This Is Us creator on why Jack died THAT way — and the 'strangely hopeful' funeral episode
Warning: This article contains plot details from Tuesday’s episode of This is Us.
You’ve had a few days to mourn Jack Pearson, who — on the off-chance that you didn’t hear — died in the post-Super Bowl episode of This Is Us from cardiac arrest after saving his family, dog, and prized possessions from the fire that consumed their home. But, as you saw in Tuesday night’s follow-up episode, “The Car,” the tears are far from ebbing, as the Pearsons had to make it through a funeral, a visit to Jack’s tree, a sprinkling of his ashes, and, well, the rest of their lives minus the passionate patriarch.
For fans wondering exactly how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) met that simple, unexpected end, series creator Dan Fogelman reveals that it’s a vision he’s had from the earliest days of the NBC family drama. “When I started to write this thing, in my mind’s eye, there was a fire at the house, and the patriarch of the family heroically got the family out of the house, and then died in a really small way, without proper cinematic good-byes, hours later in a hospital by himself,” he tells EW. “And that was really the plan from ‘go.’ So we were always writing towards that. And we would be inside of Kevin (Justin Hartley), for instance, not being able to process his father’s loss, or really come to terms with his grief. We always knew that Kevin wasn’t home when this key incident in the family happened. But exactly what day, exactly what party kids were at, and what final conversations which kid had with Jack beforehand were details that evolved in the course of the writers’ room. But the fundamental parts of the fire were always firmly entrenched.”
“The show is about the little stuff,” he notes. “We don’t normally live in a space where Jack’s running, holding a mattress over his daughter in a flaming building. Normally, it’s two people having conversations in a car. And that’s kind of how we wanted to attack the death of our major character here — let it live in the really small, quiet, regular moments. I think we were really successful at that, and I think that’s because of the way Milo and Mandy played that last scene — and then what Mandy does in that final scene is so crazy.” (For more on Moore’s stand-out grieving, which begins with Rebecca’s candy-bar biting denial and quickly transforms into various forms of confusion and anger before ending with her discovering his lifeless body on the hospital, click here.)
Fogelman tips his hat to Ventimiglia for his work across these two episodes, which followed an aggressive amount of anticipation about the Pearson patriarch’s demise. “You can’t state enough what he does in the first six minutes [of “Super Bowl Sunday”],” says Fogelman. “He did all his own stunt work, I mean, we really burnt a house. So to be able to, in a 46-minute span, go from action hero to romantic comedy lead — and then, in [Tuesday’s episode,] he stars in six one-act plays, in the course of an hour of television, each with a different member of the family — I think it’s just tour de force for a guy who’s at the top of his craft right now.”
“Super Bowl Sunday” and “The Car” can be processed as companion installments, and Fogelman is exceptionally proud of the final sequence of the latter one: As we see Jack explaining to the car salesman that he wants this Grand Wagoneer so his family will be “okay,” Rebecca — who gets a sorely needed Dr. K pep talk — pilots the family car, with the teens in tow, across the shoddy bridge that she had previously been afraid to cross with her eyes open. “If you look at the episodes together as a whole, I find the end of the second episode to be so soaring and sweeping and strangely optimistic and hopeful and good and decent in the midst of this really bad thing that has happened,” he says. “For me, it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done on the show yet. 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. My hope is that other people have the reaction to the ending of this one that I do because it makes the journey of the last two hours of television something else, in a weird way.”
To read what Ventimiglia had to say about Jack’s “perfect” death, click here.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.