This post contains spoilers for the This Is Us Season 2 premiere.
Before you ask, no—the This Is Us Season 2 premiere Tuesday night did not reveal how Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) dies. It did, however, give us a few clues: a burned-down house, and a confirmed history of alcoholism. Given the episode’s structure, it would seem that one of these things, or perhaps a combination of the two, played a role in the Pearson patriarch’s demise.
But the latter hint—the emotional moment when a tearful Jack revealed to Rebecca that he’s struggling with alcoholism—is a particularly interesting one, and offers a tantalizing prospect for the season to come. As appealing as perfect father Jack was in the show’s first season, this year, the series seems ready to complicate him with a bit of humanity—an approach it seems to have adopted for several characters in the premiere. In other words, as great as Season 1 was, it seems Season 2 is ready to try and outdo it.
Jack Pearson is certainly not the only TV dad to struggle with alcoholism, though his seems a lot less glamorous than Don Draper’s was at times. Still, there is something unique about how this reveal played out. Last year, we got to know Jack separately from his struggle, which allowed us first to connect with his strengths. His alcoholism is not and hasn’t been his defining trait; instead, viewers have seen the perfection Jack struggles to maintain as he tries to protect his family. And as the series explores his darker side, its main takeaway may be how strong Jack must have been in order to deal with those demons for so long. Because although it’s easy to dismiss those who struggle with mental health and substance abuse as weak, in real life, grappling with those difficulties often takes an unspeakable amount of strength.
As for the rest of the family? In the season premiere, they got shaded in a bit, too: Chrissy Metz’s Kate, for example, struggles with confidence at an audition where she’s surrounded by slender girls. After she finally gathers her courage enough to sing, though, she finds out that in the end, she lost out on the part not because of her weight—but because one of the other women who tried out was simply better. She’s relieved; finally (in life, and on the show), she’s facing a challenge that has nothing to do with her body. Narratively, the departure should be just as refreshing for viewers as it is for Kate.
Meanwhile, Randall—who struggles with anxiety but has otherwise been a stoic model much like Jack—showed an overbearing side, which his wife Beth was having none of. And Kevin? He revealed that in some ways, he’s been hanging on to his sister, perhaps to an inappropriate degree, because of his own insecurities.
As much as we already love the Pearsons, these are all developments we can get behind; if anything, they make this TV family feel a little bit more like our own. It seems safe to assume that NBC’s smash hit won’t be making any big changes in its second year, but it seems the writers’ room also doesn’t plan to grow complacent any time soon. That, it seems, is just not them.
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