This Is Us Season 1, Episode 15
“Jack Pearson’s Son”
Posted by Shannon
One of the most remarkable things about This Is Us is its ability to speak on a topic before really expanding on the details that brought its characters to that point. This has never been clearer than in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” which, for all of its plot points, truly comes down to one thing: that the death of Jack Pearson, however it happened, has left his family with a lack of a clear moral center. Jack was not a perfect man – and that’s never been more clear than in this episode – but he created a family that relied on him to act as their true north. Their constant. Jack wasn’t a superhero, and of course he didn’t have the ability to protect his children from the difficulties of their lives (Randall will always have anxiety, Kevin and Kate will always live with self-doubt and self-confidence issues) but he was one of those rare people who had the ability to center anyone who needed it. And without him, the center has tilted, spun, spiraled – leaving the surviving Pearsons in chaos.
Now that we know the ages of the kids when Jack passes, it’s impossible to watch an episode with them as teens without wondering when the other shoe will drop. That awareness leaves this Valentine’s Day celebration with a fog hovering overhead at every moment. Rebecca is about to depart for her five-state, month-long tour, and she’s in the throes of guilt and anxiety. Leaving her family for that long, with one parent to juggle Kate’s music lessons, Randall’s debate team meets, and Kevin’s football games seems insurmountable, but Jack assures her that he has it all under control. He even has time to book their favorite restaurant and their favorite table to celebrate Valentine’s Day – after Rebecca finishes her gig with the band.
Jack puts on his typical superhero husband face while he and Rebecca make plans, but it’s a different story when he’s at work with Miguel. It only takes a little bit of prodding for Jack to admit that he’s not thrilled about the tour after all (“Who does she think she is, Janis freakin’ Joplin?”). Jack refuses to tell Rebecca how he feels, convinced that she’ll resent him for denying her the opportunity – and he’s right. She would resent him – but she’d be right to do so. And what Jack misses entirely is that his feelings about the tour have already bred resentment in their marriage; except it’s Jack who’s resenting Rebecca. He’s clearly worried about Ben, the bandleader we met earlier in the season, and the fact that he isn’t willing to talk to Rebecca about how he feels NOW, before things blow up, is a real flaw. That said, it’s been a while since Jack has shown flaws of any kind, so it was time to see his perfection crack and give way to a bit of realism.
Meanwhile, Miguel has completed his divorce with Shelley and he’s anxious to get back out on the dating scene. He initially asks Jack to go out with him once Rebecca is on tour (and it’s telling to note that he’s quick to assure Jack that he doesn’t have to drink while they’re out, making it clear that Jack’s sobriety has lasted the decade since he decided to stop drinking). Instead, Jack invites Miguel to tag along to Rebecca’s show, certain that there will be some single women out, keeping busy during the holiday. (This single woman wouldn’t be caught dead out at a bar for a mellow jazz performance on Valentine’s Day, but what do I know.)
Naturally, while their parents are trying to plan their way out of a crisis, the Big Three are in the throes of standard teenage drama. Randall is anxious about his Hamlet paper, which Kevin thinks can only be fixed by setting his brother up on a date, and Kate is quick to jump to Randall’s defense, but does so by outing that Kevin and Sophie have started having sex. Rebecca, of course, overhears all of this, and jumps to attention after hearing that her 16-year-old is sexually active.
She and Jack sit down to talk to Kevin, making sure that above all else, he’s being safe and respectful. There’s no way to have this conversation that isn’t mortifying for all parties, but I do have to say that Jack does an exceptional job. His priorities are clear and on point, and he doesn’t linger or try to make Kevin feel ashamed of himself. However, he also doesn’t really have much of a chance to get beyond the basics before Randall, steadily spiraling into a panic attack, interrupts. The small signs that we know in adult Randall are all here – he’s breathless, shaky, and can’t quite form a cohesive argument while he tries to explain to his father that he hasn’t been able to formulate a topic for his Hamlet essay. Jack immediately calms him down, breathing with him, removing him from the basement and focusing his son by asking him to walk Jack through the life and times of the Prince of Denmark. It’s handled ably and quickly, but Rebecca sees all of this as proof positive that she cannot possibly go on tour right now.
Jack, once again, assures her that he has everything under control, and that she can’t miss touring with the band. But everything comes to a head when he and Miguel arrive at Rebecca’s show that evening. Jack doesn’t really focus during the whole performance; instead, he spends the entire time eyeing Ben, sizing him up and trying to decide if he and Rebecca are flirting on stage while they duet. Miguel isn’t concerned, assuring Jack that it’s a performance for the crowd, but Jack is having none of it. This is a side of Jack we haven’t really seen before; he’s cold, defensive, distracted and above everything else, painfully jealous.
When Ben greets Jack after the performance, he certainly doesn’t help the situation. The two men are both varying degrees of passive aggressive, sizing each other up with every word and glance. Ben drops that he and Rebecca used to date in college, and all hell breaks loose right in Jack’s eyes. He moves from distraction and distance to severity and bitterness, even hints of rage. He ends the night abruptly, insisting that he and Rebecca cancel their traditional Valentine’s Day bacon cheeseburgers and go straight home instead.
This is the first Real Fight we’ve seen Jack and Rebecca weather. Back in the beginning of the season, when Rebecca confronted him about his drinking, she was so clearly in the right that there wasn’t much nuance to the disagreement. But this argument has all the messiness and chaos of a fight with no real right or wrong. They both say things they shouldn’t say, things that will haunt their relationship from that moment on, and it says so much about their characters at the same time. Rebecca DOES feel like she’s sacrificed for Jack and the kids; how much she regrets that decision is unclear, and while I don’t doubt her love for her family for a SECOND, it’s easy to see how much joy performing has brought back into her eyes. She needs to have something that’s only hers, and that’s not too much to ask. However, the family has done nothing but support her new musical venture. Jack, on the other hand, knows those things to be true, but he spins out in every sense of the phrase. His constant perfection is exhausting, even though it’s not an act (and no one, certainly not Rebecca, would have thought of it as such). But no matter how genuine his drive to be a perfect father and husband is, it leaves him feeling entitled – entitled to Rebecca telling him every slight detail of her past, regardless of her feelings, and entitled to deny her the right to go out of the house to follow her dreams if he so chooses.
A fight this deep and biting can’t be sorted in the blink of an eye, and they don’t try to. Jack heads out to dinner, alone, and orders a drink. He downs it so quickly, and with such visible relief and anger, that any doubts viewers might have had about the severity of his addiction are immediately wiped away. This is a Jack we haven’t really seen before, and it’s not pretty.