Paul Drinkwater/NBC
Dan Snierson
March 08, 2017 AT 12:47 PM EST

Since the early days of This Is Us, we’ve known that Jack and Kate shared a unique and emotionally charged bond. It was Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) who worked magic and overtime to try to build up young Kate’s self-esteem, through fantastical t-shirt tales and highly choreographed pose-strikings. It was Kate (Chrissy Metz) who told us that Jack was indeed dead, way back in “The Game Plan” when she breathed as deep as she ever had and showed then-boyfriend-now-fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) the urn containing Jack’s ashes with which she watches Steelers games. It was via Kate’s breakthrough at the weight-loss immersion camp in “Three Sentences” that we gleaned a flashback to Jack’s funeral and noticed that the Big Three were only teenagers then, giving us at least a time period for his death. And in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” when Toby pressed Kate about her father’s death, she was simply unable to talk about it, feeling overwhelmed and blocked at once.

But after Kate took some advice to (wounded) heart from Randall (Sterling K. Brown) about opening up to Toby in Tuesday’s episode, “What Now?,” we inched ever so closer to some details about Jack’s demise with a confession of sorts: “You remember when I told you I couldn’t talk about my dad’s death?” Kate asked Toby. “Yeah, of course,” he answered. “Well,” she replied, “that’s because I… it’s my fault. Hmm-mmm. I’m the reason he’s dead.”

As Toby absorbed what was just said — though cryptic, it was something that gave us a better understanding of why she has struggled over the years — the end of the episode transported us back to that fateful time period. It’s the one in which Jack died, and at this particular moment, it’s one in which Jack’s marriage to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) was in an unstable place, something that teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) noticed and expressed concern about to her father. Unhappy that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) had embarked on a two-week tour with Ben (Sam Trammell) and his band, Jack continued to self-medicate and put himself in a dangerous position by showing up at a work afterparty at Joe’s Tavern, where assistant Heather (Megan West) had eyes for him. He accepted a drink invitation from her, but when she wanted more, he shut down her advances, exiting the bar and calling Princess Kate from a pay phone outside to tell her that she was right, that he was determined to fix this marriage, and that, yes, he loved her. He dropped his keys — an indication that he’d probably had too much to drink — got in his car, and rode off into the night, seemingly headed to Rebecca’s gig two hours away. Roll credits.

What exactly did Kate mean when she said his death was her “fault” and that she’s the “reason” he’s dead? Is this the last night of Jack’s life? How interconnected are those last two scenes? Let’s stop directing questions at each other and start asking them to the woman who plays his dear daughter, Chrissy Metz.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I don’t think fans are having any sort of reaction to the end of this episode, do you?
CHRISSY METZ:
Oh, not at all.

It seemed like we’re moving one step closer to finding out how Jack died. We discover that the reason Kate has been so blocked and tortured about Jack’s death is because, as she tells Toby, “It’s my fault” and “I’m the reason he’s dead.” Is it actually her fault in any way or is it just something that she feels a tremendous amount of guilt about?
Hmmm… I’m of the thinking that the way people come and go out of this plane of existence is what was meant to be, but I believe that she really does think it’s her fault, and she does feel responsible for that. No, of course, it’s not her fault, but she has been holding that in forever, and she really does believe that it is.

Which of those things that she said is probably closer to being accurate: “It’s my fault” or “I’m the reason he’s dead”?
“It’s my fault.”

How do you think fans will respond to Kate saying, “It’s my fault”? One read is that we feel for her more deeply than ever, that she is so haunted by guilt. Another is that we need to hire a security detail for you.
Correct. I think it’s the latter. (Laughs.) Because, ooooh, there is so much undying love, no pun intended, for Jack. People get really hyped up and emotional about it, so I hope that they will have empathy for Kate, and I hope that they can understand that she would never do anything malicious. That’s the hope.

RELATED: This Is Us: Before They Were Stars

What do you remember about filming that scene with Toby? Was that something you had been dreading?
I have to say, when I read the script, and it was phrased that way, I was like, “Are you kidding? How in the world can I ever, ever say these words without coming off like a victim?” It’s probably one of my hardest scenes I’ve had all season because of what it meant, and what it means, and the weight that, no pun intended, she’s carried around, or pun intended, because of it. It’s five words or something. It’s a sentence. And it has such an enormous sense of responsibility and explanation (exhales). I hope that it comes across in the way I wanted it to. But it was kind of intimidating and a little scary for me, because it was such a culmination of literally the whole season of getting to know Kate, and why, and how, and everything that she’s dealing with that’s on the surface. So… it was difficult. And Chris couldn’t have been more wonderful. It was really emotional. It was really, really intense.

When you say that you hope it came across in the way you wanted to, how exactly did you intend it? Did you want to it be read different ways?
Yeah, I wanted it to be layered, in that you don’t want to give too much away but you want to give enough away — and also that sense of guilt that she’s been holding onto for many, many, many years that’s affected her, and just now, she’s breaking through the surface… Even though she knew it all along, she’s never said it out loud. She’s never admitted to it. She’s never told anybody that she feels that it’s her fault.

There was a scene that was cut from the immersion camp where she went to see a therapist. I loved that scene desperately, and I guess it was cut for time or whatever, but maybe it was too much explanation of what’s going on and too many clues. But yeah, there’s such a fine line in how to play that, and it’s such a huge storyline, and people are so madly in love with Jack, as they should be. I didn’t want to be a victim, but I wanted there to be empathy, and I wanted there to be an explanation.

NEXT PAGE: Metz on Jack’s death: ‘I would say it’s really heart-wrenching’

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