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Spoilers ahead for the Season 1 finale of ABC's A Million Little Things, called "goodbye."
A Million Little Things premiered back in fall 2018 as primetime's latest tearjerker, and the Season 1 finale was arguably the most emotional episode so far as it finally revealed the devastating secret of what broke Jon to the point that he committed suicide. As it turns out, it was not a recent event that pushed Jon to end his life, but rather one that had been eating at him for years. Here's what happened.
Via flashback, we saw that Jon was set to travel with his best friend Dave from Boston to Los Angeles. At first, it wasn't entirely clear how far back in his life this flashback was taking place, but that became painfully clear by the end.
The two buddies were having about as much fun as two people can have at the airport waiting on a morning flight, but the entire course of Jon's life changed when he decided to run back to an airport shop to buy a bottle of wine. Not wanting to risk missing their flight, Dave boarded.
Jon did miss their flight, as he was only moments too late when he raced to the gate to try and board the plane. The doors were already shut, however, and the attendant wouldn't allow him down the jetway. Jon was frustrated with her -- whose name badge identified her as "Sophie," which was a clue that whatever was happened would be quite significant -- and called his friend to wave at him from the window. That would be the last time that Jon saw his friend Dave.
Why? Well, in a surprisingly understated series of events, A Million Little Things revealed that the flight Jon had only just missed boarding was American Airlines Flight 11, which one one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. Yes, this flashback took place on the morning of September 11, 2001. Dave died because he boarded the flight; Jon lived because he bought a bottle of wine and sent his friend ahead.
A Million Little Things showrunner DJ Nash designed the episode and the entire first season to make it clear that there's not just one thing that broke Jon and drove him to suicide, but "goodbye" revealed the underlying experience that changed him forever. Nash explained that survivor's guilt is what was so damaging to him and ate at him ever since September 2001, saying this in a chat with THR:
One thing I’ve loved doing this season is giving two different people a similar struggle. Survivor's guilt is what Jon is dealing with, and you have Rome whose life was spared because of that phone call about Jon in the pilot, so he also has it. Now that Linda has died from cancer, both Gary and Maggie are dealing with a little of it themselves, so survivor’s guilt on different levels is something that all of them are struggling with. As we go into season two, that theme will still be present. I talked a lot about this with our consultant, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, and I asked her if Jon’s behavior is consistent with someone who has survivor’s guilt — the fact that he never mentioned it to his family, his wife, his friends. And she said it’s exactly consistent, it’s like a hot stove and you can’t touch it any more. He may have tried to visit with Barbara a few times, but the pain was too much and he couldn’t keep those promises.
Survivor's guilt as the source of Jon's pain and motivator for a lot of his actions explains how and why A Million Little Things was able to drag the mystery of what drove him to suicide for a full season without feeling unrealistic. He kept what happened to Dave and what almost happened to him on September 11 a secret from everybody in his life, with the only person who really understood being the mysterious Barbara.
The finale delivered some information on Barbara as well. As it turns out, Barbara was Dave's girlfriend, and she was pregnant when he died. Within a year, she moved on and was engaged to another man who was willing to raise the child as his own, angering Jon. He came to regret his harsh words when he accused her of forgetting Dave, but he never really reconnected with Barbara. The only person who might have understood was somebody he didn't have a relationship with on any kind of regular basis.
Based on DJ Nash's comments, the resolution of the mystery of the biggest factor that broke Jon doesn't mean that there will be no more addressing of survivor's guilt on A Million Little Things. Apparently, that theme will still be around in the second season. A bigger question may be whether or not Jon will be around in Season 2.
Back before it even premiered, A Million Little Things was being compared by many to This Is Us over on NBC, which also features flashbacks that center on the life of a man who has since passed away. Milo Ventimiglia is a series regular on This Is Us despite his character's on-screen death in the flashbacks; will A Million Little Things keep Ron Livingston on board now that the big mystery has been solved?
DJ Nash addressed the possibility to EW, saying this:
The only thing more delightful than Ron Livingston on camera is Ron Livingston off camera. I would love for him to be a part of the show. I love the dude, he’s been so respectful and gratuitous this whole season. At every turn, he’s just impressed me with his questions and his approach and his care. He was the only person outside of the writers’ room who knew everything this year. I purposefully only had the actors know what their characters would know. And so Christina Ochoa would know more than, like, Romany Malco, but I was always very careful and the actors were cool with not whispering the secrets. But from the very first day I met Ron, we sat down and I told him everything. He has been a great partner in this, so I’d love to continue to have him tell his story. He has another series that he’s working on, so we may just have find those moments, but I’d love to have him back.
Well, on the one hand, it sounds like A Million Little Things fans won't get more of Ron Livingston in the vein of Milo Ventimiglia on This Is Us. On the other hand, DJ Nash sounds more than willing to bring Livingston back to play Ron again, presumably via flashbacks. Livingston apparently has another TV show in the works, which could keep him from having a regular presence on A Million Little Things. Still, we can hope for more of Jon in Season 2, right?