“It sounds complicated,” Rebecca tells Nicky, the brother of her late husband, on the day she meets him. She’s referring to the harrowing, disturbing, story of what’d happened to him while serving in the Vietnam War; how he caused the violent death of a young, innocent boy. It’s an apt term for the story. But it also feels increasingly appropriate for This Is Us as a whole, which has spent this two-part “Songbird Road” episode complicating the legacy of Jack Pearson, and the memories he left his family.
Where the previous episode focused primarily on Jack’s relationship to Nicky, revealing the most complex choice the Pearson patriarch has made in the show to date, “Part Two” shifts the focus to Rebecca, with both the past and the present timelines moving forward a day each. At the end of “Part One,” Rebecca learned the truth about Nicky’s existence and what happened between him and Jack; within a minute of “Part Two,” she’s arrived to meet her brother-in-law in Bradford, Pa.
In the morning, Kevin is researching VA hospitals — “For the first time in history, Kev has done more homework than you,” Kate quips to Randall — as Nicky (played by Griffin Dunne, again great) joins them just before Rebecca arrives. She and Nicky lock eyes, initially awkward, then strangely familiar. “You have his eyes,” she says. She asks him if he knew she existed. Nicky replies yes, revealing he saw Jack in 1992, over a fateful weekend where he turned his back on him forever. Rebecca is jolted by this; she knows exactly which weekend he’s referring to. “I remember that weekend,” she says later. “[Jack] said he was going to visit some war buddy — somebody he’d had a falling out with — and it was around Valentine’s Day. He was acting so strangely.”
Back in time we go, to the morning after Jack returned. He’s supposed to go take young Kevin to meet Pittsburgh Pirate John Smiley and have him sign his rookie card. But he needs “a day.” Rebecca, sensing he’s off, agrees to take Kevin while Jack stays at home to supervise Randall and Kate making Valentine’s cards. The kids are puzzled by this apparent role-reversal but have no choice but to go with it.
Rebecca and Kevin’s “mother-son day” complements the present-day action. Despite Nicky’s reluctance, Kevin is motivated to continue trying to bond with his uncle and get him the help he obviously needs. He plans to take him to a nearby VA facility, but Randall and Kate admit they won’t be able to join for another day-trip — he has a relatively chaotic home life, the doctor’s appointments — leaving Rebecca as their lone companion. The episode finds subtle, tender opportunities for visual symmetry: the sight of Kevin, young and old, longingly looking out the car window while his mother drives; the mysterious distance which Kevin keeps between them as he forges ahead on his own path, battling his own demons.
Indeed their storyline in the past timeline appears slight at first — the entirety of it is Rebecca taking Kevin to the signing, leaving him in line to pick up lunch, and finding him and Smiley speaking upon her return with food — but it builds in potency within the episode’s broader context. She learns from Smiley that Kevin had a whole conversation with him about things to do and places to eat, should he be traded away (as the rumors hinted at), and it’s a conversation Kevin declined to share with his mother. He doesn’t want to let her in all the way. But it’s proof of a certain sensitivity and care that she has never forgotten.
He demonstrates these qualities throughout “Songbird Road,” especially this second half. When they arrive at the VA, Nicky is spooked by his nephew’s effort to help him. “I’ve been to counselors before, and it didn’t work,” Nicky says when Kevin asks him to speak to one. “Also, I’m a drunk. Oh, and also, I can’t seem to leave my trailer without getting the shakes.” Kevin tries to argue before taking a moment in the hallway; his mother joins him and tells him it’s okay to feel angry at Jack. “I’m mad too,” she admits. “It’s hard to be mad at someone who’s not here anymore — there’s nothing you can do with those feelings.” (Recap continues on page 2)