The fourth episode from this season plunges into the mystery of Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) experience in Vietnam. Up until this point the show’s creator, Dan Fogelman, has strategically kept this part of Jack’s story a mystery. The previous episode hinted that the show would be moving in this direction as Kevin (Justin Hartley) shows a new interest in her dad’s time in the Vietnam War. Like the viewers Kevin seems to know the smallest details as he digs up some old pictures of Jack’s time there. In an effort to learn more about Jack’s experience, Kevin reaches out to the men in the pictures. I’m sure that this will be a part of some future episodes, however Episode 4 focuses entirely on Jack.
It’s November 1971 and Jack steps out of a helicopter onto a military base somewhere in Vietnam. He’s looking for his younger brother Nick (Michael Angarano) who has apparently gotten into some trouble here. Just like audiences have come to expect from Jack, he’s here to fix the situation. The episode jumps around in its timelines, moving back in time to the night that Nick was drafted. Nick is noticeably anxious, convinced that his birthdate will be called on the TV broadcast. Jack assures him that he has a plan and that there’s no reason for him to worry. The brothers hold their breath and watch as a series of dates are announced on the TV, Nick’s birthdate among them. Jack explains that he can get them across the border into Canada; Nick can clean up his appearance and hide for a few years. Nick goes along with Jack’s plan until the next morning when Jack finds a letter beside his bed and Nick is nowhere to be found.
Sometime after Nick’s been stationed in Vietnam Jack goes to the doctor hoping to be physically cleared for enlistment. The doctor mentions that Jack is lucky to have an irregular heartbeat and thinks he’s crazy for wanting to enlist. Jack insists the he has to find his brother so he can do his job. Jack’s father assigned this job the night that Nick was born. In one of those emotional moments that This Is Us does so well, Jack’s father (who is oddly sober) tells a young Jack that now that he has a little brother, his only job is to protect him. The camera pans to all the other babies in the hospital nursery as Jack’s dad explains to him that these babies all share Nick’s birthdate and you cannot help but think of all of them the night that Nick’s drafted. It’s a powerful recall to the beginning moments of this episode.
The timeline jumps a few weeks backwards after the opening shot of Jack stepping off the helicopter. Jack, a sergeant, is patrolling with some other soldiers late one night. They end up being ambushed, killing one of Jack’s friends and blasting off the foot of another. If you’ll remember one of the men that Kevin emailed in the previous episode was shown with a prosthetic leg, so I’m sure that we’ll be seeing more from this character. It’s in this scene that Jack is at his finest. Just as he is during the infamous house fire, he appears to know exactly what to do. Amidst utter chaos he keeps others calm, holding them as they cry out in pain and assuring them that everything will be all right. You can’t help but think of this scene when Jack’s father is telling him about his new job as a big brother. Essentially those babies in the hospital represent those young men who were also drafted that night right alongside Nick. All of these babies are Jack’s brothers and it’s his responsibility to watch out for all of them.
Finally, Episode 4 is the first time that Jack’s father, Stanley (Peter Onorati), appears on screen without a drink in his hand. His character appears to be the complete opposite from the one we are used to seeing in previous episodes. This was not fully explored so it will be interesting to see what changed. Stanley and Nick seem to have more of an intense relationship than he and Jack. The night of his draft, Stanley whispers in Nick’s ear, “make me proud Son.” It seems like Nick’s decision to not run away to Canada can somehow be accredited to earning their dad’s approval.