For some reason, I thought that once we got through the whole “this is how Jack died” mystery on This Is Us, things would be okay and they’d go back to normal. And while I was heartbroken over the Super Bowl Sunday episode, I was not in the slightest prepared for this week’s episode titled “The Car”.
Me, last episode:
Me, this episode:
I think that because we all knew that Jack was dead and that he’d been dead this whole time, the buildup to it was just that – a theory-filled buildup and the actual death, while horribly sad, really wasn’t that much of a game changer since we knew it coming. However, what I was not prepared for was the immediate aftermath and just how devastating it would be to watch the grief of Rebecca, Kate, Kevin, and Randall unfold as they attempt to ground themselves in a world without Jack.
Up until “The Car,” Jack was always around in these two time periods, both the young and teenage versions, so we were used to seeing him as an integral part of their story, and it was jarring and gut-wrenching to see him just not there anymore and to know that he’s not coming back.
Each Pearson has a cross to bear following Jack’s death. Rebecca is not only battling her inner demons about not being with Jack when he passed, but she’s struggling to find her new role now that Jack, who was the perfect father in her eyes, isn’t there to guide her. Then there’s Kate, who learns that Jack died of severe smoke inhalation, grappling with the fact that he went back into that house to get Louie. There’s Kevin who wasn’t even there at all, which as you can imagine ignites so many feelings of grief and regret, and Randall who is struggling to be the man of the house holding his mom and his family together.
“The Car” tells the story of Rebecca and the kids going to Jack’s funeral, but the vehicle in which they tell this story is through..well, an actual vehicle – the Pearson’s Jeep Wagoneer. We are taken on a journey with this car, from the day that the Pearson’s bought it up to that fateful day in which they drive to his service. It’s beautiful, it’s poignant, and once again – it’s real.
Cars are an integral fabric of family life and they hold so many special memories and conversations, and for Jack, it was important that his family had a safe place for just that. We are taken through so many moments revolving around the car, some are huge and some are more subtle moments, but each one is a beautiful gift from Jack that would both influence and follow the four Pearsons throughout their lives.
This Is…The Wagoneer & The Funeral
-Buying the Jeep-
There’s something special about buying your first family car. It’s an experience in its own, but with Jack Pearson at the helm, you know you’re in for a treat. Long before they hit the ice patch on that fateful Pilgrim Rick Thanksgiving night, the Pearson’s went to their local car dealership, ready to use the Big Three as bargaining chips to help them stay under budget. The dream car? The brand new Jeep Wagoneer. The reality? The used sedan in the parking lot. However, when Jack sees the kids playing in the Wagoneer, he knows that’s their car and he’s going to do anything that he can to get it.
Jack does tend to make a lot of big decisions without including Rebecca, including buying the Wagoneer, but he was able to get a good deal and who wouldn’t that car? It’s awesome.
-The Bridge & Lasagna –
Jack was right, as usual. The Wagoneer was the perfect choice for the Pearson’s who use it for all sorts of fun adventures including going to the Weird Al Yankovich concert. En route to the venue though they have to cross over a bridge that just completely terrifies Rebecca, which of course has construction traffic making their passage a little slower than usual. Rebecca starts getting really worked up, but Jack tells her to close her eyes and the kids begin telling her jokes and riddles to distract her.
It’s a sweet and tender moment for the two of them, but when the family decides to whip out some “Lasagna” by Weird Al things get a lot more fun and they successfully make it across the bridge.
It’s surely something that Rebecca is thinking about as she waits in the car outside of the motel waiting for the kids to come out and go to the funeral. She’s staring at a cup of coffee in the cupholder and looks at some Bruce Springsteen tickets in her purse. Basically, we all need to brace ourselves as we weave back and forth between the happy times in the Wagoneer being jarringly juxtaposed against the darkest time in the Wagoneer – driving to Jack’s funeral.
