This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman is aware that viewers of his breakout time-jumping family drama want to know how Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) died — and season two will provide those answers.
"If that is a question that has haunted people, over the course of the second season, they will get all the answers they want," Fogelman told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "The first episode has a big giant piece of the puzzle that will potentially set the internet abuzz and hopefully give some momentum toward that storyline."
Season one ended with Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) having a big fight in the past that led to their separation. Season two will pick up the day after that fight in the past, while the present day storyline will pick up with the Big Three — Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley) — celebrating their 37th birthdays. (The pilot kicked off with their 36th birthday.)
"We're catching up with them a month or two later," Fogelman said. "Randall and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) on their adoption quest, Kate exploring her singing career, and Kevin as he's doing his film and working on his relationship with his ex-wife."
As part of Kevin's storyline, Sylvester Stallone will guest-star as his co-lead in the movie he's working on. "We needed his big co-star, and Sly Stallone is coming to do a huge part on the show as Kevin's co-star and father figure in the film he's shooting," Fogelman said. Stallone, who will play himself on the show, plays a character in the film who is a mentor and begins to bring up some stuff involving Jack for Kevin, Fogelman said. He's slated to appear in one episode for now, though Fogelman stressed the part has the potential to be bigger. (Debra Jo Rupp and Dan Lauria, who starred in Fogelman's Pitch, will also guest-star in season two.)
Reporters were shown a scene from season two that features present-day Randall speaking with his mother, Rebecca, about why they adopted him. It then flashes back to the day of the Big Three's birth, with Jack first telling Rebecca about baby Randall and proposing the idea to her. Present day Rebecca then tells Randall that it was Jack who pushed her to adopt after she initially said no. She reveals that someone in every marriage has to push for the big decisions in one of the show's now trademark emotional scenes. "He pushed a stranger on me and that stranger became my child and that child became my life. He became you," Rebecca tells present-day Randall in the clip.
Fogelman said season two would lean hard into who the family was before and after Jack's death and what he called that "hinge" moment for the Pearsons.
"There's a lot of healing to be done," Fogelman said. "We've painted a picture of the world's perfect dad, man and husband and now we're going to show the struggle of being that guy and bring him to a fully realized place."
So while Jack has been dead the entire series, Ron Cephas Jones' William — Randall's biological father who passed away late in season one — will continue to have a role.
"The premise of our show is how the past informs the present," Fogelman said. "Characters exist in scenes happening at earlier times. Ron is opening our season in our own way. … Somebody dying in the show doesn't affect things."
So while Jack's death will be explained in season two, Fogelman is already prepping another big "whopper" of a mystery to feed the online frenzy.
"In a way we were all born with the Jack death mystery and whether anything else holds up to that amount of intrigue and mystery is not for me to say, but we have some big whoppers of plot twists and things coming that are going to take people's feet out from under them," Fogelman said. "They've been long planned, since the beginning of the pilot, and we're going to do that thing again that gets people talking about something else."
This Is Us returns Sept. 26 at 9 p.m. on NBC.