This recap contains spoilers for This Is Us Season 1, episode 5, titled “The Game Plan.”
This Is Us has finally revealed why Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) aren’t together in the present day. As many fans have suspected since the season premiere, Jack is dead.
In episode 5, “The Game Plan,” we learned that Rebecca was initially hesitant about having children, since she was enjoying the freedom of her life with Jack, but a shared love of football and one stressful Super Bowl Sunday helped her get to the right place to give a family a shot. And give it a shot they did — in the bathroom of their local bar, where Kevin and Kate were conceived that very night.
That passion for the Pittsburgh Steelers also translated to the present day, when Kate (Chrissy Metz) revealed her love of football to Toby (Chris Sullivan) — including her tradition of watching the games with her dad.
She then introduced her boyfriend to her old man … the only catch was, Jack was in an urn. Still, it lead to an adorable scene of Kate, Toby and “Jack” watching the game together, bringing Kate and Toby closer.
We still don’t know how or when Jack died, or whether he and Rebecca might’ve separated before his death. (Considering Rebecca is still wearing the moon necklace that Jack gave her back in the day, it’s probably safe to assume they were still on good terms when he died — but not guaranteed!)
We also don’t know when Rebecca became involved with Miguel (Jon Huertas). He also appeared in Jack and Rebecca’s Super Bowl flashback with his own wife Shelly (Wynn Everett), who apparently had kids before Jack and Rebecca. The plot thickens!
Interestingly, TV critics have known that Jack was dead since NBC first sent out screeners for the series several months ago. In the original version of the pilot shown to reporters, Jack’s death was revealed in a scene between Kate and Kevin (Justin Hartley) towards the end of the first episode.
In August, showrunner Dan Fogelman and executive producer Glenn Ficarra weighed in on the decision at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, when reporters were operating under the assumption that Jack’s death would be common knowledge from the pilot on.
“It’s a formative event for a lot of the people in the show that’s talked about,” Fogelman told reporters. “It’s something that we’re going to explore in the course of the series a little bit more.”
Ficarra offered a few reasons why Jack’s death is an effective narrative tool: “I think [there’s] a lot of powerful, dramatic tension you build by saying that somebody is going to die, but you don’t know when. You know that episode is coming somewhere, but you don’t know, and we’re allowed to play with that expectation. It’s a form of genre bending that I think is not done a lot. I think it’s a really great opportunity to really play with the audience’s expectations and deliver in another way to really surprise them.”
Fogelman agreed, “Part of the goal here is, we don’t have a serial killer, a whodunit in the show, but you also want to create that dramatic tension. So you are going to learn things about these characters out of order, and that’s going to be our own way of bending the genre of a dramedy to keep people on their toes a little bit. The ending of the pilot is a surprise for people, and we want to continue doing that in series. A surprise can be as small a thing as a memento that’s kept in one house, and then learning the origin story of that memento at the end of an episode. There’s power in that, I think.”
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.