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'This Is Us' recap: The aftermath of Jack's death

For The Baltimore Sun

Previously on “This Is Us”: A show killed America’s Favorite Dad (sorry, Tom Hanks) and we all fell apart.

This episode employs a new structure: zero “present day” scenes, with the entire show centered on the day of Jack’s funeral with a series of flashbacks. Despite this, there’s a lot to cover, so for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, turn back now!

Everyone else, let’s check out “The Car.”

Back in the Day

Rebecca, clad in a black dress, waits in the driver’s seat in front of a motel. She honks twice, lightly, and pulls out some tickets from her purse.

Flashback #1: The Family Pearson walks into a car dealership, Mom and Dad urging the Big Three (around age 10) to use their inside voices.

Mel the salesman wants to put them in the very large Wagoneer. But the Pearsons don’t need shiny and huge. They need safe. Reliable. Inexpensive. But Jack spies his kids playing happily inside the Wagoneer, and like that, the decision is made. He wants to have a chat with Mel.

He comes back out and announces the Wagoneer is theirs. Rebecca protests but Jack reassures her he got a great deal. And the kids are predictably over the moon. I mean, back in the day, this was a hugely exciting deal, so I get it. (Yes, I remember. I am that old. Let’s move on, shall we?)

Funeral Day: The kids come out of their rooms, dressed in black, Kevin struggling with his tie. They get in the car.

Flashback #2: The family is in the Wagoneer, on their way to the kids’ first ever concert: Weird Al Yankovic. As excited as everyone is, Rebecca is not looking forward to crossing this huge, old, unsafely narrow bridge.

And what’s worse, there’s construction and traffic has completely stopped, narrowing down to a single lane.

The kids and Jack distract Rebecca with their favorite Weird Al song — “Lasagna,” sung to the tune of “La Bamba,” and before you know it, traffic is moving again.

Funeral Day: Kate wants to know why they’re leaving so early. Rebecca says she wants to get to the service before Jack’s urn gets there. She’s a little curt in her responses — she’s clearly barely hanging on to her ability to function, but it sounds weird coming from her. There’s a brittleness to her voice and demeanor, like she just might crack if the wind blows the wrong way.

Flashback #3: On a snowy day, Jack and Rebecca get into the car. She’s been dizzy all week, and she’s worried about what the MRI she just had will show.

Jack drives her to his “favorite tree” and they sit on the bench. Jack tells her he knows she’s fine because why would the snow fall if she weren’t there to enjoy it?

When his pager buzzes, they head to a nearby pay phone (I remember those, too, for I am super old, apparently) and call in. The relief on Rebecca’s face says it all: Just an inner ear infection.

Back in the car, Jack tells her that he knows he’ll die first, and when he does, he does not want to be put in the ground. He wants to be outside. Rebecca says, “OK.”

Rebecca speaks for all of America (OK, maybe just me) when she asks how Jack picked his favorite tree.

The answer: “It’s the closest one to the pay phone.”

Funeral Day: Rebecca did not, in fact, beat the urn there, but they’re an hour early regardless. As mourners arrive, the family is stoic, but once the eulogies begin, so do the tears.

Teen Randall, in particular: “I hope one day I can find a love like my father had for my mother, and like she had for him.” Ouch. But also yay! Because he totally did.

Flashback #4: Jack is teaching Randall and Kevin to drive. Randall is being super cautious behind the wheel, and Kevin snarks at him. Randall — quite reasonably — reminds Kevin it’s his first time, then Kevin shoots back a snotty comment, and you know what? Kevin can be THE WORST, and we all know it.

Randall gets distracted, blows through a stop sign and almost gets them all killed. Jack makes him pull over, tells them both to get out and walk back home. Yep, all five miles.

When they arrive, Jack admits he just doesn’t get them. He and his brother, Nicky, were best friends. He doesn’t talk about Nicky much, because there’s not much to say: Their father was an abusive jerk, their mom was depressed, the brothers went to war and Nicky died, the end.

But these two? Nothing is oppressing them. One day, Jack reminds them, their parents won’t be around. Will they be there for each other?

Funeral Day: Kevin “The Worst” Pearson spots Jack’s watch on Randall’s wrist and throws a full-on fit. He accuses Randall of trying to be “the man of the house.” THEN — man, I am about this-close to a smackdown with a fictional character — he tells Randall that “a real man wouldn’t have let Dad go back inside the house.”

