Jack and Rebecca are no longer in tune.
Eighteen episodes and 2,730 Kleenex boxes later, we’re no closer to finding out the details of Jack’s untimely death. And by that estimation, the season 1 finale of This Is Us may have left many wanting. But what it did do — and do well — was reaffirm why we care about Jack (and Rebecca) in the first place. Because just as their marriage seemed to be at its weakest, the beating heart of the show was at its strongest.
The episode opens where we last left the Jack and Rebecca story line — with Jack barreling towards his wife’s show with a six-pack of beers as his co-pilot. He arrives safely (relieving any drunk-driving-induced anxieties brought on by the ominous previews for this episode), and we quickly pivot back to the past, to a time before our heartsick heroes even knew one another. Jack, all fresh faced and handsome as hell, has recently returned from Vietnam and is fixing Mrs. Peabody’s broken down Chevelle (an automobile viewers will likely recognize as the one he later sells to help fund his and Rebecca’s first home). It’s just one of the many odd jobs he takes in order to save towards one day opening a mechanic shop with his friend Daryl. The five bucks Mrs. Peabody pays him won’t go far, but as a bonus, she offers to set him up with the daughter of her best friend (a “total knockout”). He’s hesitant, but she persists.
Rebecca, meanwhile, is caught in the middle of a similar match-making exercise with her well-meaning friends, one of whom is getting married and is inquiring about Rebecca’s date to the nuptials. She doesn’t have one. And it’s totally okay! Because she’d rather be focusing on her music. She just recorded a demo, after all. Rebecca’s gal pals, however, are dubious. In fact, her unrelenting friend starts regurgitating her finance fiancé’s musings about diversifying one’s portfolio, as though she’s Suze Orman’s sappier sister. (Also, wouldn’t a 401(k) be more fiscally sound anyway?)
Flash forward to the ‘90s, and Rebecca’s in the dressing room getting ready for her first tour stop. She’s visibly nervous. “I should be watching E.R.!” she moans to Ben. (NBC synergy!)
He tries to soothe her: “Listen to me,” he says. “E.R. is a repeat tonight.” And then, just as she’s relaxed, he goes in for the kiss. (Dr. Ross, you are not, sir!)
Furious, Rebecca stomps out of the dressing room, narrowly missing Jack at the bar. She calls home just wanting to hear Jack’s voice, but of course, he’s not there. With plenty of liquid courage in him, Jack finally goes searching for Rebecca, but finds Ben instead, who lets slip that something happened. Jack punches him. Over and over. And as Jack’s being pulled off of him, Rebecca finally appears. Ben agrees not to press charges, and Rebecca leaves the show (and the tour) to drive Jack home.
And how heartbreaking it must be for her to once again watch as her musical aspirations are grounded. This isn’t the first time: As we see in a flashback, Rebecca sent that demo into Elektra Records, only to receive a rejection letter. And so it is that she decides to diversify and calls up her friend inquiring about that set-up.