Rebecca joins the Big Three in trying to help Nicky now, while memories from the past show how Jack was able to bury him deep down inside.
There's an unspoken trust between the creators and viewers of "This Is Us" that everything we see is factual, but memory is a fickle thing, and what if it isn't?
One of the beautifully brilliant things about this show is how seamlessly it weaves its historic peeks into the Pearson's past with the ongoing developments in the present era, but this week's installment called into question again just how much of what we've seen the Big Three even remember.
For that matter, we can't be sure Rebecca even recalls everything we've seen. Memory is funny that way; for most of us it becomes fleeting moments through time that rise to the surface, sometimes without any context. And often, those memories are filtered through our own perceptions from the time, or even now.
The weekend Jack went to see Nicky -- which we saw last week -- was followed by a pivotal day in the Pearson family where Jack stayed home with Randall and Kate while Rebecca took Kevin to the mall to get a baseball card signed. Randall and Kate experienced the same day with Jack and yet their recollections are so very different.
For Kate, she remembers the euphoric joy of a sequin fight that erupted in the living room while they were decorating their Valentine's Day boxes for school. Randall, though, remembers far more than that. Always the more intuitive of the three, the flashback sequences showed how he sensed Jack was going through something, trying to connect with him fruitlessly on more than one occasion.
He also recalls what came before the sequin fight, and that was Jack erupting at the kids and even throwing and shattering a plate in frustration. This was the raw and real side of Jack he tried so hard to keep from his family. This was the Jack who never deal with his own trauma in Vietnam, or his relationships with his father and brother.
And yet, in true Jack fashion, he turned it around and redeemed his outburst by praising the obnoxious pizza the kids ordered and orchestrating the biggest misdirection/distraction he could think of to turn all that negativity upside down. And it worked.
It was a good call, too, because bad things are going to happen. Every parent is going to have an off day (or many of them), as adult Randall told Kate. It's about how you balance those with positive experiences. Jack knew what he'd inadvertently introduced into that day, so he made the effort to bring forgiveness, positivity and ultimately joy.
Meanwhile, in the present era, Kevin's grand gesture to try and save Nicky from himself hit several road bumps, and all of them Nicky-sized. Even Rebecca's surprise arrival seeking some answers and closure of her own about this man she'd also been told was dead, did little to change the reality that Nicky has settled into this life of his. Only he can choose to change it.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
Everyone was surprised when Rebecca showed up at the hotel where the kids had convinced Nicky to stay the night after finding him with alcohol and a gun in his trailer the night before. Even Rebecca seemed surpised to see herself there. But here was a connection to her lost love -- she even saw it in his eyes -- even as his very existence here brought so many things into question.
Jack lied about Nicky being alive. What else did he lie about? She has to be asking herself that question and knowing that Nicky doesn't have the answer. And for Nicky, the moment was palpable because here was a connection to the brother he tried so hard to reconnect with and failed, without even knowing Jack had died. If only they could bury their demons to really connect, but it's just not that easy.
He Just Wanted to Make Sure I Was Happy
This was an odd moment for sure, but one that added some more meaning to Kevin's well-meaning obsessive nature. Kate teased him about doing a ton of research into veteran's homes for Nicky, but apparently that's been a part of his DNA his entire life, as he did the same level of research for one of his favorite baseball players.
Of course, he told Rebecca nothing about it when she asked what he and the player talked about, so she talked directly to the other party in that chat. There she learned that Kevin had sought out places that would make him happy were he to get traded to the Twins. Obsessive, yes, but sweet in its own way. And this is the side of Kevin that is again emerging in his quest to help Nicky.
Sometimes it's the tiniest gestures that mean so much. At eleven years old, Randall had no idea what was going on with Jack, but he could sense that something was bothering him. And so he came out on the front porch and sat next to him, silently resting his head on Jack's shoulder.
While it didn't fix all of Jack's emotional turmoil, it was one of the most genuine and sweet moments of the entire series. It also went a long way to showing just how in tune Randall is to the emotions of others and just how much he cares. Even if he has no idea what to do, he feels an overwhelming urge to do something.
