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This Is Us Recap: Alive But Not Well

This Is Us

Songbird Road: Part One
Season 3 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****

This Is Us

Songbird Road: Part One
Season 3 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The Big Three are back together, the multiple-timelines structure is used to reveal the layers of one story, and there is only a brief mention of that political storyline that will never die. This week, This Is Us remembers what it’s great at, and we are truly living once more.

“Songbird Road: Part 1” feels every bit the continuation of the stellar “Vietnam” from earlier this season. In the latter episode we were introduced to the story of the Pearson brothers, original flavor: how they were very much a unit, how Jack took on the protector role from the day Nicky was born, how the war completely destroyed the younger Pearson, and how much Jack sacrificed for his brother. After the revelation that Nicky didn’t die in the war, and knowing that he was non-existent in Jack’s life as a husband and father, there was obviously more to this story. “Songbird” tells the rest of that story, and demonstrates This Is Us’s favorite point to repeatedly drive home (run us over with?): Our stories don’t end with us, they ripple out into the lives of those who come after us. By cutting between Jack’s adult children standing outside of their uncle’s trailer in the same spot their father once stood, it’s clear that Jack and Nicky’s story didn’t end when Jack died. Now it’s a part of the Big Three’s story, too.

Praise be that Kevin Pearson wasted zero time in telling his siblings and his mother that Nicky is alive and Jack knew about it. This family has already been blown up due to long-term secret-keeping, and neither they nor I could survive it once more. The Big Three decide to go on a road trip to Bradford, PA. Mama Pearson sits it out. I mean, the woman just found out her husband had been actively lying to her for their entire marriage, so yes, she should stay home and bake cookies with Miguel and her granddaughters. That sad, sad woman deserves all the cookies!

Back in 1992, Jack is taking a journey similar to the one his kids take in the present-day timeline. He’s been ignoring the postcards his brother’s been sending to his office, but once he receives that “Last one — C.K.” postcard at his home, he’s had enough. He makes up a story, says goodbye to his wife and children, and drives out to Bradford to tell his brother to never contact him at his house. To never contact him at all, really.

It’s clear Nicky has never recovered from what happened in Vietnam. He’s fidgety, unkempt, and he can’t even make a glass of Nesquik correctly. Jack’s anger eventually subsides once they begin to reminisce about their childhood, but he never truly looks comfortable sitting in that trailer. Before long, Nicky needs to bring up what happened. He is basically begging to explain, to apologize. But Jack won’t hear it. He put the war behind him and he refuses to go back there. What Nicky wants to know — the reason he sent those postcards, the thing that’s been eating him alive — is if what he did ruined Jack’s life. Jack shows his brother a picture of his family as proof that he didn’t and it’s only then that Nicky changes — he won’t bother Jack again. And with that, Jack’s gone.

Back in the present day, after the Big Three demand that Nicky speak to them (it’s Kate’s speech about refusing to leave without answers that makes Nicky remark that they really are Jack’s kids), their uncle finally explains what actually happened in Vietnam. We head back to the fishing village, where Nicky is back on drugs. He shares some genuinely nice moments with the little boy whose foot Jack fixed (his mother is the Woman Wearing the Necklace), and then the two hop on a fishing boat, row out to the middle of the lake, and Nicky begins to use grenades instead of fishing poles. You can guess what follows. After a grenade mishap, Nicky jumps out of the boat in time, the little boy does not. It’s awful and sad, even for This Is Us. It’s extra-upsetting because we see that Nicky had no ill will toward the child. It was an accident. But Jack doesn’t see that. He only sees the wailing mother mourn her son and remembers Nicky saying that to him, the women and children are their enemies, too. That’s Jack’s breaking point. He tells Nicky he’s done, and you can see he means it. When Nicky is medevacked out, a shell of a person, Jack can’t even look at him.

So imagine listening to that story come out of your not-dead uncle’s mouth while sitting in his dumpster trailer. The trauma on this show knows no bounds. If you’re trying to decide who the saddest This Is Us character is, Nicky Pearson must be in consideration. Not only does he end his little, harrowing trip down memory lane by telling his nephews and niece that he can still hear that mother screaming, and that he never got to tell his brother it was an accident and will have to live with that forever, he then asks how Jack died. DUDE. At this point, you’re asking for the pain. On a personal note, last week I didn’t cry once during This Is Us, which was worrisome since I have notably cried during such things as a non-sad orange juice commercial and my first sip of butterbeer, but don’t you worry folks, with just one small look as Nicky took in the story of his brother’s death, Griffin Dunne’s performance walloped me.

Nicky is a man in complete devastation. Because of what Kevin witnesses in that trailer, and because of a conversation he had with Jack about not repeating his father’s mistakes (the Pearsons’ memories are so good, they must take fish oil, right?), it is the eldest Pearson who decides that they can’t just leave their uncle like that. We see the Big Three sitting in the parking lot of a convenience store their father once sat in (hey, good for Bill’s Place, staying in business all these years!). After much deliberation, their father made a right and went back to his life in Pittsburgh. The Big Three make a right and head back to Songbird Road.

It’s a good thing they do, because when they walk back into his trailer, they find Nicky sitting in his grief and his guilt, with a gun on the table in front of him. They take the gun away from him, but how do they even begin to help Nicky come back from this? Remember when I said that thing about trauma? Yeah, it applies here, too.

This Is the Rest

• The other moment that had me self-hydrating my face this week was another small, quiet one. Jack does come clean to Rebecca about going to see someone from the war, he just omits certain details. When she offers suggestions on how to get help, he ends the conversation. He’s done talking about it. Jack walks off, but stops and stands alone in the door frame. You see it clearly on his face: He so badly wants to tell his wife everything, but he just can’t allow his old life and his new life to come in contact with each other. He’s forever a man trying to keep his demons at bay.

• Watching Kevin, Kate, and Randall deal with these revelations is extremely compelling, but the one to watch in all of this is Rebecca. She’s not really angry with Jack — I mean, she kept a whopper of a secret from him, too — she’s upset with herself. She never pressed him about Vietnam and maybe she should have. Now she wants the truth. A Rebecca and Nicky meeting will be a thing.

• I loved Rebecca chiding Randall for his “mind blown” jokes while they discussed the news of Nicky. What a mom thing to do!

• Moments like Kevin and Kate ragging on Randall for his nerdy road trip snacks (“lots of nuts and seeds, many pitted fruits”) and Kevin claiming Sundance as his road trip character over video chat is why I love the Big Three in storylines together. There’s so much chemistry and history there. More of this, always.

• Seeing Miguel in an apron and making chocolate chip cookies with his granddaughters honestly makes me wonder how I ever felt anything but love for this guy. Forgive us, Miguel.

• Little Kevin flat-out telling Jack that he likes him more than the rest of his family is such a mood and it is appreciated.

• R & B Properties is back and better than ever. I’m of course talking about Randall and Beth as a couple, not their company, because who knows who’s taking care of that building they bought. Beth is heading out on interviews again and we get a classic Randall Pearson speech about how wonderful his wife is. Stronger than ever, those two!

• “Beth Pearson is more than just a name, it’s an attitude.”

This Is Us Recap: Alive But Not Well