Mandy Moore warned us that the season finale of "This Is Us" was going to "destroy America" -- and she just might have been right.
Spoiler alert: Do not read until you've watched the season finale of "This Is Us," titled "Moonshadow."
The season finale told the love story of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Moore), jumping back and forth between their fateful first meeting in the '70s and their heartbreaking, epic fight in the '90s, which saw Jack pack his bags and move out. Over the course of the hour, young Jack had been pushed to such extremes that he nearly robbed a bar -- and older Jack was back to drinking, and got into a fistfight with Ben (Sam Trammell).
Here, Ventimiglia and Moore break down the finale: what it means for the state of their marriage, when we'll learn about Jack's death, and how audiences are going to respond. "They're not going to be very happy, but I feel like Jack can work his way back with that speech at the end," says Ventimiglia.
What was your reaction to the script?
Moore: It broke all of our hearts as well. I'm sure it's not entirely what people are expecting. I think they were expecting an answer to another question. I think the finale is pretty open-ended. It opens a whole other can of worms, which is whether Jack and Rebecca were together when he does eventually pass away. What was the state of their marriage? I don't think that's what people necessarily saw coming.
So, are they together when Jack died?
Moore: Exactly. Who knows? That's the mystery now.
Ventimiglia: That's a pretty big question. It was revealed in episode 13 that it looked like it happened sometime in the '90s when the kids were teenagers. So yeah, you've gotta wonder a lot of things. What was the state of their marriage? What was Jack's personal state? These are some of the questions.
Let's talk about that fight. Dan Fogelman said it was a scene "never seen on TV before." How did you film it? How much was improv-ed and how much was scripted?
Moore: Everything was scripted. When we got the script, Milo and I got together one weekend, and we read through it a couple of times at his house. I felt bad because the windows were open and I'm like, "Your neighbors think you're having a fight with your girlfriend." (Laughs.) We read through it again on set. And then the day before we actually shot it, we walked through the house with Yasu (Tanida), our DP, with Ken (Olin), our director, and key department heads, and traced the choreography of what we wanted to do. We wanted to have an idea of how the scene was going to ebb and flow. So by the time we got to shoot the scene, we knew exactly what we were going to do. We could just feel charged up to let it rip. But by no means was it a fun scene to shoot. It felt like climbing a mountain. I adore Milo and it's so easy and seamless with him to have the more tender moments with Jack and Rebecca. But this episode really kept us apart. There was a lot of tension and strain while we were shooting this episode in particular.
Ventimiglia: It was 100% scripted and executed over the course over a long day on set. Mandy and I aren't used to being at odds like that. At the beginning of the day I picked up my chair and left the room just to put a little separation between us. It was a well-orchestrated plan. Dan wanted the shot to be done as a one-r [in one long take]. It's a tall order given how much is at stake for Jack and Rebecca. And orchestrating it in a way so that you're not undercutting one side or one performance, so it was difficult. But Ken Olin delivered this beautiful piece. It was a tough day at work. I'm used to speaking to Mandy a lot. She and I talk tons during the course of a work day. But that day we didn't talk at all until the very end. We had to look out for own characters in that moment and trust that the camera would pick up what we needed.
It broke my heart when she woke up the next morning and he wasn't sleeping outside her door.
Ventimiglia: I think for Jack, he is devoted to his family. He's devoted to his kids and his wife. But there were some pretty wounding things that have happened over the course of the last several episodes in the '90s. He's going to meet her in the middle. He doesn't need to be on his hands and knees outside of her bedroom or tail tucked. He knows that he messed up, that he made a mistake. But the things leading up to it, the argument - it's gotta be two people meeting in the middle. It can't be one person chasing. When Rebecca says you've gotta leave, you've gotta stay at Miguel's house, he gets cleaned up. He wasn't packed and ready to go. He's wise in his 50s. he knows to play a game of chess as opposed to checkers that he would have in his 20s.
Moore: It broke my heart, too. I just think had Rebecca heard when she asked him, "What do you love about me right now in this moment, the person that I am now?" had he just had some semblance of an answer then, perhaps things would have ended differently. But I also think it was a sign, too, waking up the next morning [and not finding him there]. I know as an actor and as a character, she was certain that he would be sleeping outside the door, like he was at the end of the second episode, eight years before. The fact that he was already awake and ready to go, there was part of me that was hoping that he would have something to say. That he would find a way to not let the situation unfold the way that it ended up unfolding. He didn't. He was agreeable, amenable to what Rebecca was suggesting. That gave her the answers she needed at that point.
But he did have an answer, in that beautiful speech he gave her.
