We knew that This Is Us season 3 episode 11 would be devastating, but what we didn’t quite realize that it would be drown-in-your-own-tears devastating. “Songbird Road: Part 1” may have had a melodious title, but if this was a song, it would’ve clearly been a dirge — despite a few moments of awkward comedy in the first 15-20 minutes.
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Through much of the NBC series’ run, we’ve come to view Jack Pearson as the idyllic family man, a guy who will do anything for his family and love them with the fury of a million suns. Yet, in this episode we also saw his deepest flaw. This is a man who doesn’t view nuance, and at times doesn’t properly understand redemption. He occasionally gives second chances, but there’s a breaking point and when you hit that with him, it’s all gone. That’s what happened with his brother Nicky in Vietnam.
Here’s the truth behind what happened — Nicky had finally started to warm up to some of the locals at camp, and took the kid, who we’ve seen on occasion in the past, out fishing. Of course, Nicky doesn’t do anything in the normal way, so this meant him throwing a grenade in the water and scooping up a ton of fish after the fact. When the kid wanted to try it, Nicky didn’t want him to have something so dangerous. They struggled over the grenade, it landed in the boat, and Nicky wasn’t able to convince him to jump overboard. The kid died and Nicky was pulled from duty.
This is where you have to question Jack, who refused to ever hear four simple words from Nicky: It was an accident. He shouldn’t have been doing what he was, but he never meant to hurt the kid. He was just doing whatever he could to make it through the war and then that happened. In the aftermath of the accident Jack cut his brother out and, when he started to send postcards to his home, Jack visited Bradford and told him to stop it. While there, he did clue Nicky in to the fact that he had a wife and kids, but he never told them the truth. The closest Jack came to admitting anything was telling Rebecca, after being dishonest with her, that he went to see an old friend in Vietnam who was struggling after the war. That was it.
Flash-forward now to the present, when Kevin, Randall, and Kate traveled to Bradford in order to see Nicky and make their own conclusion as to who he was. While there, the three learned the truth about who he was an what actually happened so many years before. You could see that he didn’t want to go there that he didn’t want to bring up the demons — but he did. He got everything out in the open for the first time since returning from the war, and then he got the Pearson kids to leave. It was all too much for him, and after enduring the suffering, the isolation, and then seeing the life that Jack and his family had for many years, he was ready to take his own. Kevin decided that he wasn’t willing to see Nicky off alone — he didn’t want to be what Jack was — and that’s the only reason Nicky may still be alive. That moment at the end of the episode, where Nicky reiterates that it was an accident and laments that he never got to tell Jack the truth and be heard, is one of the most powerful things This Is Us has done through three seasons.
Where things go from here remains to be seen, but we want to hope that Nicky can find a way to be involved in the Pearson family’s life. We thought for most of the season that it was mental illness that was keeping Nicky separate from the family. Maybe there is PTSD here, but it feels more like a function of guilt, pain, and being cut out from the world over one fateful decision to take that kid out in the fishing boat.
How will Rebecca handle all of this?
This Is Us smartly underplayed some of this through most of the episode, allowing her reaction to be a slow-build rather than just immediate. She loved Jack and wanted to believe every single thing that he told her. She didn’t want to visit Nicky at first, feeling that it would be too painful, and she decided to watch Randall’s kids instead.
When the Big Three actually find Nicky, that’s where the turn comes and you start to see her unwilling accept the same excuses about Jack that everyone has made for years, that he loved his family and would do anything for them. Jack may get a pass because of how deeply he cared, but at a certain point, there’s no escaping him having such a serious family secret and never letting anyone see it. This is going to be difficult for her and we do wonder if there’s a conversation between her and Nicky coming.
Can Nicky find redemption, or have something resembling a more normal life as a result of all of this? There’s at least a chance, but for us as viewers we now understand the truth about everything that happened with Jack. The question with this series now becomes precisely what happens from here, now that this important mystery is finally resolved — in a gut-wrenching but beautifully-told way.
What did you think about This Is Us season 3 episode 11, and the way the Nicky saga played out? Be sure to share now in the comments. (Photo: NBC.)