‘This Is Us’: The Big 3 Learn the Truth About Vietnam in ‘Songbird Road: Part One’ (RECAP)

This Is Us - Season 3
Spoiler Alert
Ron Batzdorff/NBC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 3, Episode 11 of This Is Us, “Songbird Road: Part One”]

This Is Us is beginning to answer some questions in the second half of its third season. In the NBC show’s latest installment, “Songbird Road: Part One,” the truth behind what happened in Vietnam between brothers Nicky (Michael Angarano/Griffin Dunne) and Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) was made more clear through a very special visit.

We’re breaking down the crucial Pearson family moments in the recap below, but beware of major spoilers ahead — and possibly the most tear-inducing storyline on the show in a while.

Kicking the episode off, viewers see Jack receive various post cards at work from “Clark Kent,” and “C.K.” asking to meet up for a few minutes. Obviously, fans will understand that these letters are from Nicky (Angarano) following the war, but at this point, Jack is married to Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and the kids are preteens.

Finally, Jack finds a letter in the mail at home from C.K. reading “last one” with a silhouette of two boys fishing on the other side (a foreshadowing image). This prompts him to set out after Nicky, though he tells his family he’s heading out on business for the day. The usually trustworthy Jack gets away with the lie and he’s off for Songbird Road in Bradford, PA.

In the present, Kevin (Justin Hartley), Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Rebecca video call Kate (Chrissy Metz) to discuss the discovery that Nicky is alive. While Kevin and Randall are enthusiastic about finding their uncle, Rebecca and Kate are reluctant — especially after learning that Jack lied all of those years.

Randall voices his concern about the situation to Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) before leaving, telling his wife that he hopes Kevin finds what he needs. Since he went through a similar situation tracking down William (Ron Cephas Jones), he knows what Kevin is going through. At least Kate reconsiders her apprehension and joins her brothers on the road.

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From resolution for Beth and Randall (and his career in politics) to more of present-day Uncle Nicky.

Still, these siblings know they’re not necessarily in for a happy family reunion. In fact, Randall voices that they’re likely in for a Shakespearean-level tragedy — and boy is that an understatement.

Back at Randall’s house, Rebecca and Miguel (Jon Huertas) discuss Jack’s secret, and it’s clear she’s struggling with her husband’s secret. But will she feel the same once she learns the full truth?

Back in the past, Jack arrives at Nicky’s dilapidated trailer, as he recalls a moment from their childhood in which his younger brother dreamed of owning nice homes and a boat — a far cry from his harsh reality. In present time, “The Big 3” also arrive, and the years of wear on the shelter are apparent.

When no one answers Kevin’s knock, he tries to peek in — ignoring Randall and Kate’s warnings. Suddenly, a voice sounds from behind them as an aged Nicky (played by Dunne) walks up to the trailer. After a quick introduction as Jack’s kids, Kevin, Kate and Randall tell Nicky that Jack died in 1998.

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Plus, find out what challenges Kevin faces for his sobriety!

In both timelines, we see Nicky invite the visitors into his home, offering Jack a Nesquik and asking “The Big 3” for some answers. During Jack’s visit, Nicky tells his brother that he used to live in a house before leaving it for the trailer, and quickly switching to reminiscing about their childhood. You can’t help but wonder… what happened between them?

Thankfully, we get some answers as Kevin, Kate and Randall take in Nicky’s trashed trailer — needles and all. Kevin explains to Nicky that Jack told them he’d died in the war and he wants to know why. At first, Nicky is hesitant but Kate steps in, emphasizing to her uncle the importance of the visit.

“Yeah, you’re Jack’s kids alright,” Nicky says of his stubborn niece and nephews, before launching into his tale of being a medic in Vietnam and abusing those drugs. This led to his being pulled out of the service for psychiatric reasons, he details.

It’s then that viewers are treated to a shocking but informative flashback in Vietnam which includes Nicky and the son of Hien (Porter Duong) — the woman with Jack’s necklace. Nicky warms to the young boy, opting to take him out on the boat and try to teach him how to fish the “easy way” aka throwing grenades into the water. After demonstrating once, he rows to a different section on the lake and you know where this is heading… for Shakespearean-level tragedy.

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When Nicky goes to pull the pin on another grenade, it sticks and he struggles. The boy then tries to pry it from his hands and it fumbles out of Nicky’s grasp and into the boat. Unable to scoop it up, Nicky tries to tell the boy to jump but he doesn’t understand, so Nicky jumps off as the boat explodes… with the little boy still on board.

Needless to say, the devastation is clear on the young soldier’s face, but upon arrival, Jack believes that Nicky did it on purpose as he’d been open with his negative opinions of the Vietnamese. They walk back onto shore and Hien collapses in grief.

It’s now clear this is the moment when Jack decides to cut Nicky out of his life. The incident is also the reason Nicky’s sent home, and we learn that all this time he had been trying to tell Jack the truth about the accident.

“I never got to tell him,” Nicky admits to his nephews and niece. The scene returns to the past when Nicky does try and tell his brother the truth, but Jack won’t listen — a fault in a character that many deem as perfect. Jack makes it clear he wants to cut all ties and that he’s separating himself from his past.

Nicky asks Jack if he ruined his life, and Jack says he didn’t before showing him a photo of his family. Knowing that his brother is happy, Nicky withholds the information he initially tried to share. He tells Jack that he must have a nice house — a callback to their childhood scene about adulthood dreams — before promising not to write anymore.

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Back in the present Nicky worries aloud that the last thing he’ll remember is the mother crying out and collapsing over the loss of the son he accidentally killed. He tells Jack’s kids that their dad saw things in black and white. It’s then he manages to ask how his brother died, and he’s noticeably devastated as the “The Big 3” detail the house fire. So much so, he asks them to leave.

On his way back home in the ’90s, Jack wrestles with turning back to his brother’s place, but ultimately heads for Pittsburg where he tells Rebecca he lied about having business in New Jersey and reveals that he went to visit a war friend. This is juxtaposed with Miguel and Rebecca in the present, as Rebecca learns that her kids found her long-lost brother-in-law — but nothing else.

Meanwhile, before hitting the road, Kevin voices his concern over Nicky as he flashes back to Jack telling him to learn from his father’s mistakes. The next thing viewers see is Kevin, Kate, and Randall bursting in on Nicky who is drunk and sitting at his table with a gun. Slowly pulling it from the table, Kevin puts his hand on Nicky’s shoulder as the old man repeats, “I never got to tell him it was an accident….”

Yep, we’re crying, too. In case you need any, here are a few key moments to remember moving forward.

  • Rebecca still doesn’t know about Nicky’s story, so if the kids bring him home, what will her reaction be?
  • How will Nicky’s presence be received by the other Pearsons. And does he have any kids himself? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
  • How will this event change the family’s view of Jack? Sure, he lied for a reason he thought was worthy, but he prevented a possible relationship between his brother and the rest of the extended family…

This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC