Lest you ever think network TV is dead, please allow me to direct you to the fact that last week everyone was giving their slow cooker the side-eye. The reveal that the fire in the Pearson family home was caused by a faulty switch on an old Crock-Pot was so devastating that the Crock-Pot company issued a statement saying, “For nearly 50 years, with over 100 million Crock-Pots sold, we have never received any consumer complaints similar to the fictional events portrayed in last night’s episode. In fact, the safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible.” They went on to add, “Don’t further add to this tragedy by throwing your Crock-Pot Slow Cooker away.” I kind of love everything about a real company responding to a fictional catastrophe. It doesn’t get more “peak TV” than that.
This is how much the beloved NBC drama has leaked into our everyday life. No matter that the Crock-Pot was at least 17 years old. It was probably much more like 30 years old, since it was given to Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) when she was pregnant. No matter that the episode was set in 1997. Viewers were freaking out.
Allow me to freak you out a little more. You ready? I don’t think Jack dies in the fire. Hear me out. This is a show that thrives (thrives!) on baiting and switching the audience. The entire pilot was one giant bait and switch. We thought Jack was living in 2016, but wait! He’s actually Kate (Chrissy Metz), Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) father. Let’s ruminate on all the other times the show has had a red herring: At the end of last season, the show had us believing Jack died in a drunk driving accident. Throughout the course of the show, we’ve wondered if something started with Rebecca and Miguel (Jon Huertas) while Jack was still alive. (It hadn’t; the pair connected years after his death via Facebook.) Or what about when we thought Kevin was debating between Olivia (Janet Montgomery) and Sloane (Milana Vayntrub), only to arrive on Sophie’s (Alexandra Breckenridge) doorstep, a character we had never met before? Or when we didn’t know Kate was pregnant? The show’s currency is leading us down one path only to pull the rug out from under our remote.
Now, there are a lot of theories swirling around that Jack didn’t go back into the house to save Kate’s dog, that he went back in to save Kevin, who he didn’t realize wasn’t home. Sure, that’s totally plausible. But what if Jack is the great hero of the fire? What if he rescues everyone (dog and himself included) and then something else happens? I keep thinking of that great thirtysomething episode where viewers spent the entire episode worried that Nancy was going to die from cancer only to have Gary hit by a car while he was riding his bike.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Dan Fogelman said the Super Bowl episode will answer the big questions: “How did he die? When did he die? What was the cause of his death? How did it relate to Kate?” Please note that the word “fire” isn’t in any of those quotes. The question isn’t “How did he die in a fire?” The question is “What was the cause of his death?”
Take me to Vegas, because I’m ready to bet that it wasn’t by fire. Grab your tissues, the chili you made in your Crock-Pot and tune into NBC after the Super Bowl to find out if I’m right.
This is Us airs Sunday after the Super Bowl at approximately 10:15 p.m. Read past installments of “This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us” here.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .