essay: how I’m preparing to watch ‘this is us’ on super bowl sunday


In honor of Super Bowl Sunday weekend, here’s a special original piece by yours truly. 

*Spoilers ahead from the latest episode of This is Us.*

In the final moments of the last episode of the ten-hanky drama This Is Us, viewers learn that Jack Pearson, the father of three teenagers, will likely die in a house fire after the finicky Crock-Pot he and his wife Rebecca received from a neighbor, fatally malfunctions. The tight shot on the family’s battery-less smoke alarm, combined with an earlier scene of a wailing Rebecca in front of the Pearsons’ burned-out house, have foreshadowed this ugly turn of events for weeks.

But the first indication that Super Bowl Sunday would be the night of the house fire was when the oh-my-God-something-bad’s-gonna-happen music — those spare piano notes, the aching voice and lyrics — started playing at the end of the most recent episode. You just knew what would happen next. You could just feel it.

After viewers watched the Crock-Pot ignite, along with it the red kitchen towel in which (we discovered via emotionally-cynical flashback) Jack had once wrapped a bracelet for Rebecca as a Christmas gift, the network aired a preview of the “very special” Super Bowl Sunday installment of the show. (Hats off to the sadistic geniuses who decided to have Jack die just after the Super Bowl in the show, just after the real Super Bowl airs. Nice way to cast a pall over an unofficial American holiday.) That wrenching preview showed us the flames that we are led to believe will swallow up the patriarch of the family and lay emotional waste to his wife and their trio of 17-year-olds.

I was among the Kleenex-clutchers shamelessly and loudly crying during that preview, as my spouse arched his eyebrows with concern, and my 16-year-old son poked his head into the room to see what the hell was going on. So while my New England Patriots-loving spouse and son prepare to root for Tom Brady & Co., I will be busy bracing myself for the truly BIG moment of the night: when This Is Us rips out my heart and stomps all over it. I’ve been pondering how to prepare for the removal of my heart from my un-anaesthetized body and came up with a couple of ideas.

I keep wondering if I can somehow forestall a teary meltdown by playing The Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build a Home” — the devastating ballad played in the background of the last This Is Us episode as the fire began — on a merciless loop until it no longer has a hypnotic effect on me, until its lyrics, “And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust,” are rendered into a meaningless jumble of sound. If that song can no longer induce crying jags, maybe I’ll be ready.

4-21-last-week-fights-this-week-tights-rory-and-jess-7448244-400-300Or perhaps I’ll feel slightly less shattered about the demise of Jack Pearson, played by actor Milo Ventimiglia, if I stream several old episodes of the Gilmore Girls when Ventimiglia played Jess Mariano, Rory Gilmore’s boyfriend. Jess was not very nice to Rory. He frequently blew her off. He wrecked her car … by accident, but still … He didn’t take her to the senior prom as he promised he would. And then he left town for good just before Rory graduated high school and he didn’t even say goodbye. Jerk. I got mighty steamed with Jess when I originally saw those episodes, so maybe some of that Jess animus could be transferred to Jack Pearson, to make the whole fire episode sting a little less.

If, as some are suggesting, Jack dies because he goes back into his burning home to save the family dog, maybe I could mentally prepare by recording the sound of my own little yappy dog’s incessant highly-irritating barking, and listen to it over and over … no, wait, that won’t make me less sad about Jack. Never mind, it’ll just direct annoyance at my dog Tedy who may or may not be deserving of my annoyance at any given moment.

Maybe I could make a list of all of Jack’s faults. He left Rebecca alone with their three kids in order to cope with a substance abuse problem, one that caused him to verbally abuse his wife and cruelly ridicule her singing aspirations. But, wait. He did apologize. He did get sober. He did make amends, so …

Oh! I know! Randall Pearson, one of Jack’s sons, saw Titanic on that fateful Super Bowl Sunday. Talk about tear-jerker entertainment. Maybe if I watched that again … nah. That’s a really bad idea. Then I’d be weeping AND obsessing about why Jack (the Leonardo DiCaprio Jack) couldn’t have just shared that floating door with Rose.

Maybe … no. … Well how about … nope. I’m officially out of ideas. I honestly don’t think anything can avert the tsunami of all the messy feels I and millions of others will be experiencing on Super Bowl Sunday, regardless of who wins that football game. Just pass the tissues will ya?

Meredith O’Brien is a Boston area writer. Follow her on Twitter: @MeredithOBrien.

Image credit: WB via Fanpop.

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