Yeah, I'm Mad
Rebecca is doing the important work now of processing the fact that her husband lied to her and withheld things from her. She blamed herself last week for not prying deeper, but this week she was ready to admit she's mad at Jack for denying her family to their uncle and vice-versa. It was a wonderfully raw moment she shared with Kevin, who was grappling with his own anger over Jack's deception. But that was classic Jack, trying to protect his family from anything negative and driving himself to drink the process.
That same obsession drives Kevin and Randall and even Kate, and all of them have struggled with the other side of taking on that much stress (addiction, nervous breakdowns, overeating). Rebecca told Nicky Jack was on the other side of sobriety and learning to open up and allow all sides of himself to exist, but it's a lesson that's yet to full reach his children. Hopefully it's one they can still learn.
Perhaps it's because he was in tune with Jack's pain on that fateful day all those years ago, but Randall remembers the day of the infamous sequin fight very differently than Kate. He remembers Jack yelling at her and throwing a plate against the wall in frustration. He remembers sensing how off Jack was. Kate, on the other hand, only remembers the positives of that day.
In a way, it's tragic that Randall had to ruin Kate's positive memories of the day, but he wasn't wrong in saying that her having such a positive recollection of a day filled with turmoil meant that Jack was doing his job as a father. It also, a little bit, means Kate totally has Jack on a pedestal, but we already knew that. Mostly, though, it shows how memory is a tricky thing and we shouldn't trust it implicitly. Kate remembers goodness, Randall remembers badness but neither tells the whole story.
We tend to glorify our own stories for good and bad based on our recollections of them, but lacking the context of total recall, we're creating our own filters so the memories fit our pre-conceived narrative. Kate saw her childhood as blissful and perfect before Jack died, and so it was. So was it awful after he died, and so it was. For her. Life isn't as black and white as we want to make it; there are variances of good and bad and shades of gray every day. We shouldn't allow our filtered perception of our past define that past, or our present.
I'm Proud of You
Rebecca doesn't even know how heartbreaking this statement was, and she meant it from the bottom of her heart. When we saw Kevin talk to Zoe earlier in the episode, we thought he'd seen something revelatory about Nicky, but it was something far simpler and far more tragic. He saw a bottle of whiskey.
Just like Jack, Kevin has been trying so very hard to do the right thing, to fix everything, to build bridges, get everyone answers, fix Nicky and save the family. It's not as lofty as that, but that's how Kevin treats it and it is a tremendous amount of pressure to put himself under, and thus the crux. It's all too much, and Nicky's resistance to his efforts only exacerbated his frustration and sense of failure and losing and thus, he fell.
It remains to be seen if that was a one-and-done relapse into alcohol, but we suspect it's not or he might have had th nerve to tell Rebecca. Again, though, he is his father and as this is something negative, well the last thing he's going to do is burden his family with something negative. Instead, he will move towards self-destruct all alone, as Jack nearly did and Nicky clearly did.
"I wanted to be a writer. Then, I wanted to be a doctor. Then, I didn't want anything," Nicky told Rebecca in the episode's most gut-wrenching moment. "I wish I could be that person again."
Vietnam destroyed Nicky as a person, and the incident with the boy on the boat destroyed his relationship with Jack. His older brother jumped to the conclusion (understandably) that Nicky killed the boy on purpose, but in all the years of their lives after, he never allowed Nicky to tell him the truth. Jack had made up his mind. Nicky was bad and there is no room for bad in Jack Pearson's life, so there is no room for Nicky.
Now, Jack ostracizing him is not Nicky's only problem. He's clearly torn up from depression and PTSD, but he effectively had no one to help him through any of that. Jack poured himself into Rebecca and his family, and while he didn't process his properly, either, at least he had something. The question now is if Nicky will follow through on his promise to Kevin to go to a meeting. Will he fall back into his old habits or take the difficult steps to "be that person again."