Spoiler Alert: This contains key information from Sunday’s “This Is Us” episode
“This Is Us” took 31 episodes, 25 minutes and 40 seconds to get there, but get there it did at long last, and it got there on the biggest platform the culture has to offer.
How did Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) die?
Smoke inhalation leading to cardiac arrest.
Doubtless this will lead to a million queries on Google Monday morning about whether such a demise is even possible, but if life has taught us anything, it’s that there are a thousand ways to die, some beyond the bounds of imagination or even medicine, to anticipate. So let’s give this one to “Us,” which certainly consulted plenty of doctors to get this down right. It can happen, and on TV’s top drama, it did.
From a dramatic and commercial perspective, the way this death played out was the right decision. If Jack had died in the house, consumed in the flames, that would have been a monstrous bummer. But by hanging on past a couple of commercial breaks, and by lingering past the episode’s halfway mark, NBC got to make some more money and viewers — and characters — got to say their proper goodbyes. More goodbyes are expected in the funeral episode.
Meanwhile, how was the episode, appropriately titled “Super Bowl Sunday?” If “This Is Us” has an Achilles heel, it’s the occasional tendency to mawkishness and emotional overload. The drawn-out, seasonslong arc that teased Jack’s death indicated a manipulative streak, too. None of these elements took a holiday Sunday. “How did Jack die?” has been network TV’s biggest piece of chewing gum since “When will Ross and Rachel get together.” Everyone wanted to know. “This Is Us” wasn’t ever going to make the answer easy, or instant.
Emotional overload was impossible to avoid because beloved characters need proper send-offs, and the characters who love them need to be our proxy to a certain degree. They need to mourn so that we can mourn. They did Sunday.
But — as usual — the best parts of “Super Bowl Sunday” were the little moments, captured in a glance or phrase: Those moments that really bind “This Is Us” to us. One, for example, came at the end. With Mr. McGiggles the lizard gone and a sorrowful 20th anniversary behind him, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) told his daughter that “All I ever wanted to do with my life was be half the dad my dad was . . . and then you were born and my life flipped. . . . You’re my No. 1, baby girl, you’re the one that made my life somersault.”
Nice and — aside from the occasional flash of mawkishness built into the long, slow emotional dissolve — so was “Super Bowl Sunday.”
Meanwhile, with that unavoidable storyline now officially out of the way, we can get on with the rest of Jack’s life, and can be comforted by the fact that — thanks to the show’s time-shifting plot — Ventimiglia isn’t going anywhere, as long as “Us” is on the air.