(SPOILERS for the Sixth Season of The Walking Dead, FYI)
I have been suggesting for a while that Jack’s death would probably be to This Is Us what Glenn’s death was to The Walking Dead: It’s the point where people start to abandon ship in droves. And in a lot of ways, that comparison is particularly apt after last night’s Super Bowl episode. In that The Walking Dead episode, Negan bashed Glenn’s head in so many times, and it was so graphic, that it left viewers more numb than sad, more horrified than grief-stricken. That’s exactly what the Super Bowl episode of This Is Us did: It beat us in the head with a baseball bat. Over and over and over. It was emotionally gruesome, one of the most egregiously manipulative episodes of television I have ever seen.
Ironically, it wasn’t until that very final moment — which had nothing to do with Jack’s death — that I felt even a stirring of emotion. The trolling and manipulation had wrung it all out of me by the time that Jack actually died, and ultimately, it felt more gross than sad. It felt like pandering. It felt like they were using a character’s death to promote the Super Bowl and to sell candy bars.
That whole first act was a cruel and lame troll job. We knew that Jack would die in the episode, so to have Jack save everyone — including the f**king family dog — and to walk out alive was a lot like Abraham’s death in The Walking Dead. It gave us this brief sense of relief, of victory: Not only does Jack get to be the hero, but maybe he somehow doesn’t die, after all?
But we knew he would, and as soon as the paramedics mentioned smoke inhalation, we had a fairly good idea of how it would go down. We knew as soon as Rebecca went to the vending machine that she’d never see her husband alive again, although few could have predicted that Rebecca would have been eating a goddamn Mars bar (but only after close-ups of that Twix bar).
The rest of the episode was almost paint by number: Extract as much grief as possible out of all the siblings while showing a lot of montage footage of Jack and scenes from the Super Bowl that we just watched, so that NBC could get its moneys worth. It was crass. Kate and her VCR tape, and Kevin talking to the tree, and Randall with his dead lizard and his somersault heart. It was too much — grief is more than just crying and thrashing about. It’s a complicated experience, and This Is Us reduced it to 50 Shades of Weeping.
In the end, I felt little but hostility toward the episode, and as much as I have grown disinterested with the series this year, I still thought Jack deserved better. I still thought that entire talented cast — especially Sterling K. Brown — deserved better than that being the most watched, most-talked about episode of their series. It was not the payoff that Jack deserved.
— Rebecca: When you are telling your children that their father has died, maybe ask Randall’s girlfriend to step outside or go home. That’s way too much to be putting on a non-family member.
— What is this “be strong for my kids” bullshit? Your husband has just died. Your children are going to be inconsolable. To whom does it serve to “stay strong” in that moment? That’s such a weird trope. Why hold it together? Grieve with your family and your future husband! Don’t send Miguel on a walk and then wait to go out and cry by yourself. There is strength in being honest about your emotions, Rebecca.
— To be honest, Kevin and Kate both got shafted with inferior storylines in this episode. A tree and a VHS tape. Ugh.
— Jack: My man. What were you thinking? Don’t go back for the dog. Never go back for the dog. Dogs are great, and they’re important family members: But they are not fathers. They cannot pay bills. They cannot provide decades of emotional and financial support. And what the hell, dude? It wasn’t just the dog, it was the family keepsakes. The picture albums and video tapes. Is there some cliche that I’m not thinking of about there being a fine line between heroism and stupidity? Because I think this one falls on the stupidity side of the ledger. I understand that the pictures and video tapes need to be salvaged for continuity reasons, but there’s gotta be a better way.
— While last night’s episode was probably the beginning of the end for this series, I admit that seeing future Randall with his daughter was just compelling enough to bring me back for one more episode, although you all know what’s going to happen, right? We’re going to start seeing future versions of all the characters, except that one, and the mystery about the death of that one will propel the series going forward. It really is like The Walking Dead, isn’t it? Who will be the next to die? Kate? Kevin? Rebecca? Nope: You know it’s going to be Beth, because she’s the one that will hurt the most. Because single-Dad Randall is the storyline that is going to have the biggest emotional wallop, and last night’s episode was the perfect set up for it.