This Is Us Season 3, Episode 11
“Songbird Road: Part One”
Posted by Shannon
One of the only true and tangible signs of growth, in this writer’s humble opinion, is the ability to learn from mistakes. It’s a theme throughout the episode, but I’m beginning to think it’s also a theme for season three. This Is Us still has its missteps, but they appear to have learned from some of their most egregious errors. And so it is that we’re all spared a long, morbid walk towards the unravelling of the Nicky Pearson mystery. (Although, truth be told, morbidity still makes an appearance.) Indeed, the Vietnam story appears to come to an end this week, as we learn what happened to get Nicky back home and out of Jack’s life. This week’s episode is a road trip spanning decades and sharing the same destination: Songbird Road.
Jack and Nicky
It’s smack in the middle of Jack and Rebecca’s life together when Nicholas Pearson starts sending his long lost brother some postcards. Never more than a few words, and always bearing his permanent address. Jack never throws them out – but he never does anything with them, either. Maybe I’m too sneaky for my own good, but I had fully expected that “last one” meant Nicky had been mailing Jack boxes of belongings, or even mementos from Vietnam. That they were in touch, somehow, for all the years Jack was living in Pittsburgh with his family. I never suspected it was Nicky’s last ditch effort to get his big brother to talk to him. And still, I have questions. Why now, nine years after Jack had married Rebecca and started a family? What was the state of Nicky and Jack before then? If, as we’re lead to believe, they weren’t in touch at all, what did make Nicky decide to reach out now? And how DID he find Jack’s address – work and home alike?
The home address, in particular, drives Jack to action. Practically the moment he lays eyes on the thing, he’s cooking up a lie to Rebecca about a work trip and heading out the door. The Vietnam war ended in 1975, meaning it had been at least a decade since these two had seen each other. And the only words out of Jack’s mouth when he sees his brother for the first time, living in a trailer off Songbird Road, are “you can’t write me at home.” Oof.
The thing that kills me about this is that I fully believe Jack was ready to turn around and leave with barely a word to Nicky. The wall he puts up is as unbearable as it is insurmountable. Not even the memory of his baby brother, all those years ago, dreaming of being a doctor and owning “big ole’ houses on a big ole’ lake” is enough to warm Jack. He does go inside, but Nicky’s gentle efforts at familial reminiscing are never enough to get Jack to relax. It was physically painful to watch Nicky’s face, so clearly relieved and happy to see his brother after all those years, compared to Jack. Jack, who’s so rarely cold that seeing him this removed was hard to watch. He doesn’t want to hear a word of substance out of Nicky, especially not about the war. (“I don’t want to go back there. I want to leave that right where it is.”)
I spent a lot of time thinking about Jack’s behavior here. It wasn’t unbelievable, or completely out of character, but it was definitely extreme. The only time we’ve seen Jack behave this way was with his father. His father, who we always knew deserved infinitely worse. It’s hard to fathom what Nicky could have done to bring about the same level of recrimination.
When we learn the truth, it all becomes clear. Jack has cordoned Nicky off to the same room in his heart that their father lives in; the one reserved for individuals who have caused harm to children. That might make it sound like I understand Jack’s perspective here, but truth be told, I’m torn. Seeing Nicky finally return to the sweet, childlike person he was before the war, even though he was clearly stoned, was heartrending. But I admit, when he was taunting the village boy with a chocolate bar, I thought the whole thing was going to go down a far darker path. Ultimately, none of us are in a position to judge Jack’s reaction. As it stands, the boy’s death is an accident: one Nicky causes. He could have grabbed the boy and jumped off the boat with him, or thrown himself in the way. But his instincts were ultimately to take care of himself first. Which leads me to believe that, even if Nicky had gotten to tell Jack the truth all those years ago, it might not have made a difference. Jack would have insisted that there was something else Nicky could have done. Still would have blamed him. It’s very possible that the truth wouldn’t have changed a thing. So maybe, ultimately, it’s a blessing that Jack leaves Nicky’s trailer never hearing how that horrible day truly went.
Back home with Rebecca, his old life safely put aside once more, Jack immediately admits to lying about his day trip but doesn’t tell her that the person he went to see, the one he was close with from the war, was his brother. He’s painfully vague, only admitting that his old friend was being haunted by “something bad that happened there, something he did.” I loved that Rebecca only asked if the visit helped, focusing in on the necessary healing she knows her husband hasn’t done. His coping mechanisms are so deeply broken that any slight opening in his heart was shut the moment Rebecca suggested talking to someone about what he’s been through. As Nicky and Miguel suggest later in the hour, Jack never knew how to stand with one foot in his past and the other in his present. He saw both versions of his life in black and white, and couldn’t comprehend how to begin building a bridge. So he pauses, pained and conflicted, before going back upstairs; but the door is shut, and he doesn’t know how to open it. And honestly, I don’t think he wants to learn.
