NBC‘s This Is Us delivered an exceptional episode! This incredibly well-crafted narrative sheds light on Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Nicky’s (Michael Angarano) falling out during the Vietnam War. Stunning parallels and seamless transitions switch back-and-forth as “The Big Three” follow in their father’s footsteps. Kevin (Justin Hartley), Randall (Sterling K. Brown), and Kate (Chrissy Metz) visit their long-lost uncle (Griffin Dunne). In their search for answers, they find a broken and lost soul in desperate need of help.
It never seemed like Jack to lie about Nicky’s death. Flashbacks to Vietnam showed that Nicky was troubled – he even pushed Jack away every time he tried to help. Naturally, we’re on Team Jack. He wasn’t supposed to be in the war, he forced his way in to save Nicky. We expected more from Nicky when he met him. He should’ve been happy, relieved, grateful – basically, anything except for stand-offish and rude – when he saw Jack in Vietnam.
We love Jack for trying his best to help Nicky get clean and find hope. He did everything in his power to help his little brother. In Vietnam, we see how Jack was born to be a leader. He’s the kind of man others turn to for guidance and reassurance. You want to follow his example and have him on your side – like Superman. We’ve also seen how Jack walks away from trouble. He took their mom away from their dad and never looked back. Now we realize that he did the same thing with Nicky.
A person can forgive so much before calling it quits. Jack gave his brother countless opportunities to get his head on straight, but Nicky didn’t want any part of it. In his stoned stupidity, he takes a boy out fishing with grenades. We are on the edge of our seats the entire time they are on the boat. We know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know how or when.
The moment that grenade hit the floor of the boat, I yelled at my TV. “Grab the boy and jump!” What does Nicky do? He tells the kid to jump and dives off the boat. Jack would never do something so reckless – but even if he was in that position, we know he would have found a way to save that boy.
The look on Jack’s face when he realizes what Nicky has done. Ventimiglia delivers an award-winning performance in “Songbird Road Part One.” This is probably the harshest thing Jack has ever done in his life. He pulls Nicky to safety, realizes the boy is gone and that’s it. Jack is done. There is no coming back from this. From that moment on, they are no longer brothers.
It is heavy, intense and so very real. Many of us have family members who we have given so many chances to. Ultimately, they reach a point of no return. We all have lines that get crossed. There are some actions that can never be undone. Despite their extreme circumstances, Jack and Nicky’s relationship is still relatable.
Visiting Clark Kent
Jack receives multiple postcards from C.K. and leaves them unanswered. Then he gets one delivered to his home. Nicky found a new way to cross the line. He pushed his brother away, yet continues to reach out. Jack needs to draw a new line. He lies to his family and says he’s going on a day trip for work. We can see how much it tears him up to keep this from his family – especially Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
Nicky has a sad life. He’s alone, living in a trailer and drinking beer all day. So much for the kid who dreamed of being a doctor and owning multiple houses. He hasn’t been able to get over what happened in the war. He lives in the past and it haunts him. Conversely, Jack has left it all in the past.
Jack refuses to think or talk about the past. The only way he can continue to move forward is by letting the past go – his brother included. He discarded that part of his life and built a new one for himself. He has Becca, the kids, and a happy home. He doesn’t want any negativity from the past bringing him down. He made a choice to move on.
Unfortunately, Nicky can’t do that. He won’t dwell on the past, but he wants to clear the air about that day. Jack won’t have it. He shows Nicky the life he built for himself, a life that his brother can’t be a part of.
It is heart-wrenching. I love how we see Jack struggle with this decision. He doesn’t leave his brother behind lightly. He walks away and double-checks his gut. We know what he’s thinking at that moment when chooses to drive home instead of turning back.
Bringing Nicky home would cause the kids and Rebecca unnecessary pain. It would open old wounds. It would reverse all the hard work Jack has done to be the great man he is today. Nicky’s poor choices are not on Jack and taking him in, trying to help him, would be in vain. That’s my take on it, at least.
Jack almost confesses the truth to Rebecca – but doesn’t. Nicky is downgraded to an old war buddy. If Rebecca knew the truth, she might have encouraged Jack to help his brother out. Knowing Jack, it has taken everything within him to resist the instinct to help and sympathize. This is one of those cases where it takes more strength to walk away and put the family he made first.
Miguel says it best:
Meeting Uncle Nicky
This is why we love “The Big Three”: Kevin took this to heart and made it his mission to learn everything he could about Jack. In the flashback, we see how he wasn’t as aloof as we thought. He wanted to go with Jack that day. He liked his dad and wanted to hang out with him. Now, we see Kevin make a very Jack-like move.
Randall has braced himself for the worse. He went through the ominous knock-on-the-door-turned-more with William. He wants to be there for his brother – so does Kate. They show up for each other. The same way Jack always showed up for them.
I love that Nicky takes them by surprise. Still, the moment of truth is bitter. Uncle Nicky is in bad shape. His life looks even sadder than it did when Jack visited him over twenty years ago. He’s still a little off-putting and it takes extra nudging from Kate (love it!) to get him to talk. The entire sequence is beautifully moving and surprisingly candid. The awkward humor, palpable tension, and looming uncertainty. These kids have gone out on a limb and are searching for answers about their dad. Geesh, Nicky didn’t even know Jack died! Reliving that story hurts every time – breaks my heart.
Of course, Nicky isn’t surprised to hear that Jack died saving his family. He seems genuinely broken up about it. He shockingly tells them the truth about what happened. He is still haunted by the mother’s wailing cries.
Afterward, Nicky is spent and wants them to leave. He made his peace. They know why Jack wanted nothing to do with him and they can go. They leave him be – but it doesn’t sit well with Kevin.
Kevin picks up the ball that Jack dropped years ago. Maybe he’ll be able to help Nicky in a way Jack couldn’t. Given the condition they find Nicky in, it feels like Jack’s spirit was at work – guiding his kids from the other side because they just saved his life.
He confesses, he just wanted to tell Jack it was an accident. I’m sure Jack already knew that. It’s not like Nicky would’ve intentionally killed a kid. It’s that he was careless enough to cause such an accident to begin with. Jack holds his brother accountable for his misguided actions.
I’m not entirely sure what finally pushed Nicky over. Was it learning about Jack’s death? Could he just not take the pain anymore? Did meeting the Big Three offer some sort of closure that made him feel more ready to give up on life? Or did he reach for his gun and consider taking his life on a regular basis?
Hopefully, we’ll learn more in Part Two. For now, we’re left with heavy hearts. So I’m going to leave us on a note that will make you smile. As Tess predicted, they’re coming home with a new family member. It’s like the Pearsons pick up strays wherever they go!
This Is Us “Songbird Road: Part Two” will air on Tuesday, February 12 at 9 p.m. on NBC.