‘This Is Us’: 10 Fan Theories That Actually Make Sense

Jack Pearson smiling in a scene from Season 1 of NBC's 'This Is Us.'

This Is Us‘s Jack Pearson | NBC

Since the very first episode aired in late 2016, This Is Us has managed to consistently surprise and devastate its devout fanbase. That’s thanks, in large part, to the fact that the series has been built around a handful of well-kept secrets about the fate of its most beloved characters.

We were shocked to learn that Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) were actually living 36 years ago, and that they were Kate (Chrissy Metz), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) parents. We felt betrayed when we learned that Rebecca had purposely kept Randall’s birth father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), out of his life. We couldn’t believe it when we realized that Rebecca had, at some point, married Jack’s best friend Miguel (Jon Huertas), and we were absolutely devastated when we found out that Jack died before the Big Three hit adulthood.

So far, though, we haven’t found out why or how Jack’s untimely demise came about. The This Is Us team has dropped some subtle — and sometimes not-so-subtle — clues throughout the course of Season 1. And fans have eagerly tried to piece them together to figure out what led to the death of the Pearson patriarch.

Some of the hypotheses are a bit out there, but others seem pretty plausible. Here are 10 fan theories about what happened to Jack on This Is Us.

1. September 11

A flashback to Jack Pearson's funeral from the first season of 'This Is Us'

Jack Pearson’s funeral on This Is Us | NBC

We don’t know much about the timeline surrounding Jack’s death, but we do know one important fact. Thanks to a flashback scene in the episode, “Three Sentences,” we know that Kate, Kevin, and Randall lost their dad when they were teens or very young adults. This tragic morsel made some This Is Us fans start crunching numbers, and that’s when this theory started to emerge.

Since we know from the series’ timeline, that the Big Three were born around 1980, that means Jack likely died in the late ’90s or early 2000s. And the fact that the Pearsons lived in Pennsylvania, relatively close to New York City, got fans wondering if it was at all possible that Jack was a victim of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

It may seem a little far-fetched — after all, there’s no concrete indication that ties the family to that unforgettable day. But given the anger Kevin expressed regarding his father’s death, and Kate’s inability to talk about it to this day, it seems like whatever happened to Jack was big.

2. Plane crash

Kate experiencing some turbulence on a flight in a scene from the 'This Is Us' episode 'Pilgrim Rick'

Kate on a plane on This Is Us | NBC

There are some signs that indicate that Jack may have lost his life in a plane crash. In fact, there’s more than a few. In the Season 1 episode “Pilgrim Rick,” we saw Kate having some serious anxiety when her plane hit some turbulence. Plus we know, from Beth, that Jack died unexpectedly, and that Kevin destroyed all of his model airplanes after his father died. All these facts could indicate a connection between Jack’s death and flying the maybe-not-so-friendly skies.

At least, that’s what some This Is Us fans have theorized. They’ve even gone so far as to dig into the archives and find a real-life Pittsburgh plane crash in the mid-1990s. All told, the pieces would fit together pretty well with this outcome, no matter how horrifying it may be.

3. Car crash

Rebecca driving Jack in the car in a scene from the 'This Is Us' episode 'Career Days'

Jack and Rebecca in the car in This Is Us | NBC

This Is Us is all about finding those hidden human connections. And that’s led some fans to wonder whether Jack’s death will call back to an earlier theme in Season 1. When we were first getting to know the Pearsons, the young couple butted heads due to Jack’s tendency to stay out late and drink. He seemed to have cleaned up his act for the good of his family, but what if he ultimately lost his life because of a drunk driver?

Jack dying in a car accident would certainly fit the “unexpected” piece of the puzzle, but it seems like an especially cruel way for him to go. But then again, the series also likes to remind us that life has the tendency to be incredibly unfair. And there may be no better way to reinforce the idea that life is both short and full of surprises than to have Jack die in such a seemingly random and terrible way.

4. Heart attack

Jack balancing Randall on his back as he does push-ups in the 'This Is Us' episode 'The Trip.'

Jack doing push-ups with Randall on This Is Us | NBC

When Toby collapsed during the Pearson family Christmas, it took everybody by surprise. And sure, it made sense that it totally spooked Kate; after all, she was falling in love with him. But that incident also got fans wondering about whether or not she was having flashbacks to her father’s own health problems.

It’s been easy to see, as This Is Us‘ first season has developed, that Jack’s overloaded work and home life could be taking a toll on his health. But because he’s basically a superhuman parent, it’s also not difficult to see how he might neglect any warning signs that he was becoming ill. If Jack did have a heart condition, or died from a heart attack, it would make Kate’s insistence that Toby take care of his own condition resonate even more.

5. Alcoholism

Jack and Miguel watching the Superbowl in the 'This is Us' episode

Jack and Miguel at the bar in This Is Us | NBC

Many fans were dismayed to watch Jack return to booze after a fight with Rebecca in “Jack Pearson’s Son.” After all, his drinking was ultimately what drove a wedge in their marriage earlier on in the season. Add that to the fact that his father was an alcoholic, and it seems like Jack could be heading for some pretty bad addiction problems down the line.

