Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us. Everyone else, you may proceed...
Now that we know more about how Jack died, the quest to fill in the blanks when it comes to his untimely demise -- somehow connected to a house fire -- begins. Tuesday’s episode, cheekily titled “A Manny-Splendored Thing,” explores the Pearson patriarch’s secret battle with alcoholism, which may have played a part in his impending death, and possibly shed light on why Kate carries guilt over her role in it.
The episode picks up in the ‘90s, moments after Jack gets into the car with Rebecca, after she pulls a “Jack” and tells her husband that they will fight his drinking -- which he kept secret from his wife and his kids for a long time -- together. But remember, this wasn’t the first time Jack was forced to deal with his drinking problem. In the ‘80s, Rebecca sat Jack down in the season one episode, “The Big Three,” after he returned home late one night, telling him that his drinking needed to stop. He agreed and things seemed well and good, only, it’s revealed in this hour, that kicking the habit back then proved to be a painful and difficult process.
After dropping by an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and ducking out without participating, he went to his safety net, Kate, during recess on a school day. “Dad, everything OK at work?” a young Kate asked as she played with the car radio, picking up on the fact that something wasn’t right with her father, whose monotonous, high-pressure job was one catalyst for him turning to the bottle. “Yeah, yeah, just… my boss has a way of making it feel like a job sometimes,” he dejectedly quipped, giving his daughter a weak smile as some sort of reassurance that everything would be fine. Then, Kate turned the tables on her dad, putting her hands on either side of Jack’s face, echoing the move he often did to calm his own kids down: “It’s going to be OK.”
Soon after his impromptu visit with Kate, Jack vowed to “keep a promise” he made to his wife and went to a local boxing gym. If Jack wasn’t comfortable enough to talk about his issues with drinking just yet, letting out his aggression -- with his work, his family and his internal demons -- was the next best thing. So, Jack “handled” his drinking problem by boxing. (It’s unclear if he continued past the one visit, but we’re betting he didn’t.) Flashbacks to a much-younger, clean-shaven Jack watching his dad drinking in front of the TV and him at 20-something jumping out of a helicopter in the Vietnam War during his boxing session were accompanied by present-day Kate crooning Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” at her first professional singing gig in L.A. Were those past demons Jack was working through?
But the second time around, things were going to be different. Nearly a decade later, it’s the morning after Rebecca drives Jack home after she insists they get through his drinking as husband and wife, and Jack hasn’t slept a lick. “I kept it to myself last time, but it can’t be like that again,” he promises Rebecca, a sign that he was going to try and be transparent about his flaws with the ones who mattered most in his life. The first of the Big Three Jack tells? Kate.
Teenage Kate welcomes her father back to the family home with a snide remark about her mother, Rebecca, and Jack immediately comes to his wife’s defense: “You have to be nicer to your mother. You don’t know everything,” he tells her. (Unfortunately, Kate and Rebecca’s present-day relationship is beyond fractured, as evidenced in the conversation they have after Kate sings, in which Rebecca asks, “What have I ever done?” Kate’s response? “You existed.” Oof.) But it’s Jack’s confession to his daughter that is truly heartbreaking.
“Part of the reason your mom and I had a fight, Katie girl... I have a drinking problem and my father, he had a drinking problem and I’ve kept that hidden from you guys because I didn’t want you to know that about me. I really didn’t want you to know that about me,” Jack says, the stoic facade he’s built up all these years as the “hero” dad crumbling second by second, as the floodgates start to open. “But, you have to know. And…I’m sorry.” Kate senses her father’s vulnerability and puts her hands on either side of his face, a callback to a similar moment that day at school years ago. “I never wanted to disappoint you, but I have to be honest with you guys ‘cause I need you guys,” Jack confesses, a hint of desperation seeping through. Later that day (or presumably soon after), Rebecca drives Jack to the AA meeting he skipped out on the first time, only this time, he goes inside.
Could these two key Jack and Kate moments offer a glimpse into why Kate still harbors guilt and regret in the present day over her dad’s death? Remember in season one, Kate dropped a stunning revelation relating to Jack’s death, telling Toby, “It’s my fault. I’m the reason that he’s dead.” In 20 episodes so far, it’s clear Kate has a deeper bond with Jack than anyone else in her family, save maybe for her twin brother Kevin (but a telepathic twin connection is different).
From her dad sticking up for her at her 10th birthday party (when her “friends” went to Kevin’s bash instead) to telling her he sees her just the way she is at the pool, Kate’s always had Jack in her corner -- more so than her mom. Because of that, she’s propped him up on a pedestal, understandably so. Is there lingering guilt over not being able to be that pillar of strength for Jack during his deep-seeded struggles with alcoholism? Did Jack and Rebecca, whose differing views on how to nurture Kate, come to a head at some point, causing the two to have a massive fight and set off a fatal downward spiral? Was blame squarely placed on Kate, which could explain her hurtful comments toward Rebecca in the present day?
ET posed these questions to Chrissy Metz, who remained coy about how Kate factors into the whole picture but offered an enticing nugget about the season’s upcoming revelations, including when Kate (or the family) got that dog of theirs. “We’re going to find out more details about Jack’s death and you saw the fire,” the 37-year-old actress said, referencing the shocking final scene from last week’s premiere. “But, you’re going to discover that multiple people feel responsible for the death.” Hmm...
Though Tuesday’s episode really honed in on Jack’s alcoholism in his adult life, creator Dan Fogelman noted that the thread continues to inform his arc as the season progresses. “It’s going to be very much about the underbelly of this guy, who still is the fantastic, most perfect husband in the world,” Fogelman told ET. “[But] like all of us, [he] has his demons and that’s very much what his story is this year.”
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This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.