After a week off, This is Us returned Tuesday night with a deeper look into Jack’s experiences in Vietnam and both Rebecca and Kevin’s attempts to find out what happened to him during the war. This recap does contain spoilers so if you are not caught up with the episode you may want to stop reading here. Also, if you need a refresher on what happened in the previous episode, you can find that recap here.
The episode begins with a woman in Vietnam carefully making a necklace similar to Kevin’s. A soldier buys a necklace from an old woman at a market. He is excited about giving it to a girl but when he finds her in a bar she is sitting in a booth with another soldier. Mad, he slams the necklace down on the counter. A Korean soldier sees the necklace on the counter and picks it up. When he is killed in battle a young woman finds him and takes the necklace. Kevin stares at a picture of the woman wearing the necklace and standing next to Jack.
Back in Vietnam during the war, Jack and Nick greet each other. Nick is upset with Jack for enlisting. He scoffs when Jack asks what he’s on. “It was just a nickname, man,” says Nick. “You’re not Superman.”
Jack and Rebecca have begun their road trip to Los Angeles. She says her mother thinks she’s crazy for road tripping with Jack so soon after they met. They make small talk about their plans, Rebecca going to the record company and Jack wanting to meet someone in Reseda. Rebecca tells him she loves Pittsburgh but it feels small to her. The small talk seems a bit awkward and neither seems extremely happy about their journey.
Kevin and Zoe are riding through Vietnam. Kevin takes a selfie of the two of them and Zoe immediately tells him “don’t tag me on Instagram.” He looks surprised, saying that he thought their relationship was at the point where tagging was okay, but she explains that she does not want her dad knowing she is in Vietnam. He lives in China and if he knew where she was he would try to see her and she does not want that. Kevin is a little shocked that she never mentioned this about her dad and Zoe immediately changes the subject and dodges his curiosity.
Jack introduces himself to Nick’s commanding officer. He explains that he wants to take Nick back with him to get him “squared away.” He explains to the officer that Nick isn’t cut out for Vietnam, that his heart is not cut out for hurting people/things, and Jack wants to save him before Vietnam destroys him. Despite his plea, the officer refuses to allow Nick to go with him saying that they cannot have brothers serving in the same unit. He then tells Jack he needs to hurry back to his village because the “V.C.” (Viet Cong) patrol the roads at night.
Kevin and Zoe are eating. Kevin tells her his tastes aren’t as “eclectic” as hers and begins describing the simple meals that he had growing up in the Pearson home. He tries to get her to talk about her own family dinners and she deflects by commenting on a couple of tourists nearby. When Kevin looks he notices the woman is wearing a necklace similar to his. He goes up to her and asks where she got it. The woman points to a souvenir stand where there are several necklaces like his. He asks the woman at the stand if they sell a lot and she shakes her head “sell many, many, many.” He looks disappointed.
Jack and Rebecca arrive at their first motel. They’re eating at the restaurant and Jack asks her to explain how her demo got to Los Angeles and what happens if the record company likes her. She explains she would then make a better, more professional demo. If that goes well she would make an album and if the album sold well her dream would be to open for Neil Young. Jack pulls her up from the table and on to the dance floor. As they dance she asks where he got his moves and he explains that because his dad would not dance with his mom, he did, dancing to Frank Sinatra at Christmas time. She asks if he is a crier and he tells her he doesn’t cry. “Not even at the end of Old Yeller?” He explains that he just got good at holding the bad stuff inside. They continue dancing for a little while in silence, staring into each other’s eyes. When they get to their room there is a bit of awkwardness when they see the two beds. Rebecca puts on a long gown and Jack teases her about it. They lay down in separate beds but wake up having slept together in Jack’s bed. A short montage follows, showing them happily arriving at each hotel room, making out and sleeping together. This goes on a few times until one night Jack has a nightmare. The drive to Los Angeles gets very tense after this, with Rebecca attempting to get Jack to talk to her about what happened – if the dreams are about Vietnam – and Jack making it clear he does not want to talk to her about it.
Jack is walking the road in Vietnam between Nick’s post and the village where his squad is posted. He comes to a village and asks a man with a bike if he will drive him to his village. The man looks uncertain and uncomfortable with Jack. Jack introduces himself and asks the man’s name. He tells him his name is Bao. Jack asks again for a ride and the man, still not looking happy about the situation, motions for money with his hands. “Of course,” sighs Jack.
Rebecca and Jack arrive at her friend’s home in Los Angeles. Several people are at the house, which turns out to belong to the friend’s boyfriend, an up and coming director. Rebecca introduces Jack to her friend, who then asks for all the details about Jack once he leaves to go get Rebecca a drink. She can tell that Rebecca has strong feelings for him and Rebecca agrees, lamenting that she wished he would open up to her about his past and his experience during the war.
As Kevin and Zoe are walking together he questions whether he should have come to Vietnam at all or even attempted to find out more about Jack. He asks about her father and she deflects again, saying she wants to go back to their hotel. He gets annoyed with her continually avoiding his questions about her past. They begin having a small argument before Zoe begins getting sick to her stomach.
