[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Tuesday's This Is Us! Read at your own risk!]
Tuesday night's episode of This Is Us not only let fans fall in love with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) all over again, but it allowed new viewers to see what's so magical about the Pearson family by revisiting the pilot from a different angle.
The episode still took place on the day of the Big 3's birth, but showed what was happening in the lives of Jack, Rebecca, Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) and the firefighter who found Randall outside of his fire station in the hours leading up to Jack and Rebecca officially becoming a family. It turns out that Jack's birthday didn't start out as magical as viewers originally thought — Rebecca completely forgot and was "really, really mean to him" — when watching the pilot, but this was an episode that creator Dan Fogelman has been wanting to produce since the show got picked up.
"The hope is that if we start with the pilot as a starting point and then broke the rules of time as we jump all over the place, how interesting would it be to go back to where we met these people and see them in that timeline before we entered watching," Fogelman told a small group of reporters including TVGuide.com after a screening event for the episode. "It was always something I thought would be interesting. I always had the idea of Dr. K and the fireman coming back and seeing how they got there that day — the sliding doors of life that way."
This is the first episode of This Is Us that has stayed entirely in the past timeline, making it sort of a standalone piece. It was originally supposed to be the winter premiere for the season, but Fogelman quickly realized there might be a riot if the show came back with this episode instead of revealing Toby's (Chris Sullivan) fate after his fall finale heart attack.
"Honestly, I thought at first it would be our first episode back because it would kind of be like restarting the pilot again and catching up an audience, but then the response to Toby was so strong. If I came back and don't do an episode answering what happened one way or another, there would be a revolt," he said. "People would be so mad at the episode. I thought it would give people an opportunity to re-enter the show. Also, in our first episode back, which is really strong, Milo and Mandy's storyline starts five months before this so it leads to this one naturally."
The key thing about the episode is that it taps into Rebecca's fears about becoming a mother, especially to three children at once. It's another hour that showcases how much of a natural Jack is at taking care of his family, but Jack's ability to rise to the occasion can lead to Rebecca doubting her own. During a heart-wrenching conversation to her ever-expanding belly in the episode, Rebecca confesses her fears to the babies and hopes they can forgive her for any missteps she's likely to make once they're born.
"This is a woman that we found out in the fifth episode wasn't sure she even wanted to be a mother," Moore said at the same event. "Then suddenly, to be a mother of three and to have to come to terms with that and how utterly life changing that is in the span of nine or eight months. That's a lot. It feels like she's drowning in her fears and her expectations and anxiety."
However, Ventimiglia is quick to remind us that Jack may be a heroic dad, but the man is not without his flaws. Viewers were given a glimpse of Jack's rough upbringing in the winter premiere, and traces of that may come back to haunt him and his marriage.
"I think for all the praise that Jack gets from his wife, from his kids or even people on the audience side about what a great father or husband he is, Jack is still a flawed man. We will see that," Ventimiglia said. "He has his demons. He has his battles, but he loves his wife and he loves his kids. He's very simple in his life. He's a very simple man in his life. He loves his wife and his kids and that's his world."
Come back after the West Coast airing to see our chat with Gerald McRaney about Dr. K's heartbreaking arc in the episode. This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.