How will one of the biggest broadcast network shows with one of the biggest hanging mysteries follow up the biggest TV event of the year?
It appears with long-awaited death. The manner of how Jack came to leave this world will be revealed on Feb. 4, a.k.a. Super Bowl Sunday, when This Is Us airs in the plum post-game slot. “Questions will be answered in a very satisfying way,” This Is Us executive producer Isaac Aptaker tells EW. “It’s not necessarily what people expect, but people will have a lot of the answers they’ve been hoping for.”
“It is a very, very exciting episode,” he continues. “We shot it early, so we had extra time to make sure everything was perfect in editing. It was one of my favorite episodes we’ve ever done, and I think it’s really going to blow people away.”
The Jan. 23 episode, of course, ended with the kitchen on fire after a slow-cooker sparked, and with no warning from the battery-less smoke detector, it is spreading fast without warning. And you’ll be right back in harm’s way when this installment begins. It “picks up right where episode 13 left off,” he says. “It’s almost a ‘To Be Continued…'”
The episode doesn’t just simply wallow in tragedy, however. “It’s one of the most emotional episodes we’ve ever done, but there is a silver lining to it, and there’s an uplift to the episode,” he says. “While it’s incredibly intense in a lot of ways, there is beauty to it, and there is optimism to it. That’s so important to us — to always find the lighter side of things too.”
Perhaps some of that silver lining/uplift will arrive in the form of a new family member. The dejected boy from the fall finale who was comforted by an administrator in the foster care system is entering the orbit of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), who recently had a painful parting with Deja (Lyric Ross). “We do see that little boy again,” says Aptaker, “and he is just as adorable as the last time we saw him.”
“It’s exciting because the idea of foster care, as we see, is that you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Watson recently told EW. “A lot of foster parents can identify with that. And the possibility of it being a bit of a revolving door before something sticks is so important to show — the instability of it as you try to give this child stability. I just found that to be such an interesting way to look at it. It doesn’t all tie up with a bow, with Deja. It’s very exciting and compelling. And then we have the introduction of this cute young one in the Super Bowl episode.”
Interesting tidbit: At least one part of this key episode had to be filmed two different ways.The present-day story lines in this special episode take place on Super Bowl Sunday, and you’ll see how each member of the Big Three chooses to recognize the big game and emotionally loaded day. There was, of course, synergistic opportunity for the Steelers-obsessed Pearsons as the team put together an impressive season, ultimately winning the AFC North division title. Alas, the Steelers were bounced from the playoffs by Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game earlier this month. Because the episode had to be filmed well before the playoffs began, though, certain scenes were filmed both ways — one with lines acknowledging that the Steelers were playing in the Super Bowl, and one in which they weren’t. “Our characters would obviously be saying different things if they were watching the Steelers as opposed to any old team,” explains Aptaker. “We had to shoot alt lines in the scenes where [they are watching] the Super Bowl to protect ourselves. So yes, it would have been very, very cool, but what are you going to do? We can’t control football.”
One thing that you can control is how much Kleenex to bring to the sofa that night. Aptaker’s advice? “You want to buy stock in the company.”
To read what Milo Ventimiglia had to say about Jack’s death, click here.