This week, while “Modern Family” and “Young Sheldon” opted for reruns, “This Is Us” unspooled the long-awaited details of Jack’s imminent death.
‘This Is Us’
Do not expect to be okay after the ending of “That’ll Be the Day.” The underlying unease that characterizes the episode simmers to the foreground in the last five minutes, not unlike the slow-cooking Crock-Pot that ultimately is the cause of Jack’s death. Is it too soon for Crock-Pot-related humor?
Perhaps to compensate for the overarching feeling of impending doom, the story arcs set in the present are largely on the lighter side of the emotional spectrum. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), who started a business partnership aptly named R&B Properties in last week’s “Clooney,” begin a passive-aggressive tussle once Randall insists that he can get most of William’s (Ron Cephas Jones) apartment building repaired in less than a day. Beth, knowing Randall better than anyone else, gives him free rein to “Randall out” until he comes to the understanding that, well, nothing was ever built in a day. Just ask Rome.
So he “Randalls out.” His partner in crime? The repentant Kevin (Justin Hartley), who needs a break from the apology tour that the 12-step recovery process is requiring him to take. In a hilarious use of slow motion, the two brothers are shown rolling up their sleeves and hammering, kicking and repairing their way to glory.
Predictably, Randall manages to inadvertently spark a roach infestation after one of his repairs goes awry. R&B Properties promptly evacuates the tenants while the building undergoes disinfection.
During a tender conversation with Kevin, Randall reveals the reason behind his fast-moving approach to the repairs. He is concerned about starting a new career so late in his life and is grappling with the heartbreaking fact that he is soon going to outlive his late father. “He’s already been gone longer than we had him,” Randall remarks. Kevin, too, admits that the repairs were just a way for him to put off apologizing to some of the names on his list.
The two try to console each other, with Kevin reminding Randall that he’ll be a wonderful “old man,” just like his biological father, William.
Kevin and Randall’s heart-to-heart proves to be one of the episode’s highlights. Their talk is low-stakes and drama-free. It is just a natural, believable interaction between two people struggling with issues of mortality. “This Is Us” always shines whenever it plays up the unusual chemistry between Brown and Hartley.
After bonding with Kevin, Randall promises Beth that instead of “Randalling out,” he’ll defer to her seasoned judgement in the future.
Oh, and Kevin gets his necklace back! The one that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) gave him! The one he lost during his ill-fated tryst with Charlotte (Stefanie Black)!
However, there is a bittersweetness to it all, because the final person to whom Kevin has to apologize is Jack himself.
While Kevin and Randall are hammering down walls and taking names, Kate (Chrissy Metz) is off adopting a dog for Toby (Chris Sullivan) after she catches him looking up shelter websites in his free time. Wanting to make her fiance happy, she goes to one of the shelters and is helped in her search by the magnificent Lena Waithe as a shelter attendant. Eventually, Kate stumbles upon an adorably doe-eyed dog named Audio.
Kate begins to reconsider her decision while the adoption is being finalized. Audio reminds her too much of the emotional baggage she has carried all these years. In a clever shot, we see Kate exiting the shelter and assume that Audio, in fact, won’t be a part of “This Is Us” in the future.
Joke’s on us, though. Kate does end up surprising Toby with Audio and realizes that her past trauma shouldn’t prevent the dog and Toby from being happy. So, yay, Audio’s a full-fledged cast member now!
Back in the “Jack has a goatee” time period, we are “treated” to Jack’s last day before his death. This is where the foreboding and the tension sets in, because any conversation that Jack has with his family could potentially be his last.
Throughout the nostalgia-infused day, Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) remark on how time flew past, realizing that this is the last Super Bowl they’ll spend with the Big Three before the triplets go off to college. The Big Three are infuriatingly unempathetic, however, and they either leave or drudge up conflict with their parents.
Kate (Hannah Zeile) becomes mad at Jack after he records a video of her singing for her college application. She is quick to assert that when somebody looks at her, they don’t see what Jack claims to see. Because she is now older, she doesn’t need her dad to coddle her anymore.
Kevin (Logan Shroyer), after finding out that Sophie (Amanda Leighton) was accepted into NYU, is sullen because his life is not panning out the way he intended. He airs his frustrations to Jack and Rebecca and then storms out of the house.
Randall (Niles Fitch), too, bows out of the annual Super Bowl watch party to go see “Titanic” with his girlfriend.
Despite the Big Three being closed off from their parents, things are not all that bad for Jack and Rebecca. Rebecca finds a house in the newspaper that Jack could refurbish and flip, and the two plan to become business partners. They toast to the future and make the most of the Big Three not spending the Super Bowl with them by partaking in a tender, passionate night together.
Relievingly, the Big Three prove to not be so bad. Kate replays the video that Jack made and sees that her father is not trying to console her. He genuinely, unequivocally admires and appreciates her. She goes back to Jack and tells him to “never stop trying” to make her see herself the way he sees her.
For the past few episodes, Kate’s portion of the flashbacks have easily been the most fascinating and captivating. Her relationship with Jack, as well as her early struggles with her appearance, have shaded in an additional layer to her storyline in the present.
Kevin, for his part, becomes a little nicer and calls his mother to apologize for his misbehavior. Tellingly, he is staying over at Sophie’s house for the night and decides to put off his apology to Jack until the morning.
Unless next week’s episode has Jack and Kevin reunite before the fire, we are left to conclude that the two never resolved their argument before Jack’s untimely death. That could be why Kevin has Jack on his list in the present and why, out of all the children, his relationship with Jack ended the most prematurely.
Unlike Kevin, Randall is allocated one final conversation with his father. Late at night, he comes back from his date and sweetly gushes to Jack about his first kiss. The two share a brief but achingly poignant father-son moment before Randall says good night.
This is where the last five minutes of the episode kick in, the five minutes where “This Is Us” slowly begins to twist the knife it stabbed in your gut.
While “To Build a Home” plays, we see Jack cleaning up the house one final time. He leaves a note for Kevin, which will tragically go unread. After briefly reminiscing, he switches off the Crock-Pot and goes to bed. But, wait, the Crock-Pot — given to them by a well-meaning neighbor years ago — is faulty. What happens next is predictable, but gut-wrenching nevertheless. A fire breaks out, destroying every memento and every photo that the Pearsons value in its path.
And that’s how “That’ll Be the Day” ends –– with Jack’s death closer than ever.
To watch “This Is Us” is to go through a gamut of emotions that are sometimes challenging to describe. The challenge is indicative of why “This Is Us” resonates with viewers in the first place. It somehow convinces them of the existence of this ethereal, spiritual realm — a realm where everything cannot be attributed to something wholly physical or quantifiable. A realm that is boundless and yet intimate. A realm that’s incomprehensible and yet accessible. A realm that’s timeless because of the memories it contains and yet ephemeral, because those very memories are transportative to a place that no longer exists.
P.S.: If you want somebody to blame for Jack’s death, the neighbor who gave them the Crock-Pot is called George (Jack McGee). So, yeah, George is officially the worst character on TV right now.
New episodes of “Modern Family” will air on a date to be determined.
New episodes of “Young Sheldon” premiere Feb. 1.
Arjun Sarup covers television. Contact him at [email protected].