Need to catch up? Check out the previous This Is Us recap here.
For This Is Us fans who’ve spent a season-and-a-half gobbling up every little hint about how Jack Pearson died, Sunday’s post-Super Bowl episode must seem like a slow-cooker brimming with all the answers they’ve sought. (Too soon?)
Indeed, in an achingly good episode we learn the exact nature of the patriarch’s death — which was cardiac arrest caused by smoke inhalation, in case you’re only reading this so you’ll be in the know when everyone’s talking about it at work tomorrow. If so, have a good night! Make sure to unplug any dodgy small kitchen appliances!
For the rest of us: The special installment of the drama finds Randall, Kevin, Kate and Rebecca enjoying Super Bowl LII yet inevitably being reminded of how Jack lost his life on the night of the big game 20 years before. As is their custom, each of The Big Three react in very different ways. “This is my dad’s favorite day, so I celebrate him,” an upbeat Randall informs Beth. Kate buries herself in old photos and videotape. And Kev just tries to not be sad. (Betcha can’t guess how that turns out.)
Read on for the highlights of “Super Bowl Sunday.”
HOT DAMN | The episode opens on Jack, who’s suddenly awake next to a sleeping Rebecca. He goes to take a drink from a glass on his bedside table but notices smoke coming in through the top of the doorframe. He opens the door and immediately begins barking commands, because, “The house is on fire!” He calls out to Randall and Kate to stay in their rooms with the doors closed, then goes about collecting his kids. Randall is first. By the time Jack gets to Kate, the smoke and flames are much worse than they were a moment before. And when he tries to help Kate get to the master bedroom, where Randall and Rebecca are waiting, it’s too bad to pass. But her room is also too high to jump from, so Jack grabs her mattress and uses it as a shield as they move down the hall.
Once they reunite with a relieved Rebecca and Randall, Jack goes about lowering his family, one by one via a hoist made of bedsheets, to the front yard. But when Kate starts freaking out about Louie the dog, and they hear him barking, Jack goes back in for the mutt. (Against Rebecca’s wishes, it should be noted.)
Jack hasn’t been inside for more than a few seconds when the blaze gets so much worse, and all the family can do is hug each other as they sob. But then the front door opens, and Jack comes out with the pooch and a sack of something.
WAITING FOR THE INEVITABLE | As the firefighters work on the flames, an EMT strongly advises that Jack get to a hospital, because he’s inhaled a LOT of smoke. He brushes it off, saying that he needs to drop the kids off first. “It’s just a house,” Rebecca reminds the kids as they stare at the inferno that used to be their home. “It was a good house, though,” Randall says, which makes everyone a little teary. But not all is lost: As it turns out, the sack Jack was carrying contains a treasure trove of family memories, including photo albums, Rebecca’s necklace and the VHS tape Jack made when Kate was recording her second audition for Berklee School of Music.
THIS IS… KILLING US | At the hospital, Jack is more worried about finding out the results of the Super Bowl than he is about the massive amounts of smoke he inhaled or the pain he’s in. He refuses painkillers — “I can’t,” he says simply, because he’s in recovery — and when he’s alone with Rebecca, he laments that they never got batteries for the smoke detector. But he’s in a generally good mood. “How can you possibly joke right now?” Rebecca wonders. “That’s because I’ve still got the only thing that I’ve ever really needed,” he tells her.
They remember Dr. K’s speech about lemons, then she steps out to call the kids and get some stuff from the vending machine. But while Rebecca is making calls to find hotel rooms for the family, her back is turned and she doesn’t realize that a bunch of medical personnel are running toward Jack’s room.
By the time the doctor finds her buying a candy bar, it’s too late. Jack went into cardiac arrest as a complication of smoke inhalation. “It was catastrophic and I’m afraid we lost him,” the doctor tells her. She immediately can’t process what’s happened; she takes a bite of the bar. “Mrs. Pearson, your husband just died,” the doc clarifies gently, but she marches back to the room to prove him wrong. And that’s where Jack is lying on the bed, shirt open, lifeless. We only see him in the reflection of the window behind Rebecca, but it’s enough to watch her face as she starts to realize what’s happened. She has a flash of him from when they first met, then she starts to cry. Hard.
As scenes from their life together flit through her mind — the babies at home, Pilgrim Rick — she collects his effects (the stuff we saw on the car seat next to her a while back) and leaves the hospital.
‘I HAVE TO TALK TO MY KIDS’ | By the time she gets to Miguel’s, Rebecca looks like she wants to die. When Miguel asks what’s wrong, she says, “Something awful… Jack died.” When Miguel starts to fall apart, she forbids him. “I have to go in, I have to talk to my kids, and I have to ruin the rest of their life. So I’m going to be strong for them. God help me, I’m going to be strong for them, and if you can’t be strong, you need to take a walk around the block,” she says, leaving him behind as she walks inside. We don’t hear what Rebecca tells Kate and Randall after she asks Allison to leave, but we don’t need to. We watch them fall apart, and it is awful.
