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.
NEXT: This Was UsJack, meanwhile, is pursuing every avenue he can to get out of his parents’ attic. He convinces Daryl to take him to his cousin’s poker night — a seedy gathering behind a local watering hole. And knowing very little about poker, myself, all I can tell you about this scene is that Jack wins his very first hand! And takes everyone’s money! And they’re super mad! Unwisely, he pockets the winnings and runs. But he doesn’t run fast enough and is set upon by a couple of goons in the parking lot. They beat him up and take the wad of cash and tell him to never come back — or they’ll kill him. But Jack is desperate, and he and Daryl hatch an Ocean’s 11 scheme (seriously, I’ve got George Clooney on the brain tonight) to rob the bar and get their money back.
But if there’s one thing that can ruin a man’s best-laid plans, well, it’s a woman. And that woman is Rebecca. As it turns out, we weren’t on course for a Rebecca and Jack blind date, as the parallel story lines may have alluded. Rebecca got set up with a very nice but very boring mergers-and-acquisitions guy named Ethan. And halfway through the date she just gets up and leaves. “I need to be singing tonight,” she tells him, and disappears into the night… reappearing at the very bar Jack is about to rob (instead of going on his own blind date). But as he creeps towards the register, Rebecca’s voice, singing “Moonshadow,” washes over him — and he’s mesmerized. And instead of becoming a criminal, he becomes Rebecca Malone’s boyfriend.
It’s quite the juxtaposition to the blow-out the couple have this night, some 20 years later. “I don’t know what to say,” Jack begins, as they arrive home from Rebecca’s canceled show. “I’ll call him in the morning and apologize. Obviously, I’ll fix this.”
Rebecca wants to know how long he’s been drinking. He says a few weeks.
“Well, I had no idea,” she responds.
“Well, you haven’t really been around.” A low (and unfair) blow, to be sure.
And whether it’s foreshadowing or mere trolling on the part of the producers, Rebecca says, “That would be some way to leave us. Three teenagers…”
Then it all devolves from there. Rebecca argues that she has no life. Jack yells about how he’s been carrying the entire family on his back all these years. It gets to the point where you can’t hear either of them because they’re just screaming over one another. Finally, Rebecca asks: “What do you love about me right now, Jack?” And he can’t answer. “The next time you tell me you love me, make sure you’re not doing it just out of habit,” she says ruefully, before going to bed.
In the morning, Rebecca wakes up thinking she’ll find Jack sleeping on the rug outside their bedroom door (like so many years before), but he’s not there. He’s downstairs on the couch. And just as you expect the two to reconcile, Rebecca speaks a bit of unexpected truth: They meant what they said the night before. Jack nods. She says he should go stay at Miguel’s for a while so their relationship can get some air.
Later, as Jack comes down the stairs with bag in hand, Rebecca wonders what they’ll tell the kids.
“We tell them the truth,” he answers. Rebecca frets over how this dust-up will affect the children, but Jack assures her “how they turn out is bigger than us.”
Flash to the only Big Three scenes this week: Kate has decided to pursue singing, Kevin will take that meeting with Ron Howard, and Randall tells Beth he wants to adopt a baby.
The episode wraps with a sad, yet still-spirited Jack, professing his love for Rebecca. Or, more specifically, answering her question from the night before. He loves that she’s a good mother. He loves that she’s still the most beautiful woman in any room. He loves that she laughs with her entire face. And he loves that she dances funny.
“But most of all,” he says, “I love that you are still the same woman who all those years ago ran out of a blind date because she simply had to sing. You’re not just my great love story, Rebecca, you were my big break. And our love story, I know it may not feel like it right now, but I promise you, it’s just getting started.”
Or is it?