As America's favorite family, the Pearsons don't have many flaws.
Sure, the patriarch Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) struggled with alcoholism, and he and his wife, Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) weren't equipped to address the subject of racial inequality in America despite adopting a black son, but the mythology that This Is Us has crafted around Jack and Rebecca Pearson is untouchable: They were the perfect love story.
Except Jack Pearson died tragically in a house fire when his three kids were just teenagers, his widow ended up marrying his best friend who has the personality of plain toast, and now, in her old age, Rebecca is showing signs of Alzheimer's disease, meaning that she'll one day forget all about her epic love story with Jack.
Only two more episodes remain until the season 4 finale (titled "Strangers: Part 2," which suggests the return of Cassidy Sharp, played by Jennifer Morrison), and the time-jumping series has been teasing more dramatic reveals than ever: Who is Kevin's fiancee and mother of his child? Will Randall experience another nervous breakdown? Will Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) and her husband, Toby (Chris Sullivan), break up over the conflict of raising a child with special needs?
Of course, there have been signs of hope for the Pearsons, like dangling ropes to hang ourselves with while we wait for the Pearsons to figure their sh*t out and become the well-adjusted people we ourselves will never be. By the end of "Clouds," we saw that Toby seems to be adjusting to fatherhood with a blind son, Randall has continued his much-needed therapy despite his pride, and Kevin–well, who knows what Kevin will do next, as that boy has a twisted sense of love and relationships.
But tonight's episode, "After the Fire," will attempt to wrench the the still-beating heart out of America's chests by showing us what life would have been like if Jack had lived. At the end of last week's episode, "New York, New York," Randall (Sterling K. Brown) told his brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), that he often thinks about what would have happened if their father had survived. Promo materials show the return of elderly Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), who has made brief appearances in his children's dreams.
Following his first appearance as 73-year-old Jack in the season two finale, Ventimiglia shared with CNN that the show's makeup artists based his aged look on photos of his own late father. The process took three hours and involved a wig, but the impressive realism matches that of Mandy Moore's time-jumping transformations. Ventimiglia added, "Looking at the history of Jack and how he had lived his life in a very simple way, I feel like a broken record saying he loves his wife and he loves his kids, but I feel like that is expanded when you get to your 70s." He added, "He felt like a man that was probably interested in slowing things down as best as he could, just to hang on to the moments."
With Randall beginning regular therapy for his anxiety disorder, is his preoccupation with his father's death a driving source of his anxiety? Would Jack have taken Randall to meet his biological father, William, when he was a teenager (giving him decades of time to spend with William before he succumbed to cancer)? Would Randall have been happier if he hadn't felt the responsibility of looking out for his mother throughout his life? Would Rebecca have been happier? Would she still have become sick?
This Is Us will come for your soul Tuesday, March 17, and the finale will air on March 24, on NBC.
This Is Us 4x17 Promo "After the Fire" (HD) youtu.be