None of the kids understand why they need to be there two hours early and despite their complaints and confusion, the pain is more evident. Kate tells everyone that she’s going to get rid of Louie and Kevin is struggling to tie his tie, flashing back to days earlier when Jack helped him pick out a suit. However, once they arrive, Rebecca tells the groundskeeper who just brought Jack’s urn that she wanted to be there when he arrived. This was the scene where I knew that Mandy Moore was going to completely wreck me in the episode. The reverence and the love that she treats Jack’s urn with throughout the episode was so moving, but we later find out that there’s a much deeper meaning to it.
We then flashback to another gift that Jack left behind for Rebecca, and eventually the kids – the tree. We’ve seen the tree pop up multiple times throughout the past two seasons as “Jack’s favorite tree” but we never knew why it was so important. Well, tonight we were able to find out. You see, at some point in the 90’s storyline Rebecca had a cancer scare and instead of going home to worry and wait for the results of her MRI, Jack says he’s going to take her to a ‘special place’, which ends up being his favorite tree.
While they’re sitting there, Jack reaches peak Jack and says some of the Jack-iest things to Rebecca in order to take her mind off of a potential brain tumor. He tells her that it’s a beautiful and perfect day because it’s going to be the day she finds out that she’s okay. She’s going to live forever and he knows it because there would be no reason for the snow to fall if she wasn’t around to see it.
Then Jack’s pager goes off and they make their way to a payphone that’s conveniently nearby and Rebecca gets that news that she is OKAY. Completely relieved, Jack reveals why that tree is his favorite tree and why he picked that one.
So, basically, Jack made the whole “this is my favorite” thing up because, he’s Jack, and of course he did. Once they get in the car, Jack tells her that he knew she was going to be okay because he is going to go first, which is devastatingly sad because he meant it when they were old and grey. He tells her that he’s going to go first and that he doesn’t want to go into the ground, he wants to be outside. So, it’s fitting that Rebecca chooses to have Jack’s memorial service outside, even though it’s (technically) winter in Pittsburgh.
At the funeral, Miguel and Randall both give speeches and everyone offers their condolences to Rebecca, but she is just blank – totally empty.
She insists on taking Jack to the reception herself and it’s evident that she’s not letting that urn out of her sight.
-Learning to Drive-
The episode really starts to dig into some of the struggles Randall and Kevin faced both before after their dad’s death as well. We flashback to a scene of Jack teaching them how to drive, but when the two start arguing and almost cause an accident he makes them walk 5 miles home.
Kevin has always been the most complex Pearson kid. His feelings of being the fifth wheel and always the odd man out follow him throughout his life. He’s a complete jerk to Randall in the car there’s no doubt about it, but it just stems from the fact that he never felt like he was enough and he was threatened by the perfection that Randall often exuded. When the two finally get home they apologize to Jack, but he can’t hold in his confusion about their relationship anymore. He opens up about his own brother and we finally get a little bit more insight into Jack and Nicky.
The boys are shocked to hear him even mention his childhood, but he reminds them that they never needed to know more than the big stuff: his dad was an alcoholic, his mom was depressed, and Nicky was his best friend and he died in Vietnam when the two went to war. The two of them had a tough life and they had to look after each other and even though Randall and Kevin don’t have it as bad as they did growing up, they need to figure out their crap because one day the two of them and Kate are going to be all they have.
The message clearly hadn’t sunk in by the time of his death because when Kevin sees Randall wearing Jack’s watch (something Rebecca told him he could have) he completely freaks out on him right in front of everyone. He’s not mad about the watch though, he’s mad about his last conversation with Jack and he’s mad that he wasn’t there and Randall was. He yells at Randall that he would have never let Jack go back into that house, but Randall hits him right back with an equally biting remark by reminding him that he wasn’t there and he’s never there…for anyone. Kate diffuses the situation, but she runs out and then Rebecca who is, even more, overwhelmed now goes outside for some fresh air too.
We couldn’t have an episode like this without a special moment between Jack and Kate as well. So, one day while driving to work Jack notices Kate sitting at the bus stop downtown…at 10 am…on a Thursday. Turns out that Alanis Morissette was in town signing albums at Jerry’s records and Kate just had to get one. Instead of getting mad Jack takes her to the record store and along the way the two talk about Alanis and how Jack thinks that no one is better than Bruce Springsteen.
