Since the early days of This Is Us, we’ve known that Jack and Kate shared a unique and emotionally charged bond. It was Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) who worked magic and overtime to try to build up young Kate’s self-esteem, through fantastical t-shirt tales and highly choreographed pose-strikings. It was Kate (Chrissy Metz) who told us that Jack was indeed dead, way back in “The Game Plan” when she breathed as deep as she ever had and showed then-boyfriend-now-fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) the urn containing Jack’s ashes with which she watches Steelers games. It was via Kate’s breakthrough at the weight-loss immersion camp in “Three Sentences” that we gleaned a flashback to Jack’s funeral and noticed that the Big Three were only teenagers then, giving us at least a time period for his death. And in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” when Toby pressed Kate about her father’s death, she was simply unable to talk about it, feeling overwhelmed and blocked at once.
But after Kate took some advice to (wounded) heart from Randall (Sterling K. Brown) about opening up to Toby in Tuesday’s episode, “What Now?,” we inched ever so closer to some details about Jack’s demise with a confession of sorts: “You remember when I told you I couldn’t talk about my dad’s death?” Kate asked Toby. “Yeah, of course,” he answered. “Well,” she replied, “that’s because I… it’s my fault. Hmm-mmm. I’m the reason he’s dead.”
As Toby absorbed what was just said — though cryptic, it was something that gave us a better understanding of why she has struggled over the years — the end of the episode transported us back to that fateful time period. It’s the one in which Jack died, and at this particular moment, it’s one in which Jack’s marriage to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) was in an unstable place, something that teenage Kate (Hannah Zeile) noticed and expressed concern about to her father. Unhappy that Rebecca (Mandy Moore) had embarked on a two-week tour with Ben (Sam Trammell) and his band, Jack continued to self-medicate and put himself in a dangerous position by showing up at a work afterparty at Joe’s Tavern, where assistant Heather (Megan West) had eyes for him. He accepted a drink invitation from her, but when she wanted more, he shut down her advances, exiting the bar and calling Princess Kate from a pay phone outside to tell her that she was right, that he was determined to fix this marriage, and that, yes, he loved her. He dropped his keys — an indication that he’d probably had too much to drink — got in his car, and rode off into the night, seemingly headed to Rebecca’s gig two hours away. Roll credits.
What exactly did Kate mean when she said his death was her “fault” and that she’s the “reason” he’s dead? Is this the last night of Jack’s life? How interconnected are those last two scenes? Let’s stop directing questions at each other and start asking them to the woman who plays his dear daughter, Chrissy Metz.
EW: I don’t think fans are having any sort of reaction to the end of this episode, do you?
METZ: Oh, not at all.
It seemed like we’re moving one step closer to finding out how Jack died. We discover that the reason Kate has been so blocked and tortured about Jack’s death is because, as she tells Toby, “It’s my fault” and “I’m the reason he’s dead.” Is it actually her fault in any way or is it just something that she feels a tremendous amount of guilt about?
Hmmm… I’m of the thinking that the way people come and go out of this plane of existence is what was meant to be, but I believe that she really does think it’s her fault, and she does feel responsible for that. No, of course, it’s not her fault, but she has been holding that in forever, and she really does believe that it is.
Which of those things that she said is probably closer to being accurate: “It’s my fault” or “I’m the reason he’s dead”?
“It’s my fault.”
How do you think fans will respond to Kate saying, “It’s my fault”? One read is that we feel for her more deeply than ever, that she is so haunted by guilt. Another is that we need to hire a security detail for you.
Correct. I think it’s the latter. (Laughs.) Because, ooooh, there is so much undying love, no pun intended, for Jack. People get really hyped up and emotional about it, so I hope that they will have empathy for Kate, and I hope that they can understand that she would never do anything malicious. That’s the hope.
What do you remember about filming that scene with Toby? Was that something you had been dreading?
I have to say, when I read the script, and it was phrased that way, I was like, “Are you kidding? How in the world can I ever, ever say these words without coming off like a victim?” It’s probably one of my hardest scenes I’ve had all season because of what it meant, and what it means, and the weight that, no pun intended, she’s carried around, or pun intended, because of it. It’s five words or something. It’s a sentence. And it has such an enormous sense of responsibility and explanation (exhales). I hope that it comes across in the way I wanted it to. But it was kind of intimidating and a little scary for me, because it was such a culmination of literally the whole season of getting to know Kate, and why, and how, and everything that she’s dealing with that’s on the surface. So… it was difficult. And Chris couldn’t have been more wonderful. It was really emotional. It was really, really intense.
When you say that you hope it came across in the way you wanted to, how exactly did you intend it? Did you want to it be read different ways?
Yeah, I wanted it to be layered, in that you don’t want to give too much away but you want to give enough away — and also that sense of guilt that she’s been holding onto for many, many, many years that’s affected her, and just now, she’s breaking through the surface… Even though she knew it all along, she’s never said it out loud. She’s never admitted to it. She’s never told anybody that she feels that it’s her fault.
