[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details from Tuesday night’s episode of This Is Us, “Three Sentences”]
Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us centered on a birthday. But it also gave us a death day.
As in, a funeral. As in, his funeral.
Yes, we finally learned the approximate age of the Big Three when their father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), met his maker, as a few fleeting glimpses of his funeral flashed across our screen, a memorial photo of a mustachioed Jack (presumably from an earlier era) next to an urn, a moon-necklace-wearing Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and his teenage kids standing in somber attendance. This revelation was brought to you via a breakthrough moment by Kate (Chrissy Metz), who decided to put a pin in her gastric bypass plan and try an alternative method to losing weight: She shipped off to the Adirondacks for a weight-loss immersion camp, and during a let-it-all-out, free-to-be-me drum circle moment, she uncorked a guttural scream — and about two decades of pent-up anger —as the childhood moments of her relationship with her father, including those funeral flashbacks, flooded her brain. (Another line in the Jack portrait was drawn; many more pencil strokes to come.)
It was a dark, somber, and intriguing ending to an episode that was a bit lighter in tone than recent previous installments. Even in Kate’s story. She made the acquaintance of the camp’s horse stable employee and reverse psychologist Duke (Adam Bartley), who boldly made known his intentions to win her over romantically. This prompted her to mention that she was engaged, but in a way that hinted at possibility, or at least tension — and made you think that Toby (Chris Sullivan) had better watch his back.
If Jack’s funeral may have provided the episode’s biggest gut punch, the biggest curveball came courtesy of not Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — who spent a lovely and surprisingly upbeat afternoon with William (Ron Cephas Jones) going shopping for shades and egg cream — but Kevin (Justin Hartley), who had been left sifting through the rubble of failed mini-relationships with two women, Sloane (Milana Vayntrub) and Olivia (Janet Montgomery). With the help of romantic spirit guide Toby, Kevin was struck by the epiphany that his true love was actually… his childhood love, Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge). Did we mention that Sophie is also his ex-wife from whom he was divorced 12 years ago? No, we didn’t, because this was all unknown before he showed up at her door with a Jerry Maguire-esque, three-sentence-if-we’re-counting-parentheses speech.
And as for our adventures into the past, the Big Three, hitting the big 1-0, decided that they wanted to forgo the usual joint birthday celebration and have their own parties. Kate tried to entertain via Madonna, Kevin drew in Sophie (and Kate’s other friends) with a Princess Bride theme, and Randall drew a heart-achingly small crowd with his magic bash. Meanwhile, running around the house to the different parties, Jack planted the seed in Rebecca’s mind for having a fourth kid, which they decided was probably one too many by the end of the chaotic celebratory day, which finished off with the kids reuniting for the family tradition of Pin the Tail on the Donkey,
Before you take off your party hats, let’s throw on a pair of shades, sip on an egg cream, grab some drum sticks, and ask series creator Dan Fogelman a few pressing questions about “Three Sentences.” You don’t see it, but this is happening.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: And so the next piece of the Jack-is-dead puzzle was revealed. We now know that they were in their teenage years when tragedy struck. How did you decide for storytelling purposes that that was the right age? Was it old enough so the kids would have plenty of memories but young enough to impact them at a key phase of maturity and leave a hole?
DAN FOGELMAN: Yeah. I’ve always known when Jack died. The how is going to take much longer to reveal. To me, even when you’re watching the pilot, long before you knew Jack may not be in the picture in the present day, this family always felt loving and good but broken. You’ve got kids battling severe issues, whether it be Randall and his anxiety, and Kate with many things of self-confidence and weight, and Kevin has gone off to Los Angeles, and clearly there’s strained relationships with Rebecca. There feels like there was a break somewhere, and it always felt to me, as I thought about this family, that something formative happened to them in those prominent late teenage years, when you’re really becoming an adult, and getting boyfriends and girlfriends, and forming as a human being in full.
Kate clearly has a lot of emotions bottled up, and there was certainly a cathartic release during that drum circle. What hath been loosened?
A lot. And it’s going to take a long time. It’s certainly going to take the rest of our season for her to even be opened up enough to really talk about it, and it’s going to take even longer for the audience to get the story of what happened in full. I think you get the sense, watching the episode and watching the show that, listen, something happened. And it’s something that broke this family apart, not irreparably. They all love each other. The Big Three is amazing together. But there’s stuff here, and I think a lot of it is held with Jack.
There’s still — and there’s going to be for some time — a lot of unanswered questions. What was going on in their marriage whenever this happened? How did it happen? Those questions aren’t going to be answered for some time. It’s something that, like many of the great tragedies in our lives, might not be talked about all the time or easy to talk about. What I’ve referenced in our writers’ room a lot is my mom died very suddenly and very tragically. I’m not saying that’s what happened to Jack, but I’m just saying it was obviously a very affecting thing in my life, and the hinge upon which my life hinges. It was the moment at 31 years old — there’s a “before that” and there’s an “after that” for me — and I think that’s what this was for them. For me, personally — and all I go by is my own experience — I have a hard time even to this day talking about the how and the when of it. It’s not something I’m real capable of getting into, and I went briefly to therapy. It’s just something that’s kind of locked unhealthily away. I think that’s the case with a lot of the family, and we’ve seen that, hopefully. We’re not just pulling this out of our ass in the 13th episode. We’ve seen this in bits and pieces with this family. So, there’s a long journey for the audience to go on, still.
NEXT PAGE: Fogelman on when viewers will get more answers about Jack’s death