After nearly two full seasons of waiting, This Is Us finally answers the question of how Jack dies, and it seems that all of the intricate fan theories were wrong.
Jack doesn't go out in a blaze of glory or end up in an extended coma. Jack actually survives the fire, but after going to the hospital for what the family believes is nothing more than a minor burn, he dies suddenly of a massive heart attack brought on by the stress of the smoke on his lungs. The scene occurs off camera, a tragedy unfolding behind Rebecca as she stands in front of a snack machine trying to pick out something Jack will like when the only options are chocolate (it seems Jack did have one tiny flaw after all).
It's devastating, but understated — it's perfectly This Is Us. And yes, it was worth the excruciating wait, not because anyone in the audience actually wanted to see Jack die, but because the answer to what happens to Jack Pearson feels like the final piece of the puzzle that shapes this family's present sliding into place.
It's a great credit to the show that the writers didn't resort to a "gotcha moment." After Jack escapes the fire with a burn and smoke inhalation, fans had to be wondering if the series was about to come up with some new wrinkle in the ongoing saga of Jack's death. Instead, Jack's final moments are calm. He watches the last minutes of the big game and teases Rebecca — if he knows that something isn't quite right, he never lets on. In true Jack fashion, he's heroic and strong until the bitter end. His inevitable death isn't drawn out, and there are no big goodbyes; the whole thing is realistic in its futility, which only makes it hurt so much more.
Going into the Super Bowl episode, This Is Us promised viewers the outing would break their hearts, and it most definitely did. Having the heartbreak come from something as devastatingly simple and unexpected as a heart attack in a moment when it seems as if the family might come out of the fire unscathed is brilliantly poignant.
No matter how much the show's team has enjoyed doling out clues to the mystery surrounding Jack's death, This Is Us remains a grounded series about how the past, present, and future shape who the Pearsons are and who they're going to become. Jack's life and death are a vital part of their story, and having his end be so sudden explains so much about why Kate, Kevin, and Randall have chosen their respective paths as adults.
Even after the fire, the Big Three don't expect to lose their father that day. As Randall explains to a group of kids at an inopportune moment, a sudden loss leaves a person haunted in ways they can't possibly anticipate. The ache is constant, and even now it lingers for every member of the Pearson family, as evidenced by Rebecca's ritual of making Jack's favorite lasagna, Kate's obsessive rewatching of the recital video her father saves from the fire, and Randall's desire to celebrate his dad's favorite day of the year even though deep down it breaks his heart.
It seems morbid to say Jack's death was worth the wait, but the payoff to the buildup certainly was. After all the hype, it would have been so easy for This Is Us to fumble the Super Bowl episode. Instead, the series delivered its most tear-jerking and relatable episode yet by once again tapping into the most haunting parts of losing a loved one unexpectedly.
But most of all, the show does right by the great Jack Pearson, and it finally gave the fans a chance to properly mourn one of TV's greatest dads.