The first season of NBC‘s This Is Us had one central question that hovered over all 18 episodes. How did Jack Pearson, the family patriarch, die? The previous episode, “What Now?,” brought us right to the moment that could be Jack‘s last time alive. In the season finale, “Moonshadow,” did we will finally learn how he met his end? Get those tissues ready.
In “What Now?,” things went much better for the Pearson family in the present than they did in the past. In the present, Kevin‘s opening night re-do went as well as he could have imagined. So what if the New York Times critic didn’t show up? Ron Howard was there and he wants Kevin for his new movie!
Meanwhile, Randall held an emotional “fun-eral” for William with the help of his adorable daughters Annie and Tess, and his wife Beth. But at the end though, Kate revealed to Toby that she blames herself for her father’s death.
That’s because, as we saw in the past, Kate inspired her father to go to Cleveland to see Rebecca perform. We see Jack drive off drunk. Did Jack make it too Rebecca’s show? Did he die in a car crash on the way there?
Here’s a look at all the action in “Moonshadow.”
The episode kicks off right where the last one left off. Jack is driving alone and does reach the Cleveland theater. “What are you doing Jack?” he asks himself.
In the next scene, we see an old woman asking Jack what he’s doing. He comes out from under the car without a mustache. It’s 1972, over 20 years before the previous scene. He’s fixing an old car for Mrs. Peabody whose husband has just died. He takes $5 from her, and she apologizes for not being able to give him more. She offers to tell her other friends about him, but she’s also surprised that he’s such a nice man. How could he stay so nice after serving in Vietnam?
Mrs. Peabody says she wishes she had a daughter to set him up with, but then remembers that she has a friend whose granddaughter would be great for him. He reluctantly agrees to take this “total knockout” on a date.
In the same time period, we find Rebecca talking with a group of friends. One of them is pregnant and another is getting ready to be married. Rebecca says she’s fine focusing on her singing, but her friends keep pushing her to find a date for the wedding. She says her career is going well, but they don’t seem to believe her. They remind her that being a singer is too risky and needs to diversify.
We head back to the late 1990s, when we find Jack getting another drink from the bar. Then, we see Ben try to get Rebecca to relax in the dressing room. Ben lunges for a kiss, but Rebecca backs away. “What the hell were you thinking, Ben?” She asks him if this is why he wanted her to join the band. She then realizes that Jack was right all along. Jack just misses seeing Rebecca leave the venue.
After the title and first batch of credits, we go back to the 1970s, with Jack arriving home. His father keeps drinking as he belittles his son for not having a job. Jack makes a comment under his breath about his dad’s drinking. When his father asks what he said, he responds, “Nothing,” and walks up to the attic. We see Jack putting his money away from his odd jobs in a box from Vietnam.
Back in the 1990s, we see shots of the empty Pearson house. Rebecca calls the house to tell Jack that she really misses him.
Back in the 1970s, Jack is hanging out and drinking with friend Darryl (Jeremy Luke). The two talk about their dreams of setting up a shop as mechanics. At first, Jack says they’ll never earn enough, but then he realizes that they are two good guys. They’ll make it some day. He then suggests to Darryl that they play a game of cards, but his friend is apprehensive. The guys who run the game are bad guys. Jack shrugs him off and they laugh about playing in the next game.
We cut back to the venue, with a band playing jazz. A drunk Jack pushes his way behind the stage, trying to find Rebecca. He can’t find her anywhere. He eventually finds Ben, who can’t tell him where Rebecca went. Ben tells Jack that it’s a “big night for us” and not to punish Rebecca because he crossed a line. That really sets off Jack, who knocks Ben to the floor and starts punching him. Eventually, the other men in the room separate Jack from Ben. But at that very moment, Rebecca walks in. She’s stunned to see a bloodied Ben.
After another break, Jack tries to get Rebecca to talk to him. She refuses, and instead tells security to lead Jack outside and make sure he doesn’t drive. Rebecca tells Ben that she has to drive her husband home. He reminds her that they have to get on stage in 20 minutes. “It’s over, Ben. IT’s all over,” she says as she walks away.
Back in 1972, we see a young Rebecca reading a rejection letter from a record label. She sits, speechless, and calls her friend Janet. She agrees to go out with the guy Janet suggested she go out with.
Meanwhile, Jack takes all of his money out and gets a call from Mrs. Peabody just as he was about to leave his house. He schedules a date with the girl she talked about earlier. Next, we see Darryl trying to convince Jack not to play the game. He goes in anyway to play. The game is tense, with Darryl easily folding. The big boss makes Jack bet everything on the hand. He had four queens and wins the pot. Jack tries to leave after one hand, but the big boss doesn’t want him to. After guzzling down his drink, he leaves. Darryl and Jack’s celebration is short-lived though, as two goons knock him to the ground and take all the money.
The car ride back home in the 1990s is quiet… too quiet. Jack tries to talk, but Rebecca doesn’t want to while he’s drunk.
