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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us, “Brothers.”]
From the get-go, the sibling rivalry between Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has been a large theme on This Is Us. However, audiences got a deeper glimpse of that history on Tuesday’s latest installment of the NBC series.
The episode, titled “Brothers,” unrolled three separate timelines over the course of its hour, focusing on Kevin’s ongoing pain killer addiction and Randall’s struggles to bond with his foster daughter Deja (Lyric Ross) in the current storyline, while in the past Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) took the boys camping in an attempt to unify them. Meanwhile, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) received a call that Jack’s father Stanley (Peter Onorati) was about to pass in his nursing home, leading her to visit and meet the man for the very first time as Jack purposely stayed away.
Finally, the story also veered several decades back to a young Jack, who was on a road trip with his dad to go fishing. With fresh bait in the car, his father veered from the trip to refresh himself at a local tavern with several drinks instead, leaving Jack alone with the worms wondering when his father would return. Except, as the final scenes of the episode showed, Jack wasn’t alone; his never-before-seen brother Nicky was asleep in the back seat. Later, the episode also revealed that Nicky accompanied Jack to Vietnam, although his current fate is unknown.
To delve a little deeper into this latest revelation and find out why now, THR spoke with episode directors and executive producers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. Here, they reveal more about the second-season pacing, Toby’s (Chris Sullivan) gigantic reaction to Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) pregnancy, and the foreshadowing of Kevin’s ongoing addiction.
Why wait to reveal this Nicky character and why was now the time to do so?
Glenn Ficarra: Nicky lives large in Jack’s past and it ties into Jack’s psychology as we explore the issues that maybe contributed to his alcoholism.
John Requa: And the exploration of the man and who Jack was and the ripple effect through time to his children and the people he affected in his life. In an effort to fully understand him, Nicky is a big part of that; that story from their past and how they ended up in Vietnam.
Why make it a reveal at the end of an episode rather than introducing it at the front and devoting an entire installment to the story?
Requa: We’re going to meat that story out. It’s just going to come out in drips and drabs. What they’re really getting at are the larger themes of, here’s the best of the man, as manifested in his son Randall, and a courage with the Deja relationship, and then here is also the bad side of the man in his son Kevin, who is dealing with his addiction and keeping secrets and lying. The reveal at the end really makes the link. Here’s where this comes from. This is a manifestation of this part of Jack. That’s how it works in the composition of this episode.
Ficarra: It’s no coincidence the episode is called “Brothers.” It is about this echoing. His relationship with his brother somehow factors into Jack’s insistence that Kevin and Randall be good to each other. That’s all we need to know for now.
How are you planning on unspooling the information going forward? Could Nicky’s status become the next “How did Jack die” mystery?
Ficarra: When we next see Nicky, he will have not aged, and we reveal he’s a Cyborg from the future.
Requa: This is it from Nicky. We’ll never go back to him. We’re never going to say another word about him.
Ficarra: Until the show goes off the air. No, we’re going to explore more about him. Nicky came to the fore because of Jack’s camping trip with his sons, as well as the exploration of Jack’s relationship with his father. Those things are never going away. We’re going to see how his relationship with Nicky kind of formed him.
Requa: There’s an ambition of the show to broaden the canvas even more than it is in time, to be able to go back and define the roots of things in a lot of storylines in the past. As we move forward, we need to expand that, we need to be able to have more to draw from because there are so many stories that can happen in a season. We’re trying to keep it interesting and make good TV.
Ficarra: I think of the show as a spider web with the Pearson, Jack-Rebecca family at the heart and we are gradually going out to the threads. This is an infinitely expanding universe.
Stanley’s final moments took place in the episode. What was important to convey about those scenes and about Stanley’s silence in particular?
Ficarra: You see this whole play of emotion on Stanley’s face as Rebecca is talking about things. He’s powerless to talk but you see it in his face and his eyes; he didn’t even know he had a daughter-in-law. He didn’t even know he had a granddaughter. He’s powerless, it’s almost like torture to watch him learn there was a whole life he was kept out of, and why he was kept out of it.
Requa: He represents a cautionary tale. We’re saying that this is where you end up if you don’t share the love. Largely what that is, is communicating. Here he is, incapable of communicating, alone and in a lonely room. That’s how he’s going to end his life, not surrounded by his loved ones. Not looking into the eyes of someone he loves the moment he dies. That’s the price you pay for closing yourself down. Hopefully that informs Kevin’s storyline. He’s a guy who shuts people out and closes himself down. That is sort of where it can end. This is the worst outcome of a person who is not open and loving and communicative. That’s what he and his silence represent.
Would you then compare Kevin’s downward spiral to Stanley’s as opposed to Jack’s?
Ficarra: What I love about this show is that we are the product of decisions and behaviors that far predate us. Jack’s relationship with his brother informed the way he dealt with his sons. How they grew up is informed by the way Jack raised them. It’s just a thread and you get to see something almost mutate. That’s the thing about this world, where we’re the product of other people’s decisions and you just want to see where they lead and where they started. That’s the beauty of this show.
On a lighter note, what was filming Toby’s reaction scene in the coffee shop to Kate’s pregnancy like?
Requa: Oh, if you could see what didn’t make the cut. We shot a lot. There’s a scripted action of what Toby does and we did that and then at the end we let Chris off the chain and do whatever he wanted to do. So he came up with a bunch of stuff on his own. So much of it, just because of time, we couldn’t do. But that whole Flashdance thing where he dumps the water over himself, he came up with that himself. With help from Glenn, because it’s Glenn’s favorite movie.
Ficarra: It is my favorite movie. When we were doing [episode] 203, we were talking to Chris and we had gotten the script and John said, “Oh you’re going to be so happy.” Because Chris is a Broadway trained singer, dancer. He was in Chicago. He’s got an incredible voice and stage presence. He came on the location scout with us so that he could see the place and come up with shtick. A lot of it didn’t make it in because of time but we could probably do a whole episode about the dance.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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