What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Our This Is Us Theory About What Happens to Jack and Nicky Pearson In Vietnam
Well, my friends, This Is Us has taken us into burning houses, disappointing soft-rock bar gigs, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Immaculate Reception, and more hospitals than I can count. But as of tonight, we are officially In The Shit. Jack Pearson’s legendary stint in Vietnam began this evening in a spray of bullets, blood, and—no, really— feet. This is where I am with This Is Us: a grisly war episode comes as a relief, because at least I won’t have to watch poor Chrissy Metz suffer through another weight-related storyline. You take your blessings where you can on this show.
We begin with Jack on a supply helicopter, on his way to his brother Nicky, whose entrance on the scene is long overdue. Nicky is pouring kerosene on something, and lighting a cigarette. He turns around and sees his brother, and then throws the cigarette onto the gas, because as we all know, a solider