Ron Batzdorff/NBC
David Canfield
January 24, 2018 at 12:00 AM EST

This Is Us

type
TV Show
genre
Drama
run date
09/20/16
performer
Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
Producer
Dan Fogelman
broadcaster
NBC
seasons
2
Current Status
In Season
We gave it a B+

Jack, like Randall in the present timeline, is anxious about starting a new business so late into his life; he decides to take it slow, focusing on flipping houses and making some money before launching “Big Three Homes” for real. Jack is also, like Kevin in the present, intensely focused on fixing things as a means of distraction. “Every time I want to grab a drink, instead I just pick up a hammer,” he tells teen Kevin while working on a new shelf for the TV. You see where the Pearsons’ “Number One” gets it from.

It’s subtle, the way Kevin carries the heaviest burden of tragedy in this episode. But you feel it increasingly with every scene he appears in — adult or teen. When he moves on from Randall’s renovation project, he finally musters the courage to face Sophie after he wronged her so profoundly. But she asks him, simply, to let her go. “We tried to squeeze a puzzle piece in because it fit once when were kids,” she says, fighting tears. “You really want to make amends? Just leave me with the past. Let me remember you at 10 or 17 or 20. Just let me remember you when it was good.” He tries apologizing once more, and she forgives him but only asks that he go.

It’s a devastating moment, because beyond the obvious emotions, there’s a real depth of grief that Kevin is experiencing. And indeed, another wave of pain comes right after. Kevin returns to Rebecca’s and finds a package waiting for him at the front door. It’s the necklace from Jack he’d lost on his drunken bender, mailed by his old high school classmate Charlotte — we see in a note she attaches that Kevin had sent her a letter apologizing, seeking amends, and explaining the situation. He takes out his list of those whose forgiveness he’d sought. He checks off Sophie. He checks off Charlotte. And he’s left, only, with “Dad.”

Back in the past, the argument between teen Kevin and Jack erupts out of a simple piece of news: Sophie gets accepted to NYU, celebrating with her parents. With Kevin’s dream of a football scholarship shattered, it’s yet another blow. He leaves the house to be with her, presumably the last time he’ll ever see his dad — angry and unable to, well, make amends. (He calls the house later to say goodnight to his mother but declines to come home or to even speak to Jack.) Jack writes a note on Kevin’s door for his son to see when he returns, giving his love while also scolding, “You owe us an apology,” but within minutes we learn it’s a note Kevin will never see.

And why? The damn slow cooker!

“That’ll Be the Day” actually opens not on one of the Pearsons, but on Jack and Rebecca’s elderly neighbors. As the episode begins, George and his wife are lamenting the fact that their house has been on the market for a month, and that no one has bought it; the garage is filled with old junk that George seems unwilling to part with. It’s an innocuous scene that takes on a foreboding new context later in the episode. Jack and Rebecca make an offer on a house after Rebecca sees it listed in the newspaper. We cut back to George and his wife; their house must be the one that Rebecca thinks can be Jack’s fresh start. (Jack also tells Rebecca to partner with him, which she accepts.) But George is actually from an earlier time in the past, back when a pregnant Rebecca and bearded Jack were still sprucing up the home. George, sad to be saying goodbye to his home, brings a box of old junk to the young couple’s door for them to keep. Among the goodies included is a slow cooker — an old appliance that needs to be “fiddled” with to firmly shut it off.

Last week came the reveal that Rebecca and Jack forgot to buy batteries to keep the smoke alarm powered. And this week we see the (presumed) consequences. We watch Jack cleaning the kitchen after the Super Bowl, alone, putting away the uneaten snacks, throwing dishes into the dishwasher, sweeping the floor. He says goodnight to Randall, who returns home giddy over his Titanic date. And he turns off the Crock-Pot — or so he thinks. The final five minutes of “That’ll Be the Day” move into a gorgeous montage, contrasting a lifetime a joyous memories with an agonizingly clear account of how the Crock-Pot switched back on without Jack knowing, how the fire started, and how it spread through the house without anybody noticing — finally burning Jack’s note to Kevin on the bedroom door. The juxtaposition of joy and tragedy — of the family’s togetherness from earlier years and the sight of Jack in the kitchen alone — is so blisteringly effective that it’s terrifying to consider where we’re headed next.

And answers are coming next week. After again bearing witness to their special bond this week, we’ll get a clear picture of why Kate’s grief has long been so pronounced and so riddled with self-blame — hint: it probably involves the dog — and there will no doubt be several other surprises and twists along the way. But “That’ll Be the Day” can only leave us with this: If this is indeed how Jack dies, it’s hard to stomach that we have ol’ George and a faulty slow cooker to blame, and the knowledge that Jack was left to watch his last Super Bowl without his Big Three.

Head here for Milo Ventimiglia’s thoughts on this story.

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