Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the This Is Us episode “Songbird Road: Part One.”
Just when you thought This Is Us couldn’t get any darker, this happens. The NBC drama delivered its most tragic episode to date, perhaps more intense than Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) fire death because viewers knew that was coming.
In a shocking scene set in the Vietnam War era, Jack’s brother Nicky Pearson (Michael Angarano) was fishing with grenades and accidentally killed a local Vietnamese boy in an explosion on their rowboat. The tragedy marked the end of Jack’s support of his troubled younger brother as he frantically screamed, “What did you do? He was just a kid! I’m done, I’m done!”
Nicky Pearson was ultimately shipped off to a psychiatric facility and eventually discharged as a medic. The tragedy also marked the end of the Pearson brothers’ relationship, with the exception of a final face-to-face in 1992 when Jack turned up at his brother’s rundown Pennsylvania trailer to tell him to never contact him again. Jack left his brother alone on Songbird Road and never turned back.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, This Is Us executive producer Elizabeth Berger acknowledged that she expected some viewers to be mad at Jack for turning his back on his brother for good at the end of the gut-wrenching episode.
“In his mind, he did all that he could do, and it was too painful to be a part of this guy’s life any more, but you could definitely also argue that he was too hard on him and that ultimately did lead to a life full of regrets going forward,” the This Is Us producer told EW.
Indeed, many fans were stunned that Jack, a guy who helped everyone, could never find it in himself to forgive his brother for the Vietnam tragedy.
I was so ready to loathe Nicky. But boy Jack did something so wrong #ThisIsUs
— Shabrina (@shabrinaa) January 23, 2019
How could Jack leave Nicky like that ???? #ThisIsUs
— Sofrita Reyes (@uniGeekfan) January 23, 2019
What Nicky did was wrong & yes he had mental issues but you should of let him explain and talk Jack. Not cool. #ThisIsUs
— SpeedsterQueen (@SpeedsterQ) January 23, 2019
— Cassie Golden (@ClassyCassie93) January 23, 2019
Of course, Jack died in 1998 without knowing that Nicky’s boat tragedy had been an accident, but there’s no guarantee that would have changed his attitude about his careless brother. This Is Us star Michael Angarano told Entertainment Tonight there’s a moral line in Jack’s heart that he’s always lived by and Nicky’s actions crossed that line.
“I think Jack is more disappointed in the fact that Nicky allowed that to happen, accident or not an accident,” the 31-year-old This Is Us star explained.
The show’s executive producer Elizabeth Berger also noted that it may not have mattered for Jack to hear all of the details about the Vietnam accident, telling EW, “He was either going to forgive him for this horrific event that happened or not, because Jack sees things in black and white, and at the end of the day, this horrible death still occurred.”
But Berger also believes Jack lived the rest of his life with regret about his fractured relationship with his only sibling.
“I think he definitely regretted it,” Berger said. “It never went away, and the heartbreaking thing is that toward the end of his life was when he was starting to open up it seemed on this deeper level. And who knows what would have happened if he had stayed alive even longer, but unfortunately he just never got the chance.”
While “Songbird Road: Part One” was the darkest This Is Us episode to date, the showrunners promise there will be a lot of light to come. Executive producer Isaac Aptaker told the Hollywood Reporter that while the “Song Bird Road Part One” episode was “maybe the heaviest we’ve ever done, there will be episodes that are lighter than we’ve ever done.”
“The show is about the experience of being a human alive in the world, and that comes with really, really dark upsetting moments, and really, really joyous ones. The show covers all of that,” the This Is Us producer added.
You can see Nicky Pearson’s tragic This Is Us Vietnam scene below.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.