Back in 1972, Darryl drives Jack home and tries to convince his friend that they will make their money some how. Jack ignores him, instead goes on about how he watched his father always do the wrong thing, “like clockwork.” Jack always tried to go the opposite direction of his father, but it hasn’t gotten him anywhere. He accepts that he’ll never get his break. “It’s just too damn hard,” he tells his friend. But he then decides that he’s going to go back to that game win back the money he lost. He wants to have the life he deserves.
When Jack goes into the house, it’s the late 1990s again and Rebecca is with him. Rebecca almost has Jack hear the message she left him before, but she cuts it off. He has no idea what to say at this point. The two sit at the table. Jack vows to fix this and get help. He admits to Rebecca that he’s been drinking again for the past few weeks. He tells her that he’s never driven the kids drunk. Then – almost as if she’s making a prediction – he tells her that it would be incredible for him to die in a drunk driving accident and leave three kids behind.
Rebecca tells Jack that he’s not a drunk. She thinks it’s convenient that it restarted just as she was trying to do something for herself. He calls that unfair, reminding her of his father. Rebecca tells him that Ben tried to kiss her. Jack asks what she did and she’s stunned that he would. She leaves the table. Jack pushes her to say what she’s thinking – that Jack and the kids aren’t fulfilling enough. But Rebecca snaps – she has nothing in her life but three teenagers who don’t really need her and a husband who comes home late and “passes out.” “I have no life. I am a freaking ghost!”
She tells him to admit that he hated her singing. But he reminds her how much he does for the family. He’s yelling back too and Rebecca asks him if it feels good to let some of his father out. This is the dissolution of a marriage playing out before our eyes. The two argue about who has given up more for the family.
“This is inane, we love each other,” Jack says.
“What do you love about me right now Jack,” Rebecca says. “So the next time you tell me that you love me, make sure you’re not doing it just out of habit. I’m tired. And I’m really sad. And I’m going to bed.”
Back in 1972, we see a montage of Jack and Rebecca getting ready for their first date. But when Rebecca emerges from her room, it’s the late 1990s again. Rebecca finds Jack sitting on the sofa. He tries to start to talk, but she tells him not to apologize. She says she feels terrible, but “we meant what we said.” They can’t pull it all back in the light of day. She tells Jack that he should stay with Miguel for awhile. Jack agrees and packs his things.
In 1972, Rebecca arrives at a restaurant before Jack. We see Jack talking with Darryl about planning a robbery to get their money back. The first part of their plan is Jack ordering a drink. Rebecca is waiting for her blind date. It’s not Jack! Rebecca wasn’t set up with Jack, but was set up to meet a boring guy. Jack missed the date he was supposed to go on.
After another commercial, Jack tells Rebecca that Miguel is OK with Jack staying with him. They try to figure out what to tell their kids. Jack tells Rebecca that their kids will be ok. This will just seem like a blip on the radar. “We do the best we can, but at the end of the day, what happens to them, how they turn out, it’s bigger than us.
In the final moments of the episode, we finally get a scene in the present. We find Kate unpacking boxes and finds a picture of her mother singing. She knows what she wants to do for work. “I want to sing.”
“Sometimes, they’ll make good decisions. Sometimes bad decisions,” Jack says as we see Kevin kiss Sophie and go to his audition for Ron Howard.
“Every once in awhile, they’re going to do something that’s going to knock us off our feet,” Jack says as we see Randall putting a picture of William in a book. He flips through other pictures of his childhood and remembers the good times.
“Something that even exceeds our wildest dreams,” Jack continues. Randall then tells Beth that he wants to adopt a baby.
“Our kids are going to be fine. Me, I can’t go back to who I was before I met you,” Jack tells Rebecca.
We see Rebecca in 1972, bored out of her mind by her blind date and finding a way out. She leaves the restaurant. Darryl calls the bar, which is when Jack is supposed to rob the bartender. But he then sees Rebecca singing. He stops and the two share a smile.
In the 1990s, Jack tells Rebecca that he was supposed to go out on another date the night he met her. Jack never wonders who that was. He then tells her what he really loves about her.
“I love the mother that you are. I love that you are still the most beautiful woman in any room and that you laugh with your entire face. I love that you dance funny… and not sexy, which makes it even sexier. But most of all, I love that you’re still the same woman who all those years ago, ran out on a blind date because she simply had to sing. You’re not just my great love story, Rebecca. You are my big break.”
“And our love story, and, I know it may not feel like it now, but I promise you, it’s just getting started,” he says as we see Rebecca introduce herself in the past.
Rebecca still lets Jack walk out the door and we see her clutching her necklace. And that’s the end of season one.
That was a truly intense finale, capping off what might be one of the biggest surprises from a network in some time. No new scripted show from any of the big three networks caught our imagination like This Is Us did, which explains why the show was picked up for two more seasons. We can’t wait to find out what’s next in the Pearson family journey. We didn’t learn how Jack really died, but we did learn how the marriage fell apart and how bright the Pearsons’ future will be.