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You have now witnessed the death of Jack Pearson — and the unsettling shock and grief of Rebecca Pearson.
For more than a year, This Is Us has teased the mystery of how the Pearson patriarch came to perish, dropping clues about the details of his demise into episodes here and there. The final images of the season 2 premiere provided the harrowing hint that it involved a tragedy of flames: His loving wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), pulled her car up to the smoldering remains of the Pearson home and wailed into the night.
On Super Bowl Sunday, we learned much more about the pain that Rebecca was vocalizing. The post-game episode followed through on last week’s fire-heading-up-the-stairs cliffhanger. Yes, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) did wind up saving his family from the raging blaze — and even ventured back into the flames to retrieve Kate’s dog and the family’s treasured possessions. But while he appeared to emerge relatively unscathed — to the point where he was joking around with Rebecca at the hospital — deadly damage was done: The amount of smoke he inhaled put so much pressure on his lungs, it triggered a “catastrophic” cardiac arrest that killed him, all while Rebecca was making hotel arrangements and getting a candy bar from the vending machine. When the doctor informed her of the news, she slipped into denial, biting into her candy bar, insisting that he must have mistaken her for someone else, demanding that he leave her alone, and then collapsing in a teary mess when she sees his body in the hospital bed, void of life. There was little time to process what had just tragically transpired, as she numbly collected his belongings and headed to Miguel’s place to break the news to her children — and break their hearts.
While you work through your grief over Jack, take a moment to read what the woman who impressively walked through literal and figurative fire on Sunday night had to share about that brutally emotional episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m sorry for your loss. Can I get you something? Perhaps a candy bar? Maybe some homemade lasagna?
MANDY MOORE: All of the above, please! All the comfort foods at this point in time.
Is there relief now that it’s out there in the world? Does it feel like a burden has been lifted in any way?
Yes. I feel like we’re not the keepers of this massive secret. It’s entirely a relief at this point. I’m ready to just move on. We’ve known for so long, and I really always just sort of had this peace of mind of, “People are going to know, and it’s going to be absolutely heartbreaking to discover the simplicity surrounding his passing.” It’s not some great cinematic death on camera. I’m sure most people were thinking that he passed away in the house and saving the dog, and those were all very good guesses, but I love that it happened so quietly. I love that it also just allows us now to move on and really start to pick up the pieces of the family’s life — how they move forward and how this just exponentially changes the dynamic in the family and how this mother tries to retain some semblance of control in keeping the family together. Where we move forward — the years that we haven’t seen at all on camera, the immediate aftermath after Jack passes away to when we see them in 2008, that episode earlier this season around Halloween. There’s 10 years there to explore, and I think they’re going to be really crucial, formative years for this family.
You’ve known that Jack was marked for death since the series began. And then you found out it was a fire. And then you found out that he wouldn’t actually die in the fire. What was your first thought when you learned that death would come suddenly and unexpectedly like that?
I thought it was perfect. I thought it was really fitting and human and real and grounded. I love that it wasn’t some television or movie cinematic death; it unfolded in a very real way. And it’s very unexpected and, in that sense, exponentially more tragic. It just came out of the blue. I loved it. When Dan first told us, I was like, “Whoa. Oh my god. It’s going to gut people even more.”
We talked about how hard the season 1 finale was to shoot, with the big fight that led to the temporary separation, and you and Milo kept your directors chairs away from each other during shooting. Was this one challenging for different reasons? And what was the vibe of this shoot? Were you huddled close together?
We were huddled very close together when we were shooting the fire sequence. Because we were freezing. It was just frigid, and we were outside for three nights. It’s 40 degrees, and we’re in jeans and sneakers and pajamas, so that really was not a ton of fun. You’d look around at all of the crew members bundled up in huge puffy coats and hats and gloves, and you’re like, “Damn it, I’m cold!” [Laughs.] But we were supposed to be in Pittsburgh, so it definitely helped in that sense. We were huddled close together for that stuff, but then, as the episode went on — and certainly for the rest of the episode, in the hospital and all of that sequence — I just really kept my head down and kept to myself and listened to sad music and didn’t talk to anybody and was just really quiet. I feel like I sort of had to remain in that state for, like, a month, which sucked. I was like, “I feel emotionally tapped out. I don’t think that my tear ducts have any more tears.” This episode definitely put me through the wringer, emotionally. I was like, “I need a vacation. I need a break from crying!”