Hold onto those necklaces, folks. We’re entering unchartered territory here.
The season 1 finale of This Is Us did not reveal the manner of Jack’s death — though it did rule out death by drunk-driving to Rebecca’s gig. But “Moonshadow” gave audiences something that they perhaps hoped they’d truly never see, unspooling the toughest, darkest depiction of a marriage in crisis that they’ve seen on the series to date. And it raises a now-smoldering related question: In what kind of state was Jack and Rebecca’s marriage when he departed this Earth?
Jack and Rebecca — a.k.a. the heart, soul, epicenter, and nexus of the Pearson family — have been treading on thin ice for awhile in the mid-to-late-’90s, their foundation cracked and worn down by years of compromise and sacrifice and kids and bills and flus and carpool rides and sleepovers and just, you know… marriage. But when Rebecca decided to do something for herself for once and resume the music career that she’d back-burnered in 1980 to raise the Big Three, tension suffused her marriage: Threatened by something that would take time away from the family — that something taking the form of Ben (Sam Trammell), her ex-boyfriend who asked her to sing with him on tour for two weeks — Jack began to fall apart and return to the drinking that he gave up in the late-’80s when it began affecting his marriage.
Although he did survive the inebriated drive to her gig at the beginning of the finale, there was no time to sigh in relief. He punched Ben into a bloody mess, just a few minutes after Ben had tried to kiss Rebecca, just as Jack had feared, so Rebecca’s big night was twice ruined. When they returned to Pittsburgh, Jack and Rebecca had the messy, nasty fight that had been brewing for a long time: Whose sacrifices had gone less noticed?! Who had lived life in service of the other?! Ben?! And when the dust and bad feelings settled the following morning — with Jack not taking his normal post-fight position on the floor outside the door — Rebecca found him waiting for her downstairs and asked him to stay at Miguel’s place to give them “some air.” Jack solemnly agreed and packed his bags to leave, but not before delivering a speech that showed he was in this thing for keeps, telling her that their love story was “just getting started.” (Although his ticking life clock would beg to differ.) With a wink, he exited, leaving Rebecca to ponder the whole of their relationship while holding onto the moon-shaped jewelry Jack gave her — something she said she’d never take off. (And if she does at one point, she ultimately puts it back on, as we’ve seen her wear it in the present day while married to Miguel.)
While the finale hinted at an ending to Jack and Rebecca, it also contrasted that with the charmed beginning of their relationship and the not-so-charmed days leading up to it. We journeyed back to 1972, when Rebecca was an aspiring singer, while her friends were on a more traditional path, trying to get her to settle down — “diversify” as they called it. After her demo was rejected by a label, Rebecca agreed to be set up with Ethan in merger and acquisitions, but halfway through the date, she called it quits, saying that she needed to be singing on stage, which is where she met Jack, a young Vietnam War vet who had been living at home with his parents and struggling to make a paycheck. With life cutting him bad breaks, including being robbed after a poker game, Jack was juuuuuust about to steal the money at the register at the bar owned by the guy who took his money — you know, to get his fair share of life’s pot — when he heard Rebecca singing Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow.” (Once covered by Moore herself.) And so we saw the beginning of the epic, high-rated love story — and possibly the beginning of the end.
Let’s ring up the woman with the golden voice and the golden necklace, Mandy Moore, to step into the spotlight to talk about “Moonshadow.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How many ringers, gauntlets, and washing machines do you feel like you went through after reading this script and then filming that episode?
MANDY MOORE: Oh, how many ringer, gauntlets, and washing machines? I mean, it was not a particularly fun episode to shoot just because Milo and I are so close, and we really sort of kept our distance figuratively and literally while we were filming, and it just felt odd. It really felt like a relationship is on the rocks, which I guess was necessary to kind of get there, but not comfortable by any means.
Let’s talk about that fight scene. Were you intimidated to tackle that? What was your first thought when you read that in the script?
No, I think Milo and I were both beyond excited to get into things, literally. (Laughs.) I remember a while ago [creator Dan Fogelman] saying that he had this idea, and he’d known from the very beginning this is how he wanted the season to end, and he intended on having this major blow-out and it being five or six pages, and the episode just focusing on us and our relationship, and highlighting the juxtaposition between us first meeting and at this sort of breaking point in our relationship. I remember him pulling Milo and I both aside and he was like, “I just finished writing this six-page scene for you guys and it’s insane and I really, really, really want to try to shoot it in one take.”
So that was the goal initially — and we did it. Milo and I worked on it a tiny bit, just read through it together one weekend and then read it again together on set the next day or a couple days after that. And then the day before we actually shot it, Yasu [Tanida], our DP, and Ken [Olin], our director, and Milo and I and a couple other key players went through the choreography of it, since we were trying to shoot it in a oner. And it was really comfortable and exciting, but also the vibe on set the next day when we actually went to shoot it was like, I don’t know, it was unlike anything I’ve ever really felt before. The crew was handling the scene with kid gloves, but it was also upsetting for everyone to see Jack and Rebecca in this place. Yeah, it was an uncomfortable situation all around for everybody, and I think that tension really permeated the entire set.