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Spoiler alert: This story contains plot details from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, titled “Brothers.”
This Is Us fans undoubtedly had two words to say after this week’s episode of This Is Us: “Oh! Brother!”
The revelation that emerged in “Brothers” — or, rather, popped up in the back seat — was that Jack Pearson had a brother, one with whom he served in Vietnam. Brothers loomed in the forefront of this episode as Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) packed up his two sons Kevin (Parker Bates) and Randall (Lonnie Chavis) for a camping trip, driven to help them find common ground on the ground. (He would try unsuccessfully to get Kevin to articulate exactly why he wasn’t more accepting of Randall, though Kevin ultimately warmed up after he discovered Randall’s poignant instructions to himself to try not to alienate his brother.) And at the end of the episode, we saw why this all mattered so much to our patriarch: As Jack lay awake in the middle of the night after returning home from the trip — one he did not cut short after Rebecca (Mandy Moore) called to inform him that his alcoholic, abusive father (Peter Onorati) lay on his deathbed — he was consumed by a feeling that prompted him to sneak out of bed, open up that metal box of memories, and stare at a picture from Vietnam. There was Jack, and there was his brother.
Elsewhere, in the present day, hurting-in-all-kinds-of-ways Kevin (Justin Hartley) continued to spiral while keeping things locked up (like father, like son). Desperate to get a Vicodin prescription re-re-filled and chasing away his problems with alcohol, he even missed his big moment on the auction block for a charity event arranged by his not-pleased girlfriend, Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge). Meanwhile, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was working as hard as Jack to bond with his foster child: He brought Deja (Lyric Ross) to the auction, because(/even though) she was crushing on Kevin, and he would learn that he should be a little more hands-off with Deja, literally, as his touch on shrimp-eating etiquette literally triggered memories of abuse. And as for the other member of the Big Three, a very guarded Kate (Chrissy Metz) revealed to Toby (Chris Sullivan) that she was pregnant, denied him office desk sex, dinged him for being too excited, and then ultimately let him off the leash to outlandishly celebrate the news in a coffee shop to the music of Hootie & The Blowfish.
Now that the news has been delivered — and Jack’s family twist is bouncing around your head — let’s bring in two men who would gladly loan you their Gameboys, This Is Us executive producers (and directors of this episode) John Requa and Glenn Ficarra.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So Jack has a brother, Nicky, who we assume died in Vietnam. Why has he hidden this information from Rebecca and the rest of his family? How did his death impact Jack?
GLENN FICARRA: Jack, as we’re showing this season, has an ability to emotionally compartmentalize things, and his relationship with his father and brother, those are definitely related. He has a tendency to keep in a secret, which is manifesting itself in his son, Kevin.
Jack’s Vietnam mystery deepens a bit here. After seeing images of him hopping out a helicopter with an M-16 earlier this season, we get the sense that there’s a lot more to his story than just being a mechanic. Will we find out this season how Jack lost Nicky in Vietnam — and what unprocessed emotions he is carrying from that?
JOHN REQUA: We can’t get into the details, but clearly this looms large in the person that he is. The big thing is that he keeps secrets, that he has compartmentalized and hidden away this part of his life, which obviously was his brother, and it was a big part. Obviously a major thing happened, some trauma of some sort. And that’s what Kevin is doing. That’s what we’re trying to say with this episode. This life of keeping secrets and evasiveness is exactly the sort of behavior that Kevin is exhibiting. We’re trying to draw the parallels between the good and the bad of Jack, and how it manifests in his children.
Then you also follow Randall, who is manifesting the good Jack in a complete way, and his dogged determination to make this relationship with Deja work, and to try to influence her life in a positive way. And that’s the good side of Jack. You live on through your children, and I think that he is living on through his children, but the unfortunate truth is, not only the good survives. That’s what we’re seeing in Randall. And it also explains why at the beginning of the episode, Jack is almost a little possessed by his desire for Kevin and Randall to work out their relationship problems, and it’s not until the end of the episode you’re like, “Oh, geez, so that’s why it’s so important to him.”
The dynamic we saw in flashbacks is one of Jack taking care of his younger brother while his father was off drinking. Rebecca said that he beat the odds to become a fantastic father, considering how he grew up. But can we argue that because of the way he grew up — he had to learn responsibility for his brother at an early age — this helped make him into the man he is today? Sure, Jack learned to numb feelings with alcohol like his dad, but he also used him as a reverse role model: Be the dad that his father wasn’t.
FICARRA: [He’s] definitely that way because of his father. The question about Nicky is whether [Jack] is the dad he is because he was trained that way or the dad he is because he has regrets. Time will tell.
You wonder if Jack’s dad, on his deathbed, might mention Jack’s secret about his brother to Rebecca when she visits his dad at the nursing home. And technically we never saw Jack’s dad die. Even though Jack effectively was done with him, telling Rebecca that in his mind that he died a long time ago, might we see another deathbed scene? Is that in play?
REQUA: There was a little bit more dialogue that was trimmed out. There was a desire to leave it a little bit more ambiguous. He represents, in the microcosm of the episode, the Kevin path. So Jack has two sides to his personality, the secret keeper in his alcoholism and the fact that he has his brother in Vietnam, and the ebullient, generous, loving father side. Randall is running the good path and Kevin is falling down the path that represents the dark side of his father. And the end of that path is Stanley in that nursing home, dying alone.