After a brief election night hiatus, This Is Us returned and revisited Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) time in Vietnam after a few episodes have passed since the full Jack one. The show makes a strong choice to focus on Jack and Nicky (Michael Angarano), Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) road-tripping to Los Angeles, and Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) visiting Vietnam in search of answers. There is plenty of material here for one episode, and the storylines all interconnect nicely, so it's good that they didn't try to shoe-horn Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kate (Chrissy Metz) into the episode somehow.
In an interesting montage, the origin of Jack's special necklace is revealed — a U.S. serviceman bought it to impress a girl, then found her canoodling with someone else and left it on a bar where it was picked up by a Vietnamese serviceman, who was then killed in battle. The woman who presumably gave it to Jack took it off the man's body.
Anyway, we pick back up with Jack finding his brother, Nicky, in a bad way. He's struggling hard with the horrors of war, and Jack doesn't quite know what to do about that. He asks Nicky's commanding officer if he can take Nicky back to his (Jack's) unit and "set him right," but the officer says it's against policy — and that's true, it's not just a line. The military adopted the policy of separating immediate family members after the five Sullivan brothers were all killed in one military disaster when the USS Juneau was torpedoed in World War II.
Jack heads back to his unit, a trip which makes a small commentary about the Vietnam War in general when Jack gets a Vietnamese man to take him part of the way on his bike. The man helps Jack — for a small fee — but is also kind of helping the Viet Cong. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy, he’s just a man caught in a war-torn country trying to make ends meet. War is complicated, something Jack knows already.
Shortly after he arrives back at his unit, Jack’s brother is dropped off in a helicopter. The commanding officer let Nicky have two weeks to be with Jack and try to get his head right. Nicky will undoubtedly be killed in these ensuing two weeks, and we will all cry buckets.
While all this heartbreak is happening, Kevin and Zoe arrive in Vietnam, and it turns out that Kevin's father issues are nothing compared to Zoe's issues. Zoe's estranged father lives in China, and she doesn't want him knowing she's so close by. Kevin presses and presses until Zoe finally tells him that her father sexually abused her, and she didn't want that to ruin this relationship because she's falling for Kevin.
Based on what Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) told Kevin about her cousin being so wild and emotionally distant, it seems unlikely that Beth has any idea about this. I wonder how that will play out when she inevitably learns the truth?
On this cross-country drive, Jack and Rebecca sort of get to know each other better. Jack does reveal something very telling — he's not a crier because he always just swallows the bad stuff. But even more importantly, Jack and Rebecca sleep together the first night and from then on they can't keep their hands off each other. It's adorable — until Jack has a nightmare about Vietnam and starts acting distant.
Rebecca laments Jack's reticence to let her into his life to her friend they're staying with in Los Angeles. She's obviously crazy about him, but it's frustrating for her. Of course, she starts to get a glimpse of his PTSD when he reacts to some Champagne popping like it was a gunshot.
While she meets with a record label, Jack goes to visit the parents of one of his men who was killed in Vietnam. Rebecca gets told that she's "Pittsburgh good," which is dream-crushing, but Jack's visit is the real gut-punch. The boy who was killed was Squirrel, the one we saw blown up when he was playing catch back in the "Vietnam" episode. Jack is harboring some major guilt about his death, even though it wasn't Jack's fault — and Squirrel's parents tell him as much, which almost causes him to break down. It's the forgiveness he needed but never got from his own parents over his brother's death.
Afterward, Jack and Rebecca come back together and find solace with each other — Jack cries while Rebecca sings to him, and it's a really beautiful moment. Great work on Ventimiglia's part — this whole episode, really. He is absolutely nailing the Vietnam/early 1970s stuff.
And after that lovely scene, they decide to "go home" together. They really are so wonderful, both the characters and the actors.
Odds & Ends
The show did a great job mirroring Rebecca falling in love with Jack and Kevin falling in love with Zoe, even though neither one of them will open up to the other, particularly because Kevin doesn't want to be just like his mother and be fine with not knowing anything about his partner's life before he came along. He's willing to do that if that's what Zoe needs, but that's not what he wants, and he at least makes his feelings known. It’s a great tie-in with the past and present storylines.
Kevin: "I want to be able to tell you everything, and I want to know everything about you. But if I can't, that's okay. That's okay because you smell like peaches. Well, right now, you don't — you smell like garbage right now, actually. But typically you smell like peaches."