Moore: Yes, it was beautiful and remarkable. But why didn't have it last night? I know it was the heat of the moment and there was this terrible fight. But those words rattled around her head all night: "You're just a 40 year old woman singing covers in a rock band. You don't have a career." It was real turning point in the story of this family. It just showed the uglier underbelly. I know it's a bittersweet note to settle on. I think it's appropriate and the impact is not going to diminish in time. They're landing exactly where they should be at the end of the season. People have a couple of months to think about these people and the choices they made. And it forces you to hold up a mirror to your life and the choices that you've made. That's the trick of this show. It's heartbreaking to me, this fight. For Rebecca, the underlying sense is that Jack doesn't value her desires as valid. There's nothing more heartbreaking to not be on the same page as somebody.
So can this marriage be saved?
Moore: I don't know. I don't have all the answers. I don't know what the next step is for these people, for their relationship and how they put the pieces together and move forward and what decisions are made. I know how Jack passes away. I have a vague idea when that happens. But I don't know what the next steps are in any sort of specificity. I'm just as curious as anyone else. I really want to talk to Dan. When does Season 2 start? I'm hopeful. I think the episode ended on a hopeful note. But I definitely think this is a couple that does need air. They need to breathe and they need to reevaluate and figure out how they put one foot in front of the other.
Ventimiglia: That's the question. I think everybody was ready for a different outcome at the end of this season. And now it's not exactly that. I know from Jack's side of things, the speech that he gave, he's trying to give a little bit of hope in a dark time. He knows that his wife is asking him to leave the house. But at the same time, he's a smart man. He's not going to fight that. he's going to leave but not without his parting words. The speech that he gave is akin to what he gave his kids at the pool or Randall at his office. That's Jack. He's a hopeful guy who doesn't want to leave a bad situation bad. He wants to leave a bad situation with some hope, with some light shining on it. I don't think that it completely eliminates what was said the night before. But it does soften the blow a little bit. He was able to step up and show us the man we've come to know and love. And a man he's come to know and love her entire adult life. I do have hope in my heart for them.
This episode also showed us a dark side of Jack, which we haven't seen to this extent before.
Moore: Which I think is important, is realistic to show all the colors of a person. I understand he's viewed as superhero husband and father. He is very much those things. But there's more than what meets the eye. And I'm glad that this episode gives Milo and Jack the opportunity to show people that. It's much more tangible, much more realistic and that's the heart of the show. We don't want to play caricatures. We want to play fallible human beings. I think that's what this episode showcases. I'm sure people are going to take sides. There's truth in what both of them are feeling. I see both sides of this argument. I'm obviously going to go with Rebecca - Jack's jealousy obviously got the best of him. His insecurity and only being able to view Rebecca through the lens of mother and wife - he's not able to see that past. He's really trivialized this essential part of who she is. The fact that Jack can't let her have this for herself, it's unendingly disappointing.
Ventimiglia: Everyone talks about how "perfect" Jack is. But he can't be that great without the darker side of him. I think this was a good episode to humanize Jack and take him off that pedestal people put him on. And he's a man like anyone else. He isn't perfect. He isn't infallible. It is important to see the choices he's made in the past and in the present day. He's found the good that's circled back to him. When he was younger, he was wondering when it was going to come his way, when was he going to catch a break. He did. He caught the biggest of breaks. Moving beyond the first season and going through the '90s. He's going to be make decisions hopefully to get his family back on track. The audience knows that he may have limited time. Hopefully he's going to be engaging with his family in the best way and leaving a solid impression on them. There's more to see of Jack. There's more to see of Rebecca and the big three. There's still a whole big world of stories to tell. This is just a couple of pages of the album that's pretty thick.
It does end on a note of hope for the children -- Kate talking about pursuing a singing career is particularly poignant.
Moore: Kate can carry the torch for her mom. Clearly, I don't think it happened for Rebecca, which is really sad. As a woman, this a woman who had so much promise. And she didn't have the support of her friends. She gets rejected by the record company. One defeat after another. The ultimate defeat, years later, she's having this second wind of going on tour for just a couple of weeks, just never comes fruition. The fact that Kate may be able to carry the torch for her mother is a beautiful addition to he story.
Ventimiglia: Randall adopting. Kate wanting to sing. Kevin's won back his girl and moving back to Los Angeles. I felt that it was a beautiful ending. Like Jack said, it's just the beginning. They really are setting up and paying off without it feeling like a big cliffhanger. This looks exciting, this looks engaging. I really can't wait.
Do you think America will ultimately forgive Jack?
Ventimiglia; I think they will. Dan Fogelman thinks they will. He said, this is gonna crush people. This is going to destroy them, but I think I found a way for them not to hate Jack in the end. And that's the thing I hang on to. He made a mistake. He is not perfect. But his intention is always a good place.