This post contains minor spoilers.
Right before the infamous slow cooker ignites and starts a chain of events leading up to the demise of Jack Pearson, we see the family patriarch loading the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen table and sweeping the floor. All while his wife and two of his three children rest upstairs. There is nothing inherently special about any of these mundane tasks, except, for the audience, it is one more reminder of just how great a husband and father Jack had become.
And just as the end of the epic Pearson romance is marked by Jack’s unending devotion, so too is the beginning. As we all saw in the season premiere, a hopeless romantic manages to charm the beautiful Rebecca with just $9 in his pocket.
For many viewers, Jack Pearson is just a little too perfect. He sweeps in with grand gestures and always seems to have the right words for every moment. He is an embodiment of an ideal we find impossible to attain. No matter how great the men of our lives are, they are no Jack.
We can never compare Jack to our own partners for two reasons. One, he’s a fictional character, and Hollywood has a long history of creating impossible standards. Two, he is dead.
“This Is Us” has created wonderful characters with emotional depth, a wide range of flaws and lovable traits. They are complex and imperfect and every bit a reflection of ourselves. One of the show’s greatest strengths is its ability to produce highly relatable stories and have us believing so deeply in the Pearsons. We see the big three evolve from kids to adults, with all the emotional range of growing up. We see Rebecca grow as a wife and mother and as a woman navigating life after loss.
Jack is the exception. His character is finite and can only exist in the parameters of memories. He is depicted in extremes. He is either planning a romantic night in an old apartment or destroying his wife’s career in a belligerent drunken rage. But, the good by far outweighs the bad. Even at his absolute worst, we see the best in him.
We see the best, because we are seeing him through the lens of loss. We see him through the eyes of a wife who has lost her husband and children who have lost their father. His story is a collection of memories colored by the love of those who will always see him as no less than perfect.
In the rehab center, when Kevin’s therapist points out Jack’s addiction, Rebecca sums up all that grief can do to our view of our loved ones. She scolds the therapist for calling her husband an addict and tearfully reminds everyone of the little time her children had with their father. Nearly 20 years since his passing, Rebecca has trouble accepting the hard truths about Jack.
Grief has a funny way about skewing our reality of lost loved ones. Our views aren’t false, they are just tinted slightly. If all we have left are memories, why wouldn’t we focus on the ones which fill us with joy?
Previews prior to this season of “This Is Us” gave us glimpses of a deeper dive into the Jack Pearson story. Hopefully, we will learn more about his experience in Vietnam, and more about his little brother, Nicky. Maybe we will find some shameful secrets of Jack’s past. Maybe we will see his goodness goes back long before he met Rebecca.
Just like Jack’s life and death will continue to drive the stories of the family he left behind, so too do the lives of those we have lost in the real world. Grief shifts the way we see the deceased, but it also shifts the way we see ourselves.