This Is Us creator, stars on the premiere’s devastating ending

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details about Jack’s death from the season 2 of This Is Us, titled “A Father’s Advice.” Proceed with caution.

Well, now you sort of know. Hurts a bit, doesn’t it?

This Is Us made an emotionally supercharged return to the air after a six-month hiatus on Tuesday night, as Rebecca (Mandy Moore) seized control of her fracturing relationship with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) by rescuing him from a drinking vortex, and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) surprised Randall (Sterling K. Brown) — with whom she was experiencing heretofore unseen tension over his desire to adopt a child — by informing him that they should adopt an older child who “no one else in the world is going to help.” Oh, and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) argued over who should be the No. 1-looker-outer for Kate (Chrissy Metz), while she thought it should be herself. But it was the final moments of the season 2 premiere of the NBC family drama that will fans will truly be buzzing about. Because those moments took us to the time and seeming place of Jack’s death, heretofore only a mystery.

After that potent scene in which Rebecca ordered Jack to get in the car, rebuffing his self-loathing efforts to try to tackle his alcoholism by himself, she assured him, “Everything is going to be fine. Jack, look at me… In a few months from now, everything will be back to normal.” The scene segued into a moment presumably a few months from then, in which Rebecca was wearing a Steelers jersey, looking devastated, driving numbly, with apparently Jack’s possessions in a bag in the back seat (watch, keys, notebook). No, everything was clearly not fine. We saw a grieving 17-year-old Kate (Hannah Zeile) — who was holding a dog — alongside a broken-up Randall (Niles Fitch), and Miguel (Jon Huertas). Kate said, “We have to find Kevin,” and went off to break the bad news to her twin brother (Logan Shroyer), who was off somewhere, wearing a leg cast and making out with a girl. Rebecca pulled up to the Pearson’s mailbox, and as she let out of a horrible, heartbreaking wail, we panned back to something hideous: a just-burned down house, police tape cordoning it off, and a few firemen still on the scene. End of show.

(We’ll give you a moment.)

(And maybe another one.)

Did Jack die in that fire? Did something else happen? What is the significance of those items in Rebecca’s back seat? Whose dog is that? Who’s with Randall? Why is Kevin in a cast? So many questions flood one’s brain center, but you just took a big step toward getting the biggest one answered — How does Jack die? — as creator Dan Fogelman promised. And as he said, the rest of the answer will take shape over the course of the season. (Cue: the next round of the waiting game.)

At the PEOPLE and EW viewing part of the season 2 premiere, Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Sullivan along with creator Dan Fogelman joined PEOPLE and EW editorial director Jess Cagle to break down the premiere, and, most notably, that whopper of an ending.

“You’ve seen a lot of pieces — this was always the plan for the Big Three,” said Fogelman. “We had talked about the fire and what happened from day 1 of starting. This has always been the plan. You’re seeing a lot of things that are going to reveal themselves over the course of the season… The writers have sat and analyzed every bit of minutiae. A lot of the little things are going to come into play over the course of this season. All the answers about how Jack died, it’s all going to happen this season.”

“We don’t know the full story,” cautioned Moore. “We’ll just say that. That’s just a piece of the puzzle.”

“A big piece,” noted Ventimiglia. “This helps. It’s like a pressure valve released a little bit. But as Dan has always said, ‘With this answer there’s still a lot of questions.’ I think people are going to have pay attention over the course of this season, and each episode, and understand what our medium Big Three are experiencing and where they happen to be in the moments that are an influence to Jack’s death.”

Fogelman revealed that the moment of Rebecca sobbing at the burned-down house was actually her first take. “We built a replica of the house five hours away, we had code names for everything,” he explained. “Mandy came to set and they put her in the car and what you see is literally her first take. After all that planning, it was like 30 seconds and then we were done.”

Moore wants you to pay attention to some of the clues planted in that final sequence. “There were some clues I don’t know if people picked up on — Kate was holding a dog, Randall’s got a girlfriend, and Kevin has a broken leg,” she says. “These are all things that I think people are going to see sort of the origin of in the next couple of episodes, leading up to figuring out a bigger piece of the puzzle.”

In addressing the questions on everyone’s mind, Fogelman went down on a jokey conspiratorial wormhole. “Did he die in the fire? Did he get out of the fire? We’re not misdirecting, but did he start the fire? Did Toby start the fire? Sully is still convinced it’s Miguel — he won’t give up on it.”

Additional reporting by Maureen Lenker.

More to come…

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