‘This is Us’ season finale recap: Milo Ventimiglia gives a killer performance, but how did Jack die? [SPOILERS]

The first season finale of NBC’s “This is Us,” titled “Moonshadow,” aired on Tuesday night, March 14, after a first season that enjoyed breakout success in the ratings and on the awards scene. For the entire season the show has been building up a major mystery: how did Pearson family patriarch Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) die? Well … we still don’t know, but however Jack died, we know Ventimiglia killed.

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“Moonshadow” was almost entirely focused on Jack’s marriage to Rebecca (Mandy Moore), cutting between the days before they met and the days when their marriage might be on the verge of ending. That best of times/worst of times relationship juxtaposition made the episode somewhat reminiscent of “Blue Valentine,” and the epic confrontation at the episode’s climax was like the “Sopranos” episode “Whitecaps” in miniature. Throughout it was Ventimiglia’s performance that really owned the hour.

We’ve known for weeks that there were cracks forming in the Pearson marriage, with Rebecca rekindling her music career with help from her ex Ben (Sam Trammell) and Jack turning to alcohol again after being sober for years. Both of those conflicts reached their boiling point when Jack attacked Ben while drunk. Ventimiglia and Moore equally excelled during their subsequent argument during which Jack vented about not being enough for Rebecca and Rebecca countered that he resented her newfound interest in a career of her own. But Ventimiglia was equally heartbreaking in the scenes before and after, which gave us an even deeper understanding of Jack Pearson.

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The three key components of an Emmy performance are usually impact, range and empathy, and Ventimiglia had all three in spades. Just consider his emotional speeches — yes, speeches plural. In one flashback sequence, as he prepared to make a reckless decision to steal from a dangerous man, he discussed his longing for a better life and to escape the grip of his abusive father. Then, the morning after their marital blowout, as they prepared to separate (temporarily?), he told her all the reasons why he loves her. He walked out the door, and with seconds to go in the episode I half expected to hear car tires screeching in the background — seriously, how long before they tell us how Jack died? — but what a fully rounded performance we got out of Ventimiglia here, thanks in no small part to a script by Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger and series creator Dan Fogelman, not to mention the direction by Ken Olin.

In addition to Jack’s mysterious fate, there are still lingering questions about Jack and Rebecca’s adult children in the present day. How will Randall (Sterling K. Brown) cope after losing his biological father and quitting his job? How will Kevin (Justin Hartley) do during his audition for Ron Howard? And will Kate (Chrissy Metz) carry on her mother’s dream of singing?

What did you think of the “This is Us” finale? Do you agree that Milo Ventimiglia was Emmy worthy? Comment below, and make sure to join the discussion with your fellow TV fans in our notorious forums.

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