This Is Us has hinted at the fire that claimed the Pearson family's home and the life of their beloved patriarch (Milo Ventimiglia) before, but during Sunday night's special episode ("Super Bowl Sunday"), the NBC drama finally answered the lingering question of Jack's death — and it's even more heartbreaking than we originally thought. (Spoilers ahead.)
The emotional episode picks up right where the previous one left off: with the Pearson home ablaze, thanks to a faulty Crock-Pot. Jack wakes up in the middle of the night, sees the smoke pouring into the bedroom, and immediately jumps into survival mode. It doesn't take long for Jack to save both Randall and Kate from their rooms — though, his and Kate's daring escape was more harrowing than the fourth quarter of the actual Super Bowl — but when your house is on fire, every moment counts, as the Pearsons will sadly come to learn.
Using a bed sheet, Jack lowers his family down into the yard one-by-one from his and Rebecca's second-floor window. With Rebecca and the kids safely on the ground, a devastated Kate hears her dog Louie barking from inside the home. Jack, unable to see his little girl so upset, goes BACK INSIDE THE BURNING HOUSE to save the pup. "He died because of me," adult Kate tells Toby later in the episode. "Because in the scariest moment of our lives, he couldn't bear to disappoint me."
The show certainly wanted us to think that this was Jack's fiery demise, but that would be too painless for This Is Us. So several agonizing moments later, Jack emerges from the home, covered in soot, with a barking Louie in his arms.
And if that wasn't enough to vote Jack Pearson as Fictional Dad of the Year indefinitely, he also escapes with a few family mementos because he's just that good. But as anyone who has watched their fair share of medical dramas will tell you, if the fire doesn't kill you, the smoke sure will. While at the hospital, Jack has a fatal heart attack caused by smoke inhalation.
It's a devastating reveal, not because of the nature of Jack's death — fans always knew it had something to do with the fire — but because of the circumstances. Rebecca and Jack thought they had endured the worst of it.
In their final moments together they even talk about the future. They may have lost everything in that fire, but that didn't matter to Jack. "I've still got the only thing that I've ever really needed," he tenderly tells Rebecca while they sit on Jack's hospital bed. And when she gets up to get a snack from the vending machine in the waiting room, he calls out to her only to tell her she's blocking the game on TV. She smiles and sticks out her tongue playfully, and that's it. Those are their last moments together as Jack and Rebecca.
Several minute later, while Rebecca's on the payphone giving Kate an update, Jack goes into cardiac arrest and dies.
We never see Jack die, but we don't have to. We experience the denial in Rebecca's voice, the desperation as she walks into his room expecting to see her husband alive and well, and finally, the pure anguish in her face as she stares at his lifeless body. Smartly, the lens never wanders to him; it stays on Rebecca, capturing all of her pain, and it's even more gut-wrenching.
A wise old doctor once said, "There's no lemon so sour that you can't make something resembling lemonade." But in that moment, adult Kate says, their world stopped — and they've been picking up the pieces ever since.
"Super Bowl Sunday" finds the Pearsons mourning Jack on the 20th anniversary of his death in their own individual ways. Randall evokes the spirit of his Super Bowl-loving dad and celebrates game day with family and friends; Kate rewatches the audition tape her dad secretly recorded the day of his death (the VHS was one of the mementos Jack salvaged from the home); Kevin spends the day trying to be happy, only to visit his father's tree for an apology 20 years in the making; and Rebecca cooks Jack's favorite lasagna and watches the game, waiting for a sign that he's watching her too.
The Pearsons will never fully heal from the trauma of losing Jack in such a deeply devastating way. But every year brings them closer to something like lemonade, and that's what makes this show so bittersweet.