Some This Is Us fans have surmised that his tendency toward alcoholism could be his undoing. It’s one of the harder theories for fans to swallow; after all, we’ve spent so much time witnessing him at his very best, it would seem especially tragic for him to succumb to those demons. But there’s no denying the signs are there.

6. Suicide

Kate hugs Beth while Randall and Kevin look on, concerned, in a scene from the 'This Is Us' episode 'Last Christmas'

Randall, Kevin, Kate, and Beth on This Is Us | NBC

Remember when Kate seemed especially fixated on the fact that Toby had once attempted suicide? It could be easy to brush that off as her simply attempting to get to know him better, and to be there for him. But some fans are wondering whether Jack ended his own life. That could explain why Kate has been so preoccupied with her fiancé’s mental health.

Of course, in some ways it seems nearly impossible. After all, Jack has been wholly devoted to Rebecca and the kids. He seemed personally offended when he learned that Miguel was getting a divorce because it would mean the dissolution of his family. How could he commit suicide when he knew what it would do to his loved ones?

Then again, the series could be driving home an important point about depression and how easily it can go undetected. And there have been other hints about how a family breaking apart could drive a man to the brink. At Randall’s office Christmas party, he talked his philandering co-worker down off the ledge. And it seems at least somewhat feasible that the sequence could have been foreshadowing Jack’s demise, too.

After all, Jack lives for his family. If anything were to happen that could split them apart, he might easily become depressed. And given his return to drinking and the revelation that Rebecca had a relationship with her band mate, there are an increasing number of areas where the Pearson family unit could start to break down.

7. An accident

Jack up on the ladder at the cabin in the 'This is Us' episode 'The Trip.'

Jack on This Is Us | NBC

Thus far, most fan theories about Jack’s death on This Is Us have been pretty dramatic. Of course, on a series with this many twists and turns, that’s pretty much par for the course. But what if the end of his life happens due to something much more benign or commonplace, like a household accident? Again, this would fit the idea that his death came out of nowhere.

Some fans have considered the idea that his death was accidental, though his family may have thought it wasn’t. And there was that moment when the Big Three went to the family cabin in “The Trip” where we saw Jack’s spirit cleaning the gutters. What if Randall saw him there because that’s where he died? He did say he was getting up there to finish the job, not for his dad, but for his mom.

8. Kate was involved

Kate, at 10 years old, and Jack on Christmas in 'This Is Us.'

Kate and Jack in This Is Us | NBC

Though we don’t yet know how Jack dies on This Is Us, we do know that losing him absolutely traumatized all three of the Pearson kids. And, it seems to have hit Kate hardest of all. It’s clear they shared a special bond — he was, after all, the only one who could cheer her up for a lot of her childhood. But what if her inability to shake his death has something to do with the fact that she was somehow involved?

Several fans have theorized that Kate either found her father, or was with him when he died. The major hints we’ve gotten about his death — like seeing his ashes, and the flashback to his funeral — have come from her point of view. Her emotional breakthrough at camp in “Three Sentences” heavily featured her reactions to his loss. And when Toby asked what happened, she said she was still “blocked” about it, which indicates a pretty intense level of trauma. Plus, she is the one who has become the keeper of his remains, which could mean that she, more than her mother or siblings, feels most responsible or connected to his death.

9. He was murdered

Miguel speaking to Jack on the phone in the 'This Is Us' episode 'The Big Day.'

Miguel on the phone in This Is Us | NBC

Fans have had mixed reactions to Miguel’s presence on This Is Us — mostly because we still can’t quite understand how he ended up married to Rebecca. Of course, in many ways he seems like an enormously sympathetic character. And in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” we saw that he still feels an intense bond to his best friend. But some fans have wondered if maybe Miguel played a direct role in Jack’s death because he had more insidious intentions with his wife.

Way back in “The Big Three,” Miguel wasn’t shy about listing off all of the amazing qualities Rebecca possessed — even to the point where it seemed to make Jack uncomfortable. That, coupled with the fact that he more or less took his best friend’s place after he died, has some fans wondering if Miguel killed Jack in an act of jealousy.

Of all the fan theories out there, this one seems the least likely. After all, Miguel may sometimes struggle to fit in with the Pearsons, but he seems like an otherwise pretty OK guy. Then again, This Is Us does love to keep things interesting — and Miguel being a murderer would definitely be a major bombshell.

10. He died alone

Jack sitting in a chair in the hospital in a scene from the pilot episode of 'This Is Us.'

Jack in This Is Us | NBC

The crux of what makes This Is Us so popular with fans is the genuine, sweet, and inspiring way that the Pearsons come together as a family. That’s especially true of Jack — his devotion to his loved ones was, at one point, so strong that he told his friends he wanted to freeze time so he could be with them more.

So it would be especially devastating, and tragically fitting, if Jack died, not surrounded by his family, but completely alone. Some fans are wondering if maybe he lost his life while Rebecca was out on tour, since they’ve both expressed doubts about whether she should leave. Others have pointed to the fact that Randall said he didn’t want William to die “when no one was looking.” That could indicate that he feels remorse over how his adoptive father passed away.

No matter how Jack goes, it’s not going to be an easy moment to witness. But the idea of him going without getting a chance to say goodbye to the ones he loved most is almost too much to bear.

Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.

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