Randall quietly seethes: “You. Weren’t. Even. There.” As usual.

Randall: 10,000. Kevin: -2.

Flashback #5: Jack is driving down a city street and who does he spot? MISS KATE, playing hooky from school. Why, he wonders, quite reasonably? Because Alanis Morissette, Kate’s favorite musician ever, is signing CDs at the local record store (yes, I remember those, too, I TOLD YOU I AM OLD). Jack doesn’t completely understand Alanis’ music, or her appeal. He offers up Bruce Springsteen. Kate points out they have some similarities as musicians. They’re telling stories through their music. And she’s been writing her own music, too, she confesses.

Jack drops her off at the record store. But before she gets out of the Wagoneer, he encourages her to explore music as a career. She demurs. He’s supportive. It’s such a sweet, earnest conversation.

Before she pops into the store, she admits Bruce’s work is pretty good. Jack replies happily: “Yeah? Maybe I’ll get us tickets sometime!”

Funeral Day: Rebecca sits alone, outside the reception. A familiar voice: “Hello, Rebecca.” She walks right into Dr. K’s arms and sobs out “hi.”

There’s a lovely blonde woman behind him. Dr. K got remarried! This is Ann, who is lovely. She excuses herself, and Dr. K and Rebecca sit on a nearby bench.

“I can’t do this without him,” she says. Jack was fearless. She’s not.

Dr. K thinks, then speaks so carefully: “I would never presume to know more about your husband than you, but the man I knew … he had a whole lot of fears.” All new fathers do, after all. Jack was brave because he was afraid, not because he wasn’t.

Rebecca will be brave, too, he says. She’s the same woman who lost a child and “rolled out of my hospital with three babies just the same. You’re as tough as they come, Rebecca Pearson.” The family they built is the “sweetest pitcher of lemonade” he ever saw.

They sit. He wraps his arm around her. She leans her head into his. I weep some more.

Flashback #6: They’re driving home from the grocery store with food for the Super Bowl. Jack’s awfully chipper as he tells his family he has a surprise for them next Saturday.

Funeral Day: Rebecca hurriedly gathers her brood and drives to Jack’s tree. Rebecca says Jack was “the worst at movies,” because he’d always figure the whole plot out — like he could see things before they happened. He could see the three of them before they happened, too. “Thank God he did,” she says.

To Kevin and Randall: Neither of them need to be the man of the house. They’re teens. Their only jobs are to hang out, go on dates, maybe do a load of laundry now and then, but that's it.

To Kate: “LISTEN to me. It was NOT. Your. Fault. He was a grown man who made a choice. And if I have to spend the rest of my life making sure you know that, I will.”

They spread some of Jack’s ashes beneath his favorite tree. Kate clutches the urn as Rebecca tells them Jack’s last big surprise: He got them tickets to go see Bruce Springsteen that night. Should they go?

Yes. They should go. The kids go back to the car and give Rebecca one last moment alone with her husband.

“We’re gonna be OK, babe,” she whispers. “I promise you we’re gonna be OK.”

Our Final Flashback: We finally hear what Jack said to salesman Mel that day. That car out there? They can’t afford it. But they need it. He needs a tough car for his big, nutty family. He needs his family to be OK. He needs Mel to help him make sure his family is OK.

As the kids and Rebecca drive to the Springsteen concert, Kevin reaches out and puts his hand on Randall’s wrist. It’s a warm, brotherly gesture, and Randall almost smiles.

And Rebecca drives over that bridge, without a moment’s hesitation.

You guys, I think she’s gonna be OK.

The next episode of “This Is Us” will air Feb. 27, after the Winter Olympics are over. And it looks like the last few episodes of this season will give us, in order:

  • More young Jack ...
  • Deja, back with Randall, Beth and the girls, AND Deja’s mother, all seated at the same table ...
  • Toby, wearing a flat-out WILD jacket, leading his posse into what I believe will be his bachelor party…
  • Kate and her friends taking selfies at a bar, at her bachelorette party (maybe we’ll actually see a wedding in the finale, guys!) …
  • Kevin, struggling to stay healthy and sober …
  • And, as voiceover man promises us, we’ll get more of Jack’s story — specifically, the story of two brothers who went to war, and the one brother who came back home again.
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