SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Super Bowl Sunday,” the special post-Super Bowl episode of “This Is Us” that aired Feb. 4.
Breathe, just breathe.
The final scene of “That’ll Be The Day,” the 13th episode of the second season of “This Is Us” revealed that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died because he left a decades old, slightly defective slow cooker plugged in overnight. It sparked, catching the dish towel on the counter on fire — a fire which then spread to the curtains, family photos, walls and eventually the whole house. Series creator Dan Fogelman said what would come next would be “inarguably [the show’s] saddest episode” — and that’s exactly what “Super Bowl Sunday” delivered.
The episode picked up in the moments after the previous one left off — with the Pearson house on fire. Jack awoke in the middle of the night, saw the smoke, and knew what to do. He rushed to get teenage Randall (Niles Fitch) out of his room, but also told Rebecca (Mandy Moore) to wet all of the towels and kept teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) from opening her door to avoid a backdraft situation. He then led his family to safety, first shielding Kate’s body from the flames with his own, and then lowering them down to the ground from the second story using sheets — before going back in for Kate’s dog.
Saving the dog wasn’t enough, though. Jack also came back out with “the important stuff,” including a family photo album and the tape of Kate singing.
Yes, he survived the blaze. But the show wasn’t quite ready to answer how he died: So with a cough from the smoke inhalation and second degree burns on his hands that required a trip to the hospital, “This Is Us” then popped over to present day.
With her new dog, Kate (Chrissy Metz) was watching the tape of her singing her original song, which was part of her adult pre-Super Bowl game ritual. Unfortunately, aher VCR was as ancient as Jack and Rebecca’s slow cooker and just as defective — it ate her tape.
Toby (Chris Sullivan) came to the rescue, bringing Kate and the VCR to a repair place where he tried to make her feel better by saying they could put the song in the cloud or make a new tape. But that’s not what Kate wanted. “He died because of me,” Kate said of her father. “In the scariest moments of our lives he couldn’t bear to disappoint me, so if once a year I want to beat myself up for it, please just let me. Just let me sit in that.” Miraculously, though, the tape was ultimately saved.
Over at Rebecca’s, Kevin (Justin Hartley) shared that his usual pre-game ritual would be to get blackout drunk, but instead today he was just going to try to be the “only family member who didn’t get intensely sad today.” (For what it’s worth, what he actually spent the day doing — looking through old family mementos, including his father’s AA chip, and attempting to meditate — still seemed pretty sad.) Rebecca, meanwhile, teased that Jack always sends her signs — laughs — on days like this. And of course that meant so was the audience. It’s like Chekhov’s gun: You don’t say something like that unless you’re going to pay it off. Get those tissues ready.
Randall (Sterling K. Brown) wasn’t sad, though: His recent goofy upswing continued because he wanted his daughters to enjoy the game as much as he does. “Kate wallows, Kevin avoids, but I celebrate,” he said.
But his family wasn’t nearly as excited for the game as he was — his daughters were more excited for their new lizard and the halftime game — which caused him to offhandedly mention they need more boys in the house. Again, Chekhov’s gun: Cut to the little boy in foster care the show teased in an earlier episode. Turns out his name is Jordan and he finds the other kids too loud. His social worker tells him they think they found a family for him. But since this is “This Is Us,” those answers don’t come right away.
Tess (Eris Baker) confessed to taking the landline (more outdated technology for this family!) off the hook so that they would miss the social worker’s call. She saw her father’s actions of meeting his new dad and getting a new job and trying for new kids as a way of getting a whole new life — that might not include her. Of course Randall — in true Randall fashion — reassured her that she was his No.1 and that she would live with him until she was 25 and still have to have dinner with him once a week.
That lizard, by the way, was the first official casualty of the episode. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) stepped on it after Annie (Faithe Herman) let it out of its cage. Randall stopped his Super Bowl party to hold a memorial for the lizard — and as he spoke, he had flashes of watching his father get in the car to go to the hospital after the fire. He recounted a story about tooth pain that acted as a metaphor. “It’s like a lightning bolt you can’t even see reaching inside you and tearing out your guts,” he said.
Back in the past, Jack gets checked out in the hospital, refusing drugs for the pain and apologizing to Rebecca for not getting batteries for the smoke detector (she pointed out she could have gotten them herself). But as Rebecca stood at a payphone in the lobby making calls to book hotel rooms and check on the kids, doctors and nurses ran around behind her — Jack was dying off-screen.
“One of the complications of smoke inhalation is that it puts terrible stress on the lungs and the heart. Your husband went into cardiac arrest,” the doctor told Rebecca. “I’m afraid we lost him.”
The episode sat with Rebecca as the news sunk in — with the stages of grief coming hard and fast, starting with the denial that “we were only here for burns” and taking a bite of the candy bar she’d just bought from the vending machine.
As she passed the terrible news to Miguel (Jon Huertas), he started to fall apart — but she told him they weren’t going to do that. “I have to go in, and I have to talk to my kids, and I have to ruin the rest of their lives. So I’m going to be strong for them,” she said. “And if you can’t be strong for them, you have to take a walk around the block until you can.” It was only in a montage that we saw her deliver the news to the kids, and then later, finally break down herself in the car.
Back in present day, Kevin headed to his father’s tree, acknowledging that he doesn’t come to see his father nearly often enough. But mostly, he was there to pay his final amends — to cross the last name off his list. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there that night, and I’m sorry the last thing I ever said to you was awful,” he said. “I’m going through some stuff that you went through, and I’m not doing it nearly as well as you.”
Kevin also called his mother and told her that he saw how strong she was when Jack died. She said she tried to do what she could to protect them, and she tried. “Your dad never had to try,” she said. She then confided in Kevin about that candy bar. “It’s the first thing I think of when I think of that night,” she said. And then she got her laugh: when Kevin admitted he wasn’t sure he was at the right tree.
As for that little boy, Jordan? He wasn’t Randall and Beth’s next foster kid — he was a foster kid a grown-up Tess was helping to place. The social worker at the start of the episode was Randall’s eldest, now an adult. And the voice at the other end of the home phone was Deja, who it looks like will be returning to the Pearsons.
“This Is Us” airs on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.