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Spoilers ahead from the most recent episode of This Is Us Season 3, "Songbird Road: Part One."
This Is Us has always been an emotional show. Season 3, however, has had some fans worked up in a different way. From Beth and Randall fighting to Toby's depression to the new revelations about Nicky and Jack, it's been a rough and occasionally frustrating road. Many of our favorites have been acting out of character. But other characters have been growing and maturing (lookin' at you, Kevin). It's a delicate thing to balance what the fans want with what's true to the overall journey the showrunners have planned, as executive producer Elizabeth Berger explained when addressing fans' Season 3 criticism.
What remains consistent throughout our seasons is that people are very attached to our characters -- and in a really incredible way where they feel what they're going through very deeply, and they have very strong opinions on them. We get it. We get that people hate when Beth and Randall fight. We hate it too. Or when Toby is down, and we hate that too. We also feel like it's our responsibility to keep things compelling, and to tell these stories as honestly as possible. We're trying to give the people what they want, while also proceeding as honestly as possible.
Not everyone thinks that This Is Us is getting too dark, but multiple storylines are getting heavy, with flash-forwards hinting that the future ain't that bright. The Hollywood Reporter asked Elizabeth Berger if the producers worry that fans will be turned off if the show gets too dark. Berger emphasized that they try to find a balance, with more light still ahead:
I think hopefully they're along for the ride with the larger Vietnam story that we've done this season, and I think that if you're going to embark on telling a war story throughout a season you have to not be afraid to let things get dark sometimes or you wouldn't be telling a truthful version of the story. But we've tried to make it feel in the world of our show, and we tried to give the audience that glimmer of hope in terms of seeing a son not make the mistakes that his father made, and make a new choice, and hopefully move his family toward healing and in this new direction as we move forward. So, yes, this got very dark, but we hope people will stick with us because there's a lot of light still to come.
But last night's "Songbird Road: Part One" was not only harrowing to watch for the death of that sweet boy in Vietnam, it showed a different side of Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) as well. Jack lied to his family about Nicky (Michael Angarano) being dead, and also never let Nicky share the full story of what happened in that boat. It was still Nicky's fault -- you don't use grenades as fishing bait, with or without a kid in the boat, and if the boat is going to blow, you save the kid FIRST. But the Jack we know would've at least heard his brother out, no?
That said, as Elizabeth Berger mentioned, it was all tied to the message of a son not making the mistakes his father made. Jack wanted to be Nicky's superhero, and not an abuser like their father. Kevin (Justin Hartley) wanted to save older Nicky (Griffin Dunne) and not leave him like Jack did. It showed real growth for Kevin as a character, and showed that our beloved Jack was a human. A wonderful human, but a regular flawed one, and not a superhero.
"Songbird Road: Part Two" is meant to pick up the story right from the Big Three walking in on Uncle Nicky with a gun on the table, apparently considering suicide. Dark enough for you yet? We also need to follow Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) take on this, since she was kicking herself for not asking Jack more about his time in Vietnam. Now she wants the truth.
The showrunners told THR that Rebecca wants to meet Nicky, so we'll see that first interaction. They would have a lot to talk about, you'd imagine. Then again, it would be incredibly awkward. Do they even know the same Jack Pearson? Maybe Miguel (Jon Huertas) would want to get in on that action, too, as Jack's best friend. After all, Nicky just found out that his brother had died back in the 1990s.
It's a shock for everyone, and maybe they'll spend some time filling in the gaps. Or maybe that will be too painful. It sounds like Kevin is taking the lead on all of this, with backup from Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), so maybe Kev can play moderator for a group discussion on Jack as Dad/Husband/Brother/Best Friend.
That said, if fans have criticism about This Is Us getting too dark -- or characters making strange decisions, or mysteries piling up too much -- emphasizing that Jack Pearson Was Flawed may not help.
Plus, Randall won his election and Kate's baby is still to come, and we're on tenterhooks for how that will connect to the flash-forwards that make it look like Randall/Beth and Kate/Toby are not in good places. Plus, with Rebecca as "Her," does that mean we're going to see how Rebecca dies? Talk about dark. But we know light is also ahead, along with an episode focused on Beth's (Susan Kelechi Watson) backstory.
This Is Us Season 3 is off next week but returns Tuesday, February 5 at 9 p.m. on NBC. Here's hoping for more breaks of light in the dark, or at least more Big 3 road trips where pregnant Kate really does get to stop to pee. It's a busy time for TV, so keep an eye on everything with our handy midseason 2019 schedule.