*Spoiler warning for those who still haven't watched the "Super Bowl Sunday" episode of This Is Us. *
After a season and a half of dropping clues and inspiring endlessly depressing theories, This Is Us finally delivered on Jack's well-established death during its Super Bowl episode, and many millions of people watched as the Pearson patriarch succumbed not to a raging house fire, but to cardiac arrest brought on by smoke inhalation. It was a huge shock nestled within a very under-exaggerated moment, and many fans wondered why Jack's death played out like that. Now, creator Dan Fogelman has offered up an explanation, saying the post-fire death was planned from This Is Us' conception.
When I started to write this thing, in my mind's eye, there was a fire at the house that the patriarch of the family heroically got the family out of the house, and then died in a really small way, without proper cinematic good-byes, hours later in a hospital by himself. And that was really the plan from 'go.' So we were always writing towards that. And we would be inside of Kevin, for instance, not being able to process his father's loss, or really come to terms with his grief. We always knew that Kevin wasn't home when this key incident in the family happened. But exactly what day, exactly what party kids were at, and what final conversations which kid had with Jack beforehand were details that evolved in the course of the writers' room. But the fundamental parts of the fire were always firmly entrenched.
So while Dan Fogelman might not have specifically known in those earliest days that he was going to bring a dog into the equation to incite fan rage over Kate's self-blame, it sounds like This Is Us might not have even existed without Jack's eventual death at the forefront of its creator's mind. Just as important as the fire itself was the assertion that Jack not meet his maker through such a harrowing and stressful situation, but rather in that situation's quiet aftermath, when everyone could be fooled into assuming everything was okay.
Regardless of whether or not one enjoyed the way Jack died -- admittedly not the most ideal wording -- it's hard to deny the death-by-smoke was a much more This Is Us thing to do than taking Jack out through a massive house explosion, or by having him and Miguel brawl in a giant snake pit until only one man is left standing. This isn't that kind of show.
To that point, here's how Dan Fogelman explained the scope of the death to EW.
The show is about the little stuff. We don't normally live in a space where Jack's running, holding a mattress over his daughter in a flaming building. Normally, it's two people having conversations in a car. And that's kind of how we wanted to attack the death of our major character here --- let it live in the really small, quiet, regular moments. I think we were really successful at that, and I think that's because of the way Milo and Mandy played that last scene --- and then what Mandy does in that final scene is so crazy.
Can you imagine how audiences would have reacted if Jack had died in some larger-than-life moment involving a big stunt crew and lots of special effects? As if Jack is suddenly going to turn into Mission: Impossible's Ethan Hunt in the middle of an episode. Granted, there are a billion different smaller ways that This Is Us could have led us to Jack's unaccompanied passing in a hospital room, but Dan Fogelman was set on fire and its side effects being the Pearson's big source of tragedy for decades to come.
After all those months of speculating, it's now hard to believe that This Is Us could have ever actually had Jack dying in that fire. I mean, the episode purposefully avoided showing Jack's body after his death, and it was in a reasonably fine state. How in the world would they have handled it if Jack's entire body was burned? I guess we'll never have to find out, thankfully.
While fans probably won't be getting more two-episodes-a-week splendor in the near future, This Is Us will continue to explore Jack's past (and other things) on Tuesday nights on NBC at 10:00 p.m. ET. To see what other new and returning shows are hitting the small screen soon, head to our midseason premiere schedule.