Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us contained a simple story about Kate (Chrissy Metz) wanting to watch football all by herself before ultimately realizing that she’d have to incorporate her significant other into her weekly ritual if she wanted to move forward in her relationship.
And what Toby (Chris Sullivan) would realize is that Kate wasn’t actually watching football alone. She was cheering right alongside her father. Or at least his ashes.
Yes, “The Game Plan” revealed (or confirmed, depending on your speculation skills) that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) is no longer alive. His fate had been left hanging ever since the end of episode 2, when we saw his wife and Kate’s mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), drop by Randall’s house with Jack’s best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas), in loving tow instead of Jack. But after Toby kept pressing her like a blitzing linebacker, Kate decided to introduce him to her father by showing him the urn that contains Jack’s ashes — and with which she spends every Sunday watching football. And it was clear she holds her dad near and dear, albeit in an unconventional way.
If the revelation that Jack is dead hit you hard, you’re not alone, as you will find in this Q&A with Metz.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Chrissy, you gave some bad news for fans in a very sweet way.
[Deep breath] I did, I did. And even watching the episode, I was sobbing. For many, many reasons. But also, because we discover that he’s not with us. Although, we don’t know how, but we know that he’s not there.
Right. Exactly. So, there’s still a lot of answers to be had. But yeah, it was a very sweet way of delivering some really, really sad news.
Now, you knew Jack was dead, dating back to the pilot, as there was a line referencing his death in the pilot. How did you take the news back then when you found out that Jack wasn’t alive?
I was distraught. I was like, “What the actual hell?” And what does this mean? And then, we find that Rebecca has married Miguel, who is obviously our stepfather for some time. Jack is everything to Kate and they have this really special bond — and so do Milo and I. So, it was heartbreaking and I’m like (mock sob) “What does this mean? What is this going to look like?” I was distraught. Actually, I was pretty pissed off. [Laughs]
I remember you telling me that you had an emotional conversation with Milo about it …
I’m like, “What the hell?” and he’s like, “I know. I know, honey.” He acts like my dad in real life. Yeah, it’s a really sweet relationship that we have and obviously that Jack and Kate have. And in this episode, you realize that they always bonded over football and they watched it as a family. And you come to find out that Mandy’s family didn’t watch football together and Jack’s family they made it a point that they all were going to watch together even with their kids regardless, and it became this really wonderful bonding tradition and she still continues to do that. And even with the urn and includes him with his hat on. That’s why it’s a really big deal for her to divulge that information to Toby.
What did you think about the urn when you first read it as a way to reveal, not just his death, but that she has such a strong connection to Jack with this weekly ritual?
I thought, “Wow, that’s a really smart way to incorporate someone who has passed away.” [Laughs] And then, also to be able to tell the story from the past and then currently in the future and show that bond that really can never be broken. A lot of us have a really strong bond to someone whether they’re still living [or not] — I personally have that relationship with my grandmother, even though she passed away — and I feel that Kate and Jack will always have that really special bond that they’re always, always going to be in tune and in touch. He was everything to her, so she wants to include him in her life. I was like, “What? Oh, my gosh!” Initially, I was like, “An urn? What? Holy moly.” It’s one thing to have the urn in your house. It’s another thing to put a hat on and watch a football game with the remains of your father. But I thought it was hilariously beautiful at the same time.
How did you feel when Toby put the hat on him? Did you feel like that was a solid move?
Yeah, that’s a way of him kind of accepting this kind of kooky thing, and no matter what, he’s going to accept whatever she tells him, because she really is special to him and he really loves her. I think initially Kate’s reaction is like, “Wha? Wha? What?” and then it’s like, “Oh, okay. I have to let the guard down some way somehow.” She has to bring him in, some way, somehow, and if he’s going to accept the kookiness, then how sweet is that?
Was it emotional at all shooting that urn scene with Toby? Did you shoot it different ways, with a little more comedy in some takes, a little more gravity in other takes?
George Tillman [Jr.], who was our director of this episode, suggested that because football is so important to Kate and that this is such a wonderful, fun, bonding time that she has with her father, regardless of him being deceased, that it’s exciting for her and football is such a big, huge part of their lives. She was conceived during the Super Bowl. And this is everything to her. We shot it really upbeat and not necessarily with comedy, but just that we were happy to have this really special time that I was finally letting Toby into that really, really special place in Kate’s life.