The Big Three
As reticent as he was to tell the family when there were still a ton of questions, as soon as he has all the necessary information, Kevin wastes no time in calling a family meeting to share the news. As of 2017, their uncle, Nicholas Pearson, is still residing on Songbird Road. Kevin’s ready to go, and he’s ready to go now. Randall has eight weeks till he’s sworn in and a babysitter set the moment Rebecca declines the road trip invitation, so the only holdout is Kate. Who, to be fair, is on the west coast and quite pregnant. Still, the pull of their long lost uncle is too strong, and she jumps a flight after only a brief hesitation.
Lest we forget (and honestly I kinda did), none of this is new to Randall. It’s how he’s able to be ever so flippant about the whole thing. He’s already had the life changing secret revealed, he’s already gone through the emotional whiplash of discovering a long lost relative living within road trip distance. As he packs and gives Beth various pep talks about her job interviews, he takes a moment to really acknowledge what Kevin is going through here. There’s a real possibility that this could end badly. And there’s no way he’s going to let his brother go through that alone.
It feels like an eternity since we’ve had a light Big Three scene, and WOW I MISSED THEM. From Kate reminding her brothers that “I’m pregnant and I pee a lot so you’re just gonna have to deal with it” to Randall packing his absurdly healthy version of car snacks, the whole thing is a delight. Of course the conversation turns more serious as they start to really ponder what it is they’re doing here. How old their Uncle Nicky will be by now, what kind of lies their father had been telling, the likelihood that it will all end in a Shakespearean level tragedy. Together, though, they’re as ready as they’ll ever be.
Folks, every single thing about this destroyed me. Kate’s shock, first at the state of Nicky and then at the painful realization that their uncle doesn’t know Jack’s been dead nearly twenty years. Randall’s subtle sadness at the whole scene as he watches his siblings for their reactions. Kevin’s anxious efforts to shake his uncle’s hand. Nicky backing up immediately, clutching a paper bag of booze. All of it is rough and honestly, it never lets up. Almost the moment they’re invited into Nicky’s home, the Big Three start asking questions and Nicky starts dodging them. Kevin and Randall, I think, would have let Nicky be. It’s Kate who won’t let their uncle deny them: “Sir, I didn’t want to come here, and I didn’t wanna find out these answers but my brother literally traveled around the world and back … so we’re not going anywhere.”
And so Nicky starts from the beginning – from his draft call to Jack enlisting and finding him in the midst of a rampant addiction to his medic supplies. (A note on Sterling K. Brown’s performance here: the MOMENT Nicky starts talking about pain killers, he steals a glance at Kevin and furrows his brow, realizing that their family’s bloodline of addiction goes even farther than they knew. It’s so fast and so masterful.) Nicky is controlled, but once he starts talking, he can’t stop. He tells his nephews and niece exactly what happened that day on the fishing boat, right down to the mother’s tragic and haunting scream, which Nicky still hears clear as day in his mind. Nicky only slows when he starts talking about Jack and looks for some answers of his own. Once he learns how Jack died, he stands, fidgets, and asks them to call it a day. (“I’m feeling a little worn down from reliving of all these happy memories.”) He’s polite, but firm.
After a quick stop for proper car snacks at the same gas station Jack visited all those years ago, Randall and Kate are ready to drive back home. Kevin, though, is lost in thought. He’s remembering a quiet moment with his dad, decades earlier, when Jack had delivered a deep truth to his young son: that he shouldn’t put him too high up on a pedestal, to remember he needed to correct Jack’s mistakes, not repeat them. So often, all his kids use Jack’s memory as a guiding star. And Kevin does in this moment, too – but it’s an opportunity not to do as his father would have done himself, but as his father would have wanted for his son.
When Kevin turned to his siblings and asked “That’s no way to live, huh?” I started scream-crying. Kevin fucking Pearson, y’all. Kevin turns the car back to Bradford, knocks on an unlocked door with his brother and sister by his side, and finds Nicky in a life threatening daze, muttering “I never got to tell him. It was an accident.” Randall quietly takes Nicky’s gun and Kevin places his hand gently on his uncle’s shoulder. They’re not going anywhere.
Colors of the Painting
- Rebecca keeps her emotional distance in this episode, but she does have a quick scene with Miguel to share her thoughts. It’s not that she’s upset at Jack for lying – not really. After all, she lied about William for all those years. It’s that she didn’t insist he get help, that she never asked real questions about his past. And now, she wants answers. Part Two is gonna be a beast.
- Once again, give it the fuck up for the casting department.
- It’s a tiny moment but I loved Rebecca’s motherly “RANDALL!” when he wouldn’t stop miming “mind. blown.”
- This week’s musical entry is a heartbreaking cover of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Okay, show. Okay.
- Tess and Annie cannot be fooled by Miguel and Rebecca, they know the Pearson brothers and they know SOMEone was gonna bring that man home.
- Nicky and Kevin share the same genes, exhibit #347:
- “Why would they be nervous to WIN the Beth Pearson lottery?”
- This entire pep talk, though:
What did you think of “Songbird Road: Part One”? Let us know in the comments!