'This Is Us' Creator on Jack's Death Reveal: "There's a Big Story to Tell"

Dan Fogelman talks to THR about why season two was the right time to reveal new details about his demise and how it feels to (finally) let the secret out.
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday's season two premiere of This Is Us.]

The cause of Jack Pearson's death has finally been revealed, or at least one big part of the puzzle.

The final moments of This Is Us' season-two premiere showed that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died in a fire at the Pearson family house. Rebecca (Mandy Moore) drove up to their burned house with his belongings in a plastic bag in the seat next to her as firefighters and other officials surveyed the damage. The reveal itself was a huge step forward for the beloved drama, whose stars and producers (and probably anyone else attached to the show in same way, shape or form) had endured endless questions about the details surrounding Jack's death after the shocking reveal, in one of the first episodes of the series, that Jack was not alive in present day and that Rebecca was instead married to his best friend, Miguel (Jon Huertas).

However, with this big reveal comes a whole new host of questions: What, or who, started the fire? How long after Jack and Rebecca's big finale blowup did this happen? How did Jack's alcoholism play a role in the fire, if at all?

Hours after the season-two premiere first aired, THR spoke with This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman about the origins behind the death idea, why he only waited until season two to reveal the cause of Jack's death and when fans will get closure about one of TV's biggest mysteries of late.

How does it feel having this big secret out there to a certain extent?

It's a relief. I hope people really liked it. My early inclination from hearing the feedback from people is that it was upsetting and fulfilling in all the ways that people wanted it to be. I hope that holds for our fans. I know for us, we can't say everything because there's a big story to tell about the day and the night that we've seen, but it at least allows us to stop talking about that and focus on these other big storylines that are about to start while still having that as a big one as well. it's a relief that we made it this far without it being spoiled. In this day and age, it's no small thing. I was very proud of the episode. I wanted to release it even to press who have been very good to us from the start about not spoiling secrets, but in this day and age, you have to be really careful about things that are not related to the people getting the episode.

Where did this idea originate from to have Jack die in this way?

It was always part of the story of the show. When I sold the show initially, it was a script and not a pitch but I knew that the end of the pilot episode kind of shifted what people though the television show was about. It suddenly became a show about this family and not these randomly interconnected strangers, so when I came to pitch, I had to pitch multiple seasons of it and a big part of the pitch was explaining how and when Jack died, which was this. So even the actors, our big five actors — Milo, Mandy, Chrissy [Metz], Sterling [K. Brown], Justin [Hartley] — they've known since inception how Jack died, when Jack died, when we were going to show it in the show, so nothing is new. As all this talk about how Jack died started, none of it was very surprising or confusing to us because it's part of what happened to this family.

Why did you pick this episode and this time in the series' run to reveal that detail? Why did this feel like the right time in the show to reveal Jack's death?

We always knew that we were going to tell Jack's entire story, at least how he passed away, and somewhere in the middle of the second season of the show. We always knew that the end of the first episode of the second season would hold a piece, so honestly, it's not even that we made a decision based off of any kind of reaction. It was always the plan, and at this point, the show's gotten so big and out there that we're just following the plan that we set out from the beginning and hoping people will like it.

But why was that the plan from the beginning? You could have held this reveal for a fourth or fifth season of the show?

I think that would have been frustrating and I think on the series, Jack's death is clearly something traumatic that happened, I feel like you know that from episodes two and three and four of the show that this wasn't just like an old man dying peacefully in his sleep, something happened and it's the hinge upon which this family swings. It feels important, you can start feeling it last season that it's a degree of frustration if you don't know, and we always felt like we had to tell people something soon. Because otherwise it goes from intriguing to distracting, it goes from begin fulfilling and relieving to upsetting in a different kind of way. So this was the plan we chose.

By the end of this season, will viewers have a complete picture of what happened that day?

In terms of everything involving Jack's death…. The goal of this season is, for me, personally, I'm just the guy who writes stuff, but my mom passed away 10 years ago. She passed away suddenly and tragically and unexpectedly. I'm a little older than these characters, but it's the hinge upon which my life will always swing. So this is the year examining that hinge. But I'm also, as much as I still have a hole in me, I have a happy marriage and family on the other side of it. This season will explore the heavy stuff, the dark stuff, but there will be a positive, uplifting soul because we know where these characters ended up. these are flawed people but they're not broken people. And we're going to explore them finding that relief from tragedy in this season. So yes, this season is very much about Jack's death and that storyline, but it's not all sad and awful and terrible. It's also going to be uplifting and positive and hopeful.

So in future seasons, will you close the book on Jack's death to a certain extent?

If anybody who's lost a parent or a person in their life knows, you never completely shut that book. Jack doesn’t go away from the story, but in terms of any kind of mystery of Jack's death or compartmentalizing it, I think some of that stuff will start getting shed.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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