline off the hook because only social workers call that number. It’s not that she doesn’t like fostering; she just feels like her dad wants a new life. While Randall promises Tess that she’ll always be his number one, and that he’ll be having dinner with her at her big fancy office once a week when she’s older, Beth gets a call. It sounds like a social worker calling with news.
We cut to that cute little boy, Jordan, and his social worker, whom we met a few episodes ago. She’s finally found Jordan a foster family.
If you think that Jordan is the kid Randall and Beth are meant to have, you are wrong. Jordan’s foster parents arrive, and they are most definitely not the Pearsons. At the same time, Beth opens the front door and it is … Deja. Deja!
Back with Jordan, his social worker looks on with pride, happy that she’s helped another child find a family. And then her dad walks in ready for their weekly dinner. And her dad is Randall Pearson.
We’re in the future, you guys. Consider yourselves #Twisted.