Kate begins to open up about how she’s been writing her own songs and Jack encourages her to really consider music as her path. She shies away from it at first, but we know now that Kate is finally doing it, even if it took her 20 years.
We also get a glimpse into the start of Kate’s guilt as she asks Rebecca how Jack died. When Rebecca tells her it was from smoke inhalation she knew that he died because he went back inside for the dog.
Rebecca says she doesn’t know that for sure, but Kate disagrees and says that she does.
If you’ve been watching This Is Us since the beginning you know that any time this man appears:
You will cry.
So, when Dr. K shows up at Jack’s funeral, which is already sad to think about, he approaches Rebecca and gives her the pep talk that she needed to hear. She reveals to him about a number of things, including her guilt that she wasn’t there when he died, which is why she has been guarding his urn all day. She finally starts to let her walls down and say all the things she’s been holding in. She knows that she can’t raise these three teenagers without him. Jack was the one who knew how to be a good parent, it came so easy to him. He was fearless and she’s not. Dr. K tells her that Jack used to come to his office all of the time looking for guidance because “a new father is the most fearful creature alive,” but she still doesn’t believe that she can do it without Jack.
He reminds her just how tough she actually is and how even in her darkest hour after losing her child, she made lemonade and she will do it again. Jack may have been a perfect father, but Rebecca was right there with him every step of the way. She’s going to soldier on again now and make the best tasting lemonade the world has ever seen. He knows this to be true without a doubt, and after hearing it, something clicks and Rebecca knows it too. So, she heads back to the reception, grabs Jack and grabs the kids and they go to Jack’s favorite tree.
At the tree, Rebecca gives a speech that would make Jack so proud of her. She tells the boys that neither of them has to be the man of the house and they need to just be normal teenagers and go on dates and have fun. She tells Kate that Jack was a grown man who made his own choice to go back into the house and if she has to tell her every day that his death wasn’t her fault she will. The four of them then take turns spreading ashes at the tree before Rebecca tells them that Jack left them all one last gift – tickets to the Bruce Springsteen concert that night. She thinks they should go and that it’s the perfect way to honor him and all the kids agree.
Before leaving Rebecca stops and speaks to Jack and tells him that they’re going to be okay, because like he told her so many years ago – that’s the tree where you learn that you are okay.
This is the perfect time for a flashback to see just how exactly Jack was able to get that Wagoneer for his family. Well, as it turns out Jack actually sold the salesman as opposed to the other way around. You see, Jack wanted a car that’s both sturdy and tough. A car that would be able to take the dings, the scrapes, the stains (of which there will be many) and he wants a car that will tell their story and that’s why the guy needs to cut him a deal.
The only thing that Jack Pearson wanted was for his family to be okay.
Back in the car, things are finally starting to sink in for Kevin who reaches over to Randall as a sign that they too will be okay.
But the most powerful moment comes seconds later as Rebecca is forced to drive over the bridge from the beginning of the episode, the one that she was terrified to cross, but this time as she drives her new family of four forward – her eyes are wide open.
This Is…The Rest.
We have to take a second and just applaud the actors playing the teenage Big Three. They are absolutely incredible. We didn’t have any of the present day Big Three in this episode and to be honest, I hardly even noticed because these actors have embodied their adult characters so well that I felt like I was watching them. The casting on this show is just unbelievable, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and all 6 of the actors playing the younger Pearsons deserve so much recognition!
Rebecca looking at the coffee cup in the car at the beginning of the episode was a bit confusing, but we then learn that was Jack’s cup of coffee on the day of the Super Bowl and it was just so devastating but so true to life.
In Randall’s speech at the funeral, he talks about how he hopes to one day find a love as pure as the love his parents shared and everyone’s hearts just completely burst because we know he does and we know that Beth is coming soon.
That was a really tough three episodes, but we made it through and much like the Pearsons, we are going to be okay! Thankfully, we have a nice break for the Olympics to get all of our emotions in check as This Is Us returns on February 27th on NBC!