The theories have been building for 18 months, and now, finally, on Super Bowl Sunday, This Is Us will reveal all the details surrounding how Jack passed away. Creator Dan Fogelman says the opening six minutes are so powerful that “it’s literally and figuratively [going to be] hard to breathe” whether you’re a devoted fan or a casual viewer. (Gulp.) “The performances by our actors are just off the charts,” he adds. “It’s hard to say this episode is going to be your favorite, because really hard stuff is happening, but I do think it’s rewarding.”
At the start of season two, viewers discovered that a house fire was likely to blame for Jack’s death (whether he died in the fire, or later at the hospital is still TBD), but there’s been plenty of missing pieces along the way. Why does Kate blame herself for her father’s death? Why does Fogelman say the episode is “rewarding” if Jack dies? And why on earth didn’t Jack unplug the damn slow cooker if it had a faulty switch?
With so many questions before Sunday’s big episode—don’t forget to set your DVR with extra time in case the Super Bowl runs long—Fogelman fills us in and shares something that might just make the episode a little less devastating. Read on.
Glamour: How long did you know that a slow cooker would be what starts the fire? You knew before the show began that a house fire would be the catalyst to Jack’s death, but at what point did you know the slow cooker would be involved?
Dan Fogelman: Really early, like from the inception or thereabout at least in terms of it being something really small and kitchen-related, and a combination of factors that would kind of add up to this tragedy that would be this big thing that would overtake the family, but the small pieces that led us there.
Glamour: Rebecca and Jack had this wonky slow cooker for 20 years, so knowing the switch was finicky, why didn’t Jack just unplug it before he went to bed that night?
DF: You know…[laughs]…the show’s always been about the little things. Even though, obviously, Jack’s death gets a lot of attention and there’s a house fire that’s about to be a big, giant, movie-level-size event for this pretty regular family, it’s the little things in life; it’s the dish towel, it’s the forgetting to unplug something, it’s just a guy cleaning up the kitchen, taking stock of his life having had a pretty regular day not knowing it’s his last one. So that’s what we’re trying to capture—it’s a combination of little factors like batteries and unplugging things and towels that add up. Sometimes life breaks in a really strange, bad way. Sometimes it breaks in a really great, beautiful way.
Glamour: In an interview with EW last week, you said the episode is “surprising. If you stick with it and can make it through, it’s very rewarding.” I was thinking, unless Jack is alive, how the hell is this going to be rewarding?! [Laughs.]
DF: I think, what I mean by rewarding is that I’ve been unlucky enough to experience extreme loss and even a couple of times, a real sudden loss, and in the strangest of ways, I imagine a lot of people who have gone through some stuff will play back that period in their life and remember it as the most awful moments of their life, but remember a lot of details that are filled with warmth and love and big picture reward. Things when you’re able to step back and look at the big picture how [Jack] carried people forward, that’s kind of the way in which I’m talking about it feeling rewarding also. It’s a hard episode. I think it might be our best, or one of our best, but I’m not going to lie [by saying] that it’s an easy subject matter or easy to watch. But I do think that, like many things in life and like many of the saddest things in life, they’re not just all sad and brutal. There’s a beautiful melancholy and beautiful sadness that lives in our saddest moments, and that’s what we’re trying to capture a little of too.
Glamour: What if Rebecca got pregnant and finds out after Jack has died? Is that completely off base?
DF: I’m not going to…I can’t spoil anything, but anything’s possible in the show. We like to surprise, so anything’s really possible.
Glamour: Most people at this point think that Jack ran back into the house to rescue Louie the dog. Of course you can’t say whether that happens or not, but should viewers not be confident that they have this all figured out? Are there still surprises in store?
DF: Yeah, I mean…there’s just so much in the vein of how Jack dies and the mystery of how Jack dies. I mean, I think everything will make sense by the end of the episode. I think any surprises that happen in the course of the episode will reveal themselves in the course of the episode. It’s not like that storyline is going to have this whole new wrinkle and Jack is wandering the streets somewhere as a 70-year-old homeless guy in the present day or anything like that. Any surprises will be contained in the hour of television.
Glamour: Photos from the Super Bowl episode were released last week, but they’re only of adult Randall, Kate, and Kevin. How much of the episode takes place in the late nineties though, when the fire happened?
DF: I just didn’t want to release pictures [from the fire] because then it might get all out of control, but a large part of the episode, if not more than half of it, takes place in the late nineties.
Glamour: What are the chances that we will ever see Jack in the present day—aged and everything—in a dream sequence? Do you ever consider doing an episode of what could have been?
DF: Yeah, I mean, we play with a lot of things around time and memory and what could have been, so I think that’s definitely a possibility.
Glamour: We saw Randall hallucinate in season one outside the family cabin and think he saw Jack, but it was Jack from the nineties and not what Jack would be like in the present day.
DF: Right, right, totally. There’s a lot of emotions [about that idea] because if you’ve lost someone tragically, you dream about them a lot. There’s a lot of different ways that can happen.
Glamour: Knowing what you know now about the hoopla surrounding Jack’s death and how everyone loves Milo and Jack, would you have done anything differently at the beginning of the series?
DF: No, no, and this was always the plan that Jack’s death would play out around right now, midseason. We didn’t know we’d have a Super Bowl episode, but we planned on it being right now. Honestly, to change anything that happened to Jack would be to change all the other characters. These characters were formed by what happened. So, no. If I were to change anything, and I would probably pull back, there was one episode at the end of last season where Kate said, “I’m responsible for Jack, my father’s death,” as he was getting in a car drunk driving, and I might have pulled back on that because it led to such speculation. It blew up the Jack story in a way that I probably would have pulled back, but I wouldn’t have changed anything [in regard to] what we’ve done with Jack’s character.
Glamour: After Sunday’s episode, we only have four episodes left in season two, so what can you tell us as we head toward the last part of the season?
DF: We’re not just going to leave behind the events of the Super Bowl episode in that storyline, so our next episode airs just two days later on Tuesday, February 6. It’s basically a continuation of the Super Bowl episode, at least in the past storyline. And then we do a bunch of things in our last couple of episodes…. We wanted to show that we can still do a normal episode that doesn’t have huge heightened ‘How did Jack die?’ stuff, so we even go back to just a regular story on an anniversary with Jack and Rebecca and the 10-year-olds. We have a lot of Kate and Toby wedding stuff building that is a big high point for the rest of our season. We have the bachelor party, bachelorette party, [the] wedding, so we have a lot of stuff like that headed our way.
Glamour: This is why we need a dream sequence where Kate imagines Jack walking her down the aisle in the present day.
DF: Well, you might…you’re not exactly right, but you could actually be in a place where something like that could happen.
Glamour: Any chance we might find out what happened to Jack’s brother, Nicky, by the end of the season?
DF: It’s definitely something we’re revisiting in a big way, but we have so much ground to cover with the wedding and Jack’s death, that it’s not a big part of the rest of the season, though it is a part. I think it’s something people can be looking for a lot of in season three.
Glamor: Lastly, impart some Super Bowl viewing advice on us. Should we leave our Super Bowl parties and go watch this episode alone, or is it better watched in the company of others?
DF: It’s a good question. For me, I enjoy watching things that are a little bit of events with other people, but for those who take the show very seriously, it might be the kind of thing they want to watch privately as well. I enjoy watching [with people], but that’s not to say some people might want to hole up in a corner with a bottle of wine and a blanket. I would understand that too.
Glamour: You’re going to have to pay for a lot of people’s therapy after this.
DF: I might. [Laughs.]