To say that the Super Bowl episode of This Is Us revealed what killed Jack is a bit of a misdirect. We already know what caused Jack's death, however indirectly. It was the slow-cooker, in the kitchen, with the shorted out switch. And yet, that doesn't really tell us what happened, and how everyone else made it out of the house alive, but Jack did not. Jack's death reveal in the Sunday, Feb. 4 episode was, therefore, the biggest part of the episode for many, even if the end was already foretold, and the past is already written, the ink already dry.
This was the show’s biggest opportunity to reel in an audience since it first started airing back in the fall of 2016. Most shows in its position would have deepened the mystery, pulling out new clues in the puzzle-box mystery to hook new fans. Instead, the production did the exact opposite and gave fans all the answers we were seeking, even to the first timers who just let their TVs keep running once the game ended.
This Is Us certainly drew it out. The fire itself was not even 10 minutes long. Don't get me wrong, it was an intense opening, with the family running to the parents' bedroom, and the dropping of each Pearson to the ground. Then, Jack goes back in, nominally for the dog, but in reality he goes in for other things that matter. The tape of Kate's audition. The family photos. The cards the kids gave him for his birthday every year. The memories that hadn't gone up in flames yet.
And at first it seems that Jack has succeeded. He gets out of the house. And he doesn't instantly drop dead of smoke inhalation either, or a heart attack or anything. Yes, his lungs are sooty. Yes, his throat is swollen. And yes, the doctor is *really* surprised how OK he is, having been in the house for that long. But Jack seems to have been a real-life Superman, and pulled it off. All he has to do is kill Kevin in the morning, and it will all be fine.
Except all hour we knew it wouldn't be. We know this is it. And we know that this is the 20th anniversary of this being it. (It should be noted that Jan. 25, 2018 would have been the actual 20th anniversary of Jack's death, and this is Feb. 4, but the Pearsons mourn his death on Super Bowl Sunday.)
And then it just happens, when Rebecca isn't looking. Jack dies, of cardiac arrest. Specifically, of "the widowmaker," the blockage of the heart's LAD artery.
To the show's credit, this was always the plan. Creator Dan Fogelson admitted as much this past week to Entertainment Weekly:
This was always the plan from inception, that this time in season 2 is when we’re going to show the answer to this question — and then let things progress in a different way beyond there, which people will see next week as well.
Let's be clear: this could be the show shooting itself in the foot. Fans could turn away after this, once we all see how Jack died as if the series has nothing left to say. But This Is Us has been quietly been re-orienting itself all season, preparing us to put this mystery behind us, even as they've slowly given us answers along the way this season.
In the first season, the heart of the show lay in the flashbacks, with the present merely setting us up to understand that this mystery is what mattered. This second season, however, the heart of the show has moved to the present, with episodes like the family therapy session pushing us to care more about these characters' futures than their pasts.
In the end, This Is Us is banking on there being enough mysteries and uncertainties in our daily lives to keep us hooked, and that audiences are going to want something different: answers, catharsis, and closure.