Remember how you promised your tear ducts that they’d get some time off to recuperate after Super Sad Sunday?
Sorry, but it looks like you’re going to have to tell them that you lied.
This Is Us returns tonight, just two days after delivering the long-requested answer to the “Say, would you happen to know how Jack died?” question — in short: heart attack from smoke inhalation — and, simply put, there is plenty of unfinished mourning to do. Plus a funeral to attend. Which means that this episode, titled “The Car,” could rival, if not surpass, “Super Bowl Sunday” on the Kleenex index.
“I think that it’s more gut-wrenching than [the Super Bowl episode] because people knew what to expect,” Mandy Moore tells EW. “They were like, ‘All right — this is it.’ You’re bracing for impact. You know that this is the episode where you get all the answers that you’ve been asking since the show started. [With “Across the Border”], in typical This Is Us fashion, they’ve found a way to meld really beautiful stories from the past to highlight what an incredible example of a man and a father and a husband that Jack was in every sense. They highlight every one of his most winning attributes and couple that with us going through the steps of burying him — of saying goodbye to him.” She pauses to moan. “It’s rip-your-heart-out sad. I thought when we were shooting that this was even more challenging, as an actor.”
Fear not: A much-need voice of comfort will return in the form of Dr. K (Gerald McRaney), as Rebecca (Moore) and the kids try to muddle through true tragedy. And you’ll be spending a fair amount of time in or around the car — the Pearsons’ Grand Wagoneer, to be specific — as the flashback-focused installment drives deeper into family dynamics via the history of this memory-loaded vehicle. Here’s how series creator Dan Fogelman reveals a bit of the episode’s structure, revolving around Milo Ventimiglia’s Jack: “He stars in six one-act plays in the course of an hour of television, each with a different member of the family.” (That should help to remind you that Jack Pearson’s presence on the show will remain just as strong.)
He’s particularly pleased with the ending of the episode. “For me, it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done on the show yet,” he says. “When people think of the worst times of their lives, they’ll often point out or remember the beautiful moments, or the laughs, or the laughter through the tears that broke something open — and then the strength of the people who move forward. I think we really captured that.”
And as hinted above, strength is needed, because that beauty and laughter are tied to grief. “There is still another level of… pain,” Ventimiglia tells EW. “The audience is going to experience living through the funeral of Jack, and living through what Rebecca and the kids are experiencing immediately after — partnered with the levity of this car that represents their family and what it meant to them to have it, how they got it, and where they went with it. God, it’s such a beautiful episode.”
The TIU folks realize that they’re putting a heavy emotional load on viewers with this pair of pivotal episodes. “Actually, you know who I feel the worst for right now?” adds Ventimiglia. “Patriots fans. They lost, Jack dies, and then on Tuesday, they get walloped again. It’s like a Nor’easter for them.”
To read more from Ventimiglia about Jack’s “perfect” death, click here.
To see why Moore said Jack’s cause of death was “exponentially more tragic,” click here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.