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‘This Is Us’ Finale: Why It’s Wrong to Obsess Over Jack’s Death, But Right to Be Pissed After That Ending

"Twist Is Us," you got us again!

THIS IS US -- "Moonshadow" Episode118 -- Pictured: Milo Ventimiglia as Jack -- (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Viewers have been clamoring for two things from “This Is Us” all season: more Jack and fewer twists.

OK, to be fair, the latter demand stems mostly from critics who want to see the show develop more naturally, embrace its roots as a family drama and stop worrying about shocking audiences each week. But everybody wants more Jack. Perhaps it’s because he’s just such a damn likable dad (when he’s not drinking) or it’s due to a dearth of traditional heroes on TV, but the main complaints about Milo Ventimiglia is that he’s too perfect.

When the Season 1 finale gave everyone exactly what they wanted — all Jack, all the time, and no major surprises other than Randall adopting a baby — people should have been dancing in the streets, unified by the power of a cultural touchstone delivering the goods right before wrapping up a beloved first year.

And yet…

Obviously, not everyone was upset, but those that were had every right to be. “This Is Us” set up the finale to feature Jack’s death, spent an entire episode tracking his every move, and then had the gall — the gall, I say — to deliver the line, “And our love story, I know it may not feel like it right now, but I promise you: It’s just getting started.”

This is the classic non-twist twist. And rarely does it work.

The most appalling example of late comes from one of the most frustrating series of all time (if also one of the best): “The X-Files” ended its recent event series not with an actual ending, but with the tease of more to come. Yet we don’t know when it will arrive, or if it will actually happen. There was an implicit promise made to viewers by making Mulder and Scully’s return an event series and not a full-fledged renewal with more seasons a part of the bargain. At least with “This Is Us,” we know two more seasons are on the way. But we still don’t know when they’ll get around to revealing Jack’s death.

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As much as I sympathize with the frustrated fandom, it has been troublesome to see how many people have been obsessing over how Jack dies. It’s not enough to know that he is dead, nor to learn of it as yet another twist. By demanding more from his sure-to-be tragic demise, such pressure only exacerbates the show’s habit of milking every tear from every scene. “This Is Us” needs to get to the place where it’s just focused on the family, not their complicated backstories. Jack’s death isn’t tied to the show’s ending. Sitting and waiting on pins and needles for the when/how/why of Jack’s departure only propagates the idea “This Is Us” needs twists. It shouldn’t, and the finale didn’t.

That is, it didn’t if you skipped last week’s episode. Dan Fogelman and company invited the finale’s backlash onto themselves by capping the penultimate episode with Kate (Chrissy Metz) blaming herself for her father’s passing. Not only that, but she was about to finally open up to Toby (Chris Sullivan) about it. Her refusal to talk to him about her father has mimicked the show’s relationship with the audience: We know what happened, but we’re not ready to tell you. By forcing Kate into a position of acknowledgement, they did the same for the series. Be it a twisted morbid curiosity or the belief new, progressive storylines would come from revisiting a family hardship, we needed to know what happened to Jack.

After all, we don’t just want more Milo — that was something we felt after the pilot, sure, but fans were specifically talking about his butt. Now we want to know him, as a person; study his impressive fathering skills and wonder when he finds the time to work out. It seems like we’ll get the chance based on that cocktease of a promise to Rebecca, but after a season of buttoning up every loose end — from how these stories connect to William’s death just two weeks prior — it felt wrong to leave this one hanging.

The wait continues.

Grade: B-

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