Jack brings a glass of champagne out to Rebecca. Behind him, a girl pops a bottle open and Jack jumps, immediately putting himself in front of Rebecca as a guard. She asks if he is ok and he tells her he’s fine, even though he seems to be angry at himself for his reaction.
Bao and Jack stop at a small village. Bao motions for Jack to stay with the bike and he waits. More and more time passes and Bao does not seem to be coming back. Jack waits and waits with the bike until finally deciding to find where Bao went. He walks through the huts and finds him, showing a bag of the “toe popper” bombs that killed “Squirrel” from Jack’s unit. Jack, angry and now a little scared for his safety, asks Bao flat out if he plans on taking him back to his village.
Jack and Rebecca are getting ready to go to sleep. He begins to talk as she lays down, telling her that he cannot talk about the things he did or saw in Vietnam because he wants to keep that part of his life separate from the life he is building with her. He asks her if she is going to come back to Pittsburgh, something that has been worrying him the whole trip, and she tells him she does not know. They don’t say anything further before going to sleep.
Jack is shown riding once again on the back of Bao’s bike.
In Los Angeles, Jack drops Rebecca off at the steps of the record label. They wish each other luck before going their separate ways. Rebecca to her meeting and Jack to Reseda. A little bit later Rebecca is sitting in the office with the studio executive, listening to her demo. He smiles at her as the song ends and tells her it was beautiful. Then tells her to keep them posted. When she asks him to explain, he says that if she has a show to let them know and they might send someone to hear her. She pushes him further and explains that she needs him to be “very clear.” He asks where she’s from and then responds that he thinks that she is “Pittsburgh good.”
Jack arrives at a house in Reseda. He introduces himself to the couple who answer the door, the Wattersons, as Staff Sergeant Jack Pearson before telling them “I’m responsible for your son’s death.”
Bao and Jack are riding through an open field when Bao stops suddenly. Jack asks why they’re stopping when they haven’t reached the village but Bao tells him that he will have to walk the rest of the way. Jack asks him if he is good or bad. “Are you V.C.?” Bao pauses before answering, in English, “sometimes.”
Jack sits with the Wattersons in their living room. He talks to them about “Squirrel”/Roger, their son, playing football and what happened the night he was killed. There is a flashback to Townie and Squirrel tossing a football before Squirrel is killed stepping on one of a so-called “toe popper”. Jack tells Roger’s parents that he let his guard down that night and that he needed to tell them that he was sorry for what happened. There is a quiet pause before Roger’s father stands up and sits down next to Jack, putting his arm around him and telling him that Roger’s death wasn’t his fault. His wife shakes her head in agreement. “It wasn’t.”
Kevin and Zoe are at their hotel. Zoe is in the bathtub, fully clothed. When Kevin walks in she explains that it was the safest place for her at the time. He hands her a coconut water that he bought for her and as she drinks it he explains how part of Jack’s life was a secret from Rebecca and how he doesn’t want there to be secrets between himself and Zoe. He knows he can’t control it and he admits that he is falling in love with her whether she is open with him about her life and her past or not. There is a brief pause before she reveals that she was sexually abused by her father. He has been wanting to make amends with her but she does not want to because she has moved past it, she has moved on. She tells Kevin that she is sharing not because of his declaration of love or because she is falling in love with him too, but because she does not want her father, who has ruined so much, to ruin what is happening between the two of them. Kevin is stunned and says he never would have realized it because she seems so strong. Zoe responds “I am strong.”
Jack picks up Rebecca at the record label. They each say their meetings went well and then Rebecca begins talking about how crazy it is in Los Angeles with it being sunny and warm all the time. She has very clearly changed her mind and wants to return home to Pittsburgh. She admits that the execs called her “Pittsburgh good” but says she is going to take it as a compliment. Jack asks her to sing her song for him but she says she is done singing for the day. “Bec, please,” he asks. “Bec? Nobody has ever called me that. I like it.” She begins singing as Jack listens intently. He begins getting choked up, at first attempting to hold it in and then softly crying until he breaks down. Rebecca watches him, concerned, and although she stops her song at first she continues to sing.
Jack and Nick are shown in Vietnam. Nick’s commanding officer walks out of his hut and watches Nick. A helicopter arrives at Jack’s village. The officer tells Jack that he has just two weeks with Nick, who exits the helicopter with him. Nick walks past Jack, telling him he should have left him alone.
Rebecca finishes singing. “Let’s go home.”
What I loved most about this episode was the understated performance of Milo Ventimiglia as Jack. Jack keeps his feelings close to his chest and each moment of seeing those feelings almost break the surface only to be shoved down shows the skilled actor that Ventimiglia is. When it all culminated in Jack’s tearjerking breakdown listening to Rebecca sing, I cried too. Sometimes with this show the emotion feels so real that it is hard to remember this is a fictional family that we are watching and the subtlety of Ventimiglia’s acting plays a huge part in that.
This is Us airs Tuesdays on NBC at 9/8 central.