Milo said that one of his friends kept picturing him in that little jar, that a little Milo was actually in there.
Oh, my gosh! Well, okay, I didn’t picture little Milo in there, but I definitely was thinking of him while holding it. In the episode, [Toby’s] like, “Well, what’s his name?” and I say, “Jack,” and for me it wasn’t written in the script, but it was like, if this really important man that I want in my life — and potentially to be in my life for a very long time — can’t meet my father, this is the closest thing that he’ll get. It was really tender. It was really emotional for me, because I don’t have a strong relationship with my biological father. So that I was pulling from the lack of relationship and those connections that Milo and I have in real life, and I just thought about how important that is for women for their dads to give them away at their wedding and how that moment won’t ever happen, because Kate doesn’t have her father. It was actually really, really emotional. I don’t even know if it was intended to be so, but it was really emotional playing that.
Fair to say we’re just scratching the surface with Kate’s connection to Jack?
Relationships are very complicated, very layered. Yes, scratching the surface is perfect.
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Kate has had difficulty letting Toby in, a guy who has been pushing and pushing in all ways for intimacy. Was this one of her biggest steps yet — if not the biggest — toward that goal?
Oh, sure. It’s always a big deal when your significant other meets your family, and then it’s another thing to [have your significant other] meet your deceased father’s remains in an urn that you watch football with and you watch it alone. You’re like, “What in the hell? Okay!” And you respect that person’s desires, but it is kooky.
How would you tease what’s ahead for Kate and Toby?
She’s trying to find the balance between herself and the relationship. Many people lose themselves in relationships; she’s trying hard not to do that, but is also afraid of losing him because he really, really does care for her.
In the flash-forward, William (Ron Cephas Jones) is revealed to be gone as well …. Two in one episode, that’s a bit rough.
Oh, yeah. It’s a really big deal. Because finally you think, “Wow, Randall and William are finally going to have this relationship that they’ve both been wanting for some time.” It’s like something that you work really hard for in your life and you finally have it, and it’s A, not what you thought it was going to be, or B, for not as long as you had hoped for. And that’s really heartbreaking. But it’s important because it explains and allows us to just understand that no matter what we have, it could be fleeting and we have to really just enjoy those moments. And not hold onto what our ego wants to attach to. But really understanding that time is really precious and you want to enjoy that. And I think that that’s what William and Randall’s story means to me…. Their relationship always really cracks my heart. It’s really emotional for me. I’m excited for everybody to see more of Ron’s backstory.
The characters have had some really big speeches to give in the show, and when Kevin (Justin Hartley), the Manny, starts talking with the nieces in the bedroom, he says, “Just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting. And that’s maybe the point of the whole thing. There’s no you or me or them, it’s just us.” It seems like that’s the theme of the show, pretty much laid bare. What did that speech mean to you?
For me, that’s exactly how I live my life. Because we’re all touched by every single person that we see, we meet, we are friends with, we are lovers, we’re family. I think everybody helps us to paint our own canvas, and then it ends up being this really beautiful portrait of highs and lows, and everything in between. Our dull colors, our bright colors, our everything in between are all on the spectrum. This episode is probably one of my favorites, and it’s probably the most emotional for me because not only do you get to see this other side of Kevin, of this really introspective man who has always been thought of as maybe not the brightest crayon in the box or all he is is just a really hot guy.
You also see in his previous episode where he felt like he was neglected because Kate had issues and Randall had his own issues, and he was just raising himself. And so, you come to find out the triplets have their own resentments toward their parents and their parents are only doing the best they can. And the way that he’s so tender with the kids and the way that he relates to them. And whether it’s because he feels like a big kid himself or that he sees himself as a child and wanting to spend that time that he might not have ever had with his parents with Randall’s kids. It’s so layered and it’s so beautiful, because we’re obviously all connected and we all changed, taught, and teach each other continually. That’s what I subscribe to as Chrissy, and I think it’s such a beautiful concept for telling of the backstory of everyone. It’s actually such a layered concept that it’s hard to even talk about. Everybody’s perception is their reality and everyone’s going to see it in a different way. But it’s really, really emotional for me. I was literally sobbing watching that episode.
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Want to hear more from the cast and creators about this episode? This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman breaks down the big revelations here. Milo Ventimiglia discusses Jack’s fate here. And Ron Cephas Jones talks William’s future here. And don’t miss the cast at EW PopFest this weekend.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.