Dan Snierson
September 26, 2017 AT 02:09 PM EDT

This Is Us returns tonight after a six-month hiatus, and it will waste no time in plopping you back down in the middle of family trauma. In the opening minutes of the season 2 premiere of the NBC family drama, titled, “A Father’s Advice,” you will bear witness to the aftermath of the sickening fight that rocked the Pearsons to the core and ended with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) numbly asking Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to move out of the house for a bit to give them some air.

Dividing the couple that America had been rooting for instead of finally revealing how Jack met his maker was a rather bold way to end last season. But it was one that — despite any fan frustration over not getting the answer to the morbid mystery — was fully welcomed by Ventimiglia, as it only increases the dramatic stakes for that big moment (whenever it is ultimately unveiled) and it raises a new question: Were Jack and Rebecca still married when he died? “I think it was what the show needed,” says Ventimiglia. “I feel like giving away Jack’s death at the end of the season — that’s too easy. But giving us a place that we had to fight back for before you understand Jack’s death, it’s a more admirable place to be, and I’m very supportive of what Dan [Fogelman, the show’s creator] wants to do with these characters and this family. So I was as excited to tell that story of a breakup as I am – kind of – about Jack’s death.”

The premiere will find Rebecca and Jack still reeling from the blow-out the night before, and now they must try to explain the ramifications of that fight to their children. “The wound is still gushing blood, and it’s going to get messy before it’s even close to being better,” Ventimiglia says. “[Both] of them are dealing with hurt, dealing with disappointment, but there are logistics. They’ve decided that Dad is going to stay somewhere else, yet Mom is supposed to be on tour and Dad was supposed to pick the kids up, so how does that all work out now? Jack and Rebecca are faced with the very unpleasant thought of having to tell their kids that they’re going to take a break.”

Don’t miss People and EW’s This Is Us LIVE viewing party! Go to People.com and EW.com on Tuesday, Sept. 26 beginning at 5 p.m. PT for exclusive access to the This Is Us season 2 red carpet premiere party – with all the scoop from your favorite cast members. Then join our editors as they bring you expert insight and can’t-miss social buzz during the premiere episode of the hit NBC drama.

Teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) will process the news a little differently than Kevin (Logan Shroyer), who processes it differently than Randall (Niles Fitch). And it’s possible that one of them may know more than the others. “Mom and Dad have different relationships with each of the kids, so each of the kids is going to have a different opinion on it, depending on what they know,” he says. “Are Jack and Rebecca going to be honest and tell them what’s going on? Or are they going to give them a version of the story that maybe a teenager can understand and find a little sympathy for what their parents are going through? You’ve got to imagine that whatever each of them is feeling is going to be different toward each parent — and even toward one another.”

And how exactly are the Pearson parents feeling about each other after that vitriolic verbal sparring match? The episode features a significant scene between Jack and Rebecca that might indicate the level of hope you should have for this couple. “It’s the fragile moment of: Are they coming together or not?” says Ventimiglia. “There are things that are happening at the same time as this conversation that are going to impact Jack and Rebecca, and that stuff will come into the light, but it’s one of those fragile moments where you’re hoping these two people can get it together.” (Or at least they can for the short term. The long-term prospects are obviously quite grim, given Jack’s looming death.)

And speaking of that, the ending of the premiere contains what Fogelman has described as a “huge piece of the puzzle” surrounding Jack’s demise. (The scene was redacted from the script and shot much later than the rest of the episode to keep it under wraps.) “It hits you in a moment and you go, ‘Oh, s–t. This is it!’” teases Ventimiglia. “And then we leave you with that, and we don’t explain more. We just leave you on a moment where you understand everything — but you know nothing.” (For several more clues about that puzzle piece, you definitely will want to click here.)

The episode, which he refers to as “heavy — just heavy,” kicks off a second season in which “the stakes are a bit higher for the Pearsons,” says Ventimiglia. “There are some darker notes that we’re playing, but beyond that, it feels like the first season — just different stories.”

We’ll delve deeper into Jack, whom we mostly know as SuperDad, and examine his flaws. “There’s got to be a reason why Jack is the way that Jack is, why he loves his wife and kids so much, why he fights for his family,” says Ventimiglia. “The unpacking of Jack is understanding his past, understanding the thing that crossed his path in life that created the man that we know…. Fundamentally, that’s who he was supposed to be — he was supposed to be a great husband and a good father, but there are things that happened to him when he was younger, and he chose to be a good husband. He’s choosing to be a good father because of his younger years.”

To keep doing that, he’ll need to fix a deep-rooted drinking problem that has spiraled out of control and clearly stems back to his father. “Alcoholism, whatever you believe, it’s in people’s blood, and you have to be aware of that,” he says. “It’s definitely in Jack’s blood because of his father, and Jack’s way of dealing with it in the past might have changed or shifted, but every day it’s something that Jack is going to have to deal with. We’re going to see Jack fight to stay on the better path that keeps him close to his wife and to his kids.“

How much of that journey he’ll be able to complete is one of many accumulating questions marks: Time seems to be running out quickly, and Jack Pearson is racing against a clock that he doesn’t even know is ticking.

For much more on the season premiere — which airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC — see what creator Dan Fogelman had to say here. And what Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan said here. And what Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi said here.

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