In the long-awaited and long-dreaded Super Bowl Sunday episode of This Is Us, viewers finally watched as Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) died not in the fire that destroyed the Pearson family’s home, but instead of a widow-maker heart attack hours later.
Many, including teenage Kate Pearson (Hannah Zeile), wondered: If Jack had not gone back inside for the dog and a few precious family possessions, would his smoke-filled lungs have caused the fatal heart attack?
Ventimiglia spoke with Esquire just minutes after the episode aired and spoke about Jack’s “sacrifice” to his family.
“He sacrificed himself without even knowing that he was doing it,” Ventimiglia said. “He was pulling memories out of that house.”
In the cinematic moment, Jack strides out of the burning house, barking dog in his arms along with the family’s memories.
His quiet death hours later, on the other hand, is so sudden that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) immediately disbelieves the doctor delivering the bad news. Rebecca will later kick herself for being in the next room on the phone while Jack died. In fact, viewers never directly see Jack’s death, or even his body, as it’s shown reflected in a glass window when Rebecca eventually rushes to the hospital room.
“I truly believe that nobody wants to see this man laid out in front of them, and seeing Mandy’s reaction, slowly understanding that her husband is gone, is such a powerful moment, without needing to get into the gore and darkness of what death is,” Ventimiglia said of the on-screen moment.
Fans who have wondered whether Jack will appear less on the show need fear not; Ventimiglia says he’s not going anywhere. “I’ve been dead from the get-go, and though now we’re showing the death, we’re still gonna be bouncing around in different timelines. This is not the end of Jack,” he said.
“It's a lot of hugs,” Ventimiglia said of his encounters with fans. “People want to hug me, and they want advice. I guess I've taken over from Mr. Cunningham [of Happy Days] and Mr. Arnold [of The Wonder Years] as America's father, so people are often looking for that parental feeling.”
In case you’re wondering, that fire scene was no walk in the park to film. Ventimiglia said that even though they had “safest team on the planet controlling the flames…there were several moments where I felt the presence of the beast of fire.”
He added that despite the fire being controlled and him being dressed in fire-safe clothes, he felt the “terrifying” magnitude of the situation.
“I remember the moment before I leave Kate’s room with her while I’m holding the mattress, I was about to open the door and I look down at one of our camera guys. He’s in full head to toe fire suit, goggles and everything, and I’m in my costume, which of course was fire-treated and I had Nomex underneath and everything, but I looked at him and we sort of locked eyes, because he felt that same beast of fire. It was terrifying, in the most controlled of ways,” he said.
The funeral saw the return of Rebecca's mom, Miguel and other friends and family. Randall gave an emotional speech, saying he wishes to one day find love like the one his dad had for his mother. The real emotions come later, when Rebecca and The Big Three honor their dad by dropping some of his ashes at his favorite tree.
The episode, titled "Across The Border," also saw various flashbacks depicting the Pearson family dynamics through the memory-filled history of their Grand Wagoneer. The episode also saw the return of fan-favorite Dr. K. (Gerald McRaney), who stopped by Jack's funeral to give Rebecca some encouraging words after the service.
Mandy Moore, who plays the role of Rebecca Pearson, revealed during the This Is Us after show that she felt Rebecca's pain throughout filming.
"As we were shooting that episode, I just kept thinking in my mind for those moments like, I'm floating," she said. "I'm so unconnected and so disconnected from anything and everything around me including my kids. I think she just couldn't find any ground."
Moore also talked about why the funeral was set outside, referencing the time Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) told her that when he died he didn't want to be put underground, but he wanted to be outside.
"...I feel like Rebecca really honored his wishes by having his service outside, and I don't think she was really present at the ceremony, I think she was sort-of going through the motions," Moore added.