There was a scene that was cut from the immersion camp where she went to see a therapist. I loved that scene desperately, and I guess it was cut for time or whatever, but maybe it was too much explanation of what’s going on and too many clues. But yeah, there’s such a fine line in how to play that, and it’s such a huge storyline, and people are so madly in love with Jack, as they should be. I didn’t want to be a victim, but I wanted there to be empathy, and I wanted there to be an explanation.
What was the dialogue in that scene with the therapist?
It was more over that she was finally cracking, and finally coming terms with: When you put the food down, the issues come up. And then you’re able to not only look at them, but you’re forced to move through them and hopefully get past that pain. That scene was really important in that it showed that she had been working toward understanding what the whole point is and why she’s been abusing her body with food or why she looks to that to fill a void, so when she does say, “It’s my fault. I’m the reason he’s dead,” she’s finally saying out loud, and she’s finally ready to tell people about it. Because when you harbor secrets, it eats you up inside, and that’s part of the reason that not only is she finally trusting Toby enough to say something like this, but trusting herself — some people might have, God forbid, committed suicide or felt so much guilt that they could have wreaked havoc on many people’s lives, not just their own. (Exhales) It’s so hard to explain without not explaining it. So… yeah.
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The last scene, which comes right after Kate’s confession, shows Jack calling Kate and telling her that she was right and he’s going to fix the marriage, and then driving off a little drunk, headed to Rebecca’s gig. This steers you to the idea that present-day Kate saying that his death is her fault and Jack’s driving off — perhaps in his final moments alive — are related. How related are these two things actually, and when will we find out more about that?
Jack is notorious for doing anything for Kate, and whether it’s a good excuse that “Oh, I’m doing it for her. I’m doing it for my family,” he is a family man, and he will do anything for his family, and sometimes it is to his own detriment that he doesn’t put himself first…. I can’t say anything else. He puts everybody before himself and then ultimately it’s not to his benefit. And that’s not necessarily meaning that situation — or not meaning that situation. This is so tricky…
One easy theory will be that she encouraged him to fix the problem, and then he decided to make that drive — drunk — and then crashed and died, and that’s why Kate feels like it’s her fault. What would you say about that?
I would say that when you do something out of the goodness of your heart and you don’t know what the repercussions will be, you have to live with that. And it can be devastating. Because the intention was there.
Jack goes out to say goodbye to Rebecca — but she’s already gone — only after teenage Kate leans on him. And then, after turning down Heather at the bar, he calls Kate and tells her that she was right about the marriage. What was the impetus that turns Jack back into Jack, and ready to fight for the marriage? Were Kate’s words ringing in his head when Heather tried to tempt him and he removed himself from the situation? Or did he realize that he’d put himself in a very dangerous position?
I think it might have been a little bit of both. Jack and Kate will always have this really special connection, and in a way, she was taught by him to take the bull by the horns, if you will. Or be very real about the situation. And I think because they love each other so much that she saw him hurting, and she saw that their relationship was not cracked but relationships go up and down and ebb and flow. But I do think he was influenced [by her]. When your kid is a teenager and is like, “Uh, you better get it together,” you know what you have to live for, and you know what’s important to you, it kind of snaps you out of it. And I also feel like nobody will ever compare to Rebecca. It doesn’t matter what age, how small, how thin, or how beautiful that any other woman could be, nothing is going to compare to her. So, all of that together was like, “Oh. Okay. What am I doing? I’m being selfish.” I think it’s both of those things.
The audience was left hanging at the end of the episode. Does the finale give us more details about Jack’s death, or do we have to wait?
You’re going to have to wait a little bit, but it does answer some really important questions. And not ones that you’re expecting.
In your head, you probably had an idea about how Jack might have died. How different is what you had imagined from what Dan [Fogelman, the series creator] actually has in store for us?
Oh, like night and day. I was like, “What?” I was so surprised. And saddened. Not just because he passed but the way he did.
When we do find out, how devastating is it? How would you characterize it?
Because of what and how it went down, I would say that it’s… I don’t want to give too much away. I would just say it’s really heart-wrenching…. You don’t want to know anything else!
What can you hint at in terms of how Toby helps her process this? Does this lead to them getting over another hurdle in moving forward, now that she’s finally letting him in?
We can’t determine that yet. It’s really great that they are on that path of unconditional love, or attempting to have that unconditional love and that really strong bond and trust with each other. But no relationship is perfect, and you never know. Sometimes you meet people and they tell you things, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s just too much to handle. I don’t even know how to help you.” But Toby is so loving, and even the way that Chris played it where he was just there for her, just listened to her, instead of trying to explain that, “No, she isn’t [to blame],” because he doesn’t necessarily know the full story. Just because she’s said it was her fault doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily explained why. Hopefully that trust between them will help the bonds become even stronger, but we’re going to have to see if that’s the case or not.
How about a one-sentence tease for next week’s finale?
I would say that nothing lasts forever.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on NBC.