Tonight’s episode of This Is Us—appropriately titled “Brothers”—packed a lot into 42 minutes. We learned via a super early flashback that Jack has a younger brother named Nicky, which gives us even more insight (and questions) into Jack’s mysterious past. We also saw Kevin struggle to keep up appearances at a charity gala because of his addiction to pain meds. Then, after Kate told Toby she’s pregnant, she sternly instructed him not to talk about their unborn child until after the baby is born. Of course, that was until she decided to bend that impossible rule and let Toby tell one person at a local coffee shop, which then turned into a Hootie & the Blowfish song-and-dance routine followed by an ode to Flashdance. Got that?
Obviously, we needed answers immediately about all of the above—so executive producers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who directed the episode, hopped on the phone to fill us in.
So, Jack has a brother. Was there ever any previous reference that this sibling existed?
John Requa: I don’t think we have, as far as we can remember. The point of this episode is to show that Jack has been hiding this. He also had a serious alcohol problem that he completely concealed from his wife and his family, and he’s concealed this dark part of his past as well. I think [it’s the same thing as] when we see Kevin keeping secrets and being evasive. We see the weaknesses of the father passed on to the son, so for this episode, titled “Brothers,” it fit nicely into the theme. The reveal informs all the scenes before it.
The way Jack is dealing with Kevin—it’s the first time you’re seeing Jack be a bit short and testy with his kids—and it turns out, there’s a reason because he really wants this brotherhood to work. Once you see he had a brother of his own, well, that raises all sorts of questions: Is there regret there? Is there something he’s trying to replicate? Or something he’s trying to fix?
Should we assume that Nicky Pearson is alive in the present day? Or will that be a mystery solved later in the season?
John: We’re never going to explore the Nicky storyline. [Laughs]
Glenn Ficarra: If This is Us has taught us anything, it’s never assume anything. It’s safe to say, though, that you’ll be surprised.
Fair enough. At the beginning of the episode, viewers are told that Jack’s dad, Stanley, is on his deathbed. We don’t see him die by the end of the episode. Will he be back, or was that it?
Glenn: Well, I think we’re certainly open to come back and revisit him, but the main takeaway is that this man, because of his choices and his relationship with Jack, is going to die alone.
John: Whenever his demise is, it will be a miserable and lonely one. The message of the episode is that there are two sides to Jack: the open, gregarious father, who really works hard to be a good dad and mend the fences between the two brothers, and there’s the side that keeps secrets. Then you see Kevin keeping secrets and going down a dark path. You see Randall being this very involved father, trying to make this relationship work with Déjà, and then you see, if you go down the dark path, where it leads. It leads to you dying alone with your son unwilling to visit you in a nursing home. In the microcosm of this episode, that’s what we’re trying to say.
In this episode, you worked with a lot of young actors—from Jack and Nicky to Kevin and Randall—on some really difficult scenes. What was that like?
John: Milo Ventimiglia has really taken it on to develop relationships with the kids. When we were shooting that really great scene in the tent with Parker [Young Kevin], it was just a great performance, and he’s this little guy! Milo came up to me and said, “Parker’s been working really hard, and he wants to deliver some emotional weight to this scene.” I said, “OK.” When somebody says that—an actor, or in this case, it was Milo—you really get your crew in line and get out of the way and let them do it. He came in there, and in take one he came from a really raw, emotional place. He really delivers a remarkable performance.
Glenn: To watch all the kids grow is a really great thing, but you don’t want them to lose that wildness of being children. We want them to be a family and drive their parents crazy, so you find a way to work with them that keeps them as a tight unit but doesn’t strip them down, either.
John: Milo knows all the rules right now. He’s like half-parent, half-acting coach for those guys. I always say when we’re about to direct an episode, “OK, Milo, what’s the deal?” And he says, “Well, this one, he’s thought about [the scene]…” Milo is a very thoughtful guy and he understands how tricky it can be. He was a young actor himself, and he really deserves a lot of the credit of the level of performances those kids get to.
Let’s talk about Kevin and Sophie for a minute. It’s really interesting to see him unravel just as his career is on the upswing and he’s back with Sophie. What can you share about what’s to come? And what’s Sophie’s role in this?
Glenn: In a lot of ways, he’s revisiting his relationship with Sophie. Kevin isn’t done growing yet. How Sophie factors into it, we’re going to see. Is Kevin on his way up or his way down? Just because he’s going back to this relationship with Sophie doesn’t mean he’s fixed all the problems. That’s really going to inform the next few episodes, and you’ll see where that’s going to go. It’s time he deals with that. Through no fault of her own, Sophie is unaware of what’s going on, just the way that Rebecca was unaware of what was going on with Jack and his problems. These things can be insidious and the shame of having a problem forces you to keep secrets. You can get really damn good at it.
John: Sophie is what he can lose, and how it affects his family and how it affects his relationship…that’s really what addiction is about. It’s not about wandering the streets. It’s about the people you love, and the damage you do to those relationships that are so vital in your life. Addiction is always an ensemble. It’s never about one person. An addict will say, “This is my choice.” But ultimately it’s not really your choice, because your actions affect the people that you love. The stakes of your actions are that you hurt people you love. In many ways, Sophie is what Kevin has to gain and what he has to lose as he goes forward.
Glenn: We talked with an addiction expert, who said the opposite of addiction is not moderation. The opposite of addiction is connection. The only thing that really can cure you of addiction is human connection, and it’s one thing you lose as an addict. You sever all those connections, and you fold in on yourself.
Finally, I want to ask about Kate and Toby. Who among the writing staff is such a huge Hootie & the Blowfish fan that they wanted that song to play during Toby’s celebratory dad-to-be announcement?
John: [Laughs] Tyler Bensinger wrote the episode, and his favorite band is Hootie & the Blowfish. He actually, for a period, follows them around, like people follow The Grateful Dead. He follows them around, and he wears—to the writing room—a Hootie & the Blowfish hoodie once a week. He loves them. He’s obsessed with them! He’s been lobbying, ever since he’s come on the show, to get Hootie & the Blowfish in there. We love it because it kind of makes sense that that would be Toby’s favorite song. Actually, it’s not his favorite song; it’s his happy song! [Laughs] It makes the scene really funny, I think.