Out in the woods somewhere, Kevin and Sophie sleep side by side in a car.
UNHAPPY ANNIVERSARY | In the present, Kate is watching the tape Jack carried out of the burning house. And when Toby questions why, she replies, “It’s cathartic for me and it’s the 20th anniversary, so I’m going for the catharsis jugular.” But then the VCR eats the tape, and a panicked Kate cries.
In New Jersey, Rebecca tells Kevin that Miguel is going to watch the game because he usually gives her space on Super Bowl Sunday. She asks her son what he usually does to mark the somber occasion. “Typically I would get blackout drunk and then I would try to sleep with the hottest model that would have me,” he says. “What about you?” Rebecca’s answer is the best: “Same.” (Ha!) She says that she typically buys all the ingredients for Jack’s favorite lasagna, makes one, and then eats some. And when Kev says that’s sad, she disagrees.
“Every year on my saddest day, your father finds some way to send me some sign that literally makes me laugh,” Rebecca adds. But this year, Kevin plans to try to be a Pearson who doesn’t wallow in grief on game day.
At Randall’s house, he’s singing along with “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and prepping a hoagie stadium for a party of 20 girls. He seems to be in a great mood. But Tess isn’t excited, saying that their friends only care about the Halftime Show, anyway. “We need some boys in this house,” Randall says to Beth. Cut to: the foster care worker telling the little boy we saw a few episodes back — his name is Jordan — that she thinks she’s found a family for him.
NOT TOO LATE | Kevin spends the fateful Sunday anniversary in various ways: He bounces a ball against the wall, whitens his teeth and meditates before delving into some family memorabilia including one of Jack’s sober AA coins.
Eventually, he winds up at Jack’s tree — it’s the one Randall took William to in the “Memphis” episode. Talking to Jack out loud, Kevin explains that he’s going to try to say some of the things that he never got the chance to say. “I’m sorry, Dad, that I wasn’t there that night and I’m sorry that the last thing I ever said to you was awful,” he says, voice breaking from the start. “I have had a really, a really bad year. I’ve had a bad couple of decades, actually. And I haven’t turned out to be even close to the man that you… I just think you’d be really disappointed in me, you know?” He remarks that he’s struggling with sobriety, and that he’s going to improve. “I’m going to be a man, and I’m going to do better for you… I’m going to make you proud of me.” Then he tells him about making a movie with Rocky.
Kev later calls his mother, who’s eating lasagna, and tells her she was so strong for them. “I tried to wrap myself around you guys and protect you, but you were all so big already. But I had to try,” she says. She confesses that it haunts her that she took a bite of “that stupid candy bar” after she got the terrible news. “Isn’t that so strange?” And when Kevin in turn confesses that he’s not even sure he’s at the right tree, she starts laughing. “You see?” she says, “This year he sent me you.”
TWIST! | During the girls’ party, Annie’s lizard, Mr. McGiggles, gets loose and winds up dead when Beth accidentally steps on him. The party quickly becomes a funeral for the reptile, whom the family had just purchased the day before. But what seems silly soon hits home for Randall, who gets deep. “When you lose someone suddenly and unexpectedly it hurts differently,” he tells the group, going into a story about a toothache that once caused him kinds of pain. “That’s what unexpected loss is like. It’s like a lightning bolt you can’t even see reaching inside of you and tearing your guts,” he says before Beth can jump in and get the girls excited about Puppy Bowl. Meanwhile, Tess stalks off, all teen ‘tude.
When Randall and Tess talk later, she says that all of Randall’s “new” things of late — William, Deja, new job — make her think “It’s like you want a new life.” Aw, honey! He reassures her that he doesn’t, and that all he’s ever wanted to do is be as good a dad to her and Annie as Jack was to him. “You my Number 1, baby girl. You’re the girl that made my life somersault.” He makes her understand that even if they get another foster child the next day — which it seems like is happening — she’ll always be his top priority. She seems happy to hear this and adds that she likes fostering.
BUT WAIT. The woman telling Jordan that she had a family for him WAS TESS BUT ALL GROWN UP, which we learn when a much older Randall comes to visit her. And WAIT AGAIN, back in the present, Deja calls Beth to say hi… and that she’s at the front door.
GO TO THE TAPE | “He died because of me,” Kate tells Toby while they’re waiting for Toby’s “guy” to repair the tape. “Because in the scariest moment of our lives, he couldn’t bear to disappoint me. So if once a year I want to beat myself up for it, please just let me.” But then the man is able to fix everything, and Kate rejoices.
Later, she watches a digitized version of the tape (“I like it on the cloud,” she says), launching into a memory about Jack fixing and re-fixing a window in her bedroom. “He was patient, and he was so steady,” she recalls, as we watch a flashback of Kate finding Kevin sleeping in the car and giving him the news. “For 20 years, I thought very little of myself. But then this big ol’ guy with this big ol’ heart came walking into my support group,” she says, praising Toby for believing in her. “You saved my life… Oh my God, he would’ve loved you.”
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