[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the season finale of This Is Us. Read at your own risk!]
I am a This Is Us fan. I was the first person on the TVGuide.com staff to vouch for it and defend it. I have been here for every twist and every falling tear since the show premiered. I love this show, but I have serious issues with the season finale.
Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) didn't die in a drunk driving accident, thank goodness, but the final hour of the acclaimed drama's freshman season did about everything else that I, as a critic, hoped they wouldn't. Jack made it to Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) show, allegedly to fix things but continued to down a few more drinks before he actually went to go find her. That made him pretty liquored up when he finally found Ben (Sam Trammell) and discovered the musician had "crossed the line" with Rebecca. A fist fight ensued before Rebecca broke it up.
Rebecca left her tour to drive Jack home. He apologized, but the couple persisted into a huge fight that left them sleeping in separate beds and their marriage in question. In the morning, Rebecca asked Jack to go stay with Miguel (Jon Huertas) so they could have some space. Jack agreed, but before he left the house he delivered one of his infamous speeches that makes it virtually impossible to see Jack as a human — he's just too good.
This was supposed to be the episode that exposed Jack's flaws. Yes, he drank too much, but as Rebecca aptly pointed out, his "alcoholism" lasted for a year seven years ago and he stopped cold turkey. He could more than likely do that again. Even if he couldn't, he already volunteered to get help putting the bottle away. Yes, he did get violent — but let's be real, Ben totally deserved it. It wasn't that out of line for Jack to punch a guy who straight out admitted he'd put the moves on his wife.
If This Is Us had just let Jack go to Miguel's without the speech, they'd have a case. However, in a two-minute monologue, Jack lived up to every expectation fans have created for him, making it easy to overlook his slip-ups. At the end of the day, Jack Pearson is a good man who loves his family more than anything in the world. He's proved that time and time again in such heartrending ways that he's become more than a father. He's a martyr when it comes to this show, and his impending death only cements that status.
So what's the problem? Miguel. Miguel has, and may always be, the problem — and it's not even his fault. This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman admitted earlier this week that the biggest "magic trick" his writing staff will have to pull off in Season 2 is getting fans on board with Miguel and Rebecca's present-day relationship. The DNA of this show is connecting the past to the present, so that's not only a task that needs to be successfully completed for next season, but to sustain the show's emotional impact overall. Fans need to be able to love Miguel, and how he ended up with Rebecca, or Fogelman risks them losing touch with the entire series.
Miguel has had some empowering moments in the second half of the season. While the cast has promised numerous times that Jack's former best friend never did anything nefarious to end up with his widow, there's still an uneasy feeling of how that relationship could have formed. If Jack never ceases to be this larger-than-life persona within the Pearson family history, how could anyone realistically understand how Rebecca could be with someone else? The truth is, at this point, we can't. It doesn't make any sense.
If This Is Us is going to successfully make us understand how Rebecca and Miguel got together, let alone approve of it, Jack has to come off the pedestal. It's not only essential for that relationship, but for fans to rally behind Rebecca as well. That task becomes harder and harder with every time that Jack delivers one of these speeches, every time he saves his daughter from bullies, every time he delays his dreams to send his adopted son to private school. Jack isn't human, he's a superhero and he is the glue of this entire show.
The finale was supposed to be a step toward humanizing the great Jack Pearson, but instead it only endeared an audience to him more. This Is Us has so deftly executed twists and being able to connect the past to the present up until this point, yet it feels they are creating a mountain that is not surmountable. Can the show afford to demonize Jack in any meaningful way at this point, especially if inevitably it is to build support for Miguel and Rebecca? It's what needs to happen, but it will be difficult to pull off without alienating a loyal and Jack-loving audience.
This Is Us heads into its summer hiatus with Jack and Rebecca at a crossroads and their marriage in jeopardy. Milo Ventimiglia requested on Jimmy Kimmel on Monday night that people focus on Jack's life instead of his death. Let's grant that request, but This Is Us needs to focus on the lives of Rebecca and Miguel as well if it wishes to truly bridge the gap between the past and present timelines they've created. It will be a magic trick indeed, and we can only hope that Fogelman has more than a rainbow handkerchief up his sleeve.