The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, at least not when you’re talking about Jack and Kevin Pearson. In a super sentimental episode of This Is Us (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET, CTV), we returned to Vietnam to explore Jack’s mysterious, life-altering past, while also delving a little deeper into Jack and Rebecca’s and Kevin and Zoe’s parallel relationships.
And yes, there were man tears, and they pretty much slayed us. But we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s break out the bat soup and slow dance our way through some of the night’s most poignant moments and themes, shall we?
The definition of “Sometimes”
It’s a simple word, but it drove the episode this week in more ways than one. (How appropriate then, that that’s what this installment was called.) The quote stemmed from the past, when Jack hired a villager named Bao (Dustin Nguyen) to drive him to camp, but Bao made a pit stop to hand over a bag of empty cans that will, in theory, go on to become handmade explosives. Jack questioned whether Bao was a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” to which Bao replied, “Sometimes.”
That’s a baffling answer to someone like Jack, who always tries to do the right thing and live up to his “Superman” nickname. But in reality it shows you that we all live in a grey area, and nothing is ever that straight-up. Kevin thought visiting Vietnam would lead to answers about his father, but so far all he’s learned is that the family heirloom necklace he’s wearing is a common gift-shop trinket. Zoe thought immersing herself in the Vietnamese culture by eating bat would be a good idea; turns out, in this particular case, it only led her to camp out in the bathtub. Rebecca hitched all her hopes to one music exec that showed slight interest, but then bailed when she didn’t get the answer she wanted.
Sometimes things work out, sometimes things aren’t what they seem, and sometimes you just need to open yourself up in a relationship to really dig in…
One of the things we love most about This Is Us is its exploration of actual healthy relationships in which communication is key. Strong communication doesn’t mean immediately baring everything though.
From the beginning Jack was honest with Rebecca that opening up about his time in Vietnam was too painful for him, and they were able to come to an understanding that worked for them. In a parallel storyline Kevin pushed Zoe to open up about her own past, but proved he’s got Rebecca-level empathy when he backed off. He told her he’s falling for her instead, and that if she couldn’t talk to him about that one thing, it didn’t matter. In both examples Jack and Zoe eventually opened up, but in doing so they were honest that they didn’t want to bring that pain into their new relationships. Sometimes, especially when something is shiny and new, you want to just live in the moment and enjoy the happiness that it brings. The hard stuff can come later.
Living in the moment
Look, we love a good This Is Us monologue or speech, but sometimes it’s more effective to just let a situation breathe and “Sometimes” was the perfect example of that. This episode felt like a quieter one than we’re used to thanks to certain sequences and set-ups, like the awkwardness of Jack and Rebecca conversing on their road trip, or their beautiful physical connection following a simple slow dance.
When Rebecca looked at that old couple you could see the wheels turning in her head, and it slayed us because we know that she and Jack will never reach that status. But we didn’t need a drawn-out explanation to feel that. It’s those moments that make us really live in the show and feel such a strong connection to it. In fact, we wouldn’t mind more of them.
Because this episode took a lot of time to set up the Jack and Rebecca dynamic, it’s important to note that Jack was supportive of Rebecca’s dreams. Even though he straight-up asked her if she was returning to Pittsburgh after her meeting, he never pressured her. Instead, he quietly waited for her to figure out her own path, probably hoping for more time with her but never giving her an ultimatum or trying to discuss where things might go.
It’s important because as we see later on, Rebecca laments giving up her singing career and always wondered what if. Had Jack pushed her into leaving L.A., or if it didn’t actually feel like her choice to go, then there would have been more resentment there in the future. Instead, we saw the basis of a healthy relationship in which both parties respected each other and gave space when space was needed.
The brotherly mystery
This show is great at reminding us that every action has consequences, whether good or bad. Nicky was not happy to see his older brother in Vietnam, despite everything Jack was doing to try and save him. Jack’s biggest draw, but also his biggest flaw, is believing he can fix everything, and that problematic personality trait is really obvious when it comes to his baby brother.
We know things don’t turn out the way Jack had hoped with Nicky, but now we’re also pretty sure that Nicky was under Jack’s specific care when he died. If Jack didn’t interfere, would Nicky have lived? Would he have gotten the mental help he needed? Considering the treatment of vets once they returned home, we’re not so sure. But at the end of the day it seems like Jack is going to carry a lot of guilt about the way he tried to help Nicky, and it will probably manifest in some really interesting ways going forward. That’s the beauty of this show: we can take the time to explore various chapters of the characters’ lives and see how they’re affected in the moment, and still be surprised even though we know how things eventually play out.
Man-tears for days
Like most episodes, “Sometimes” saved the most emotional moment for last. Earlier in the instalment Jack told Rebecca he just doesn’t cry, and that life has taught him to push things deep down. But when she sang to him in the car after being rejected, the man-tears started rolling and our tears rolled right along with them. Rebecca’s voice was the cathartic release Jack needed, especially after visiting his dead friend’s parents, and somehow she recognized that.
While some of us would have pushed Jack to further explain or open up in that moment, his ability to be vulnerable in front of Rebecca was what made her decide she could maybe be with this guy for real. She didn’t need to know precisely why he was crying or what he was thinking about—the fact that he was able to freely cry and have a release was enough for her. At the very least, it’s what made her say, “Let’s go home,” a decision we know eventually led to much, much more for these two.
Because sometimes, it’s the small moments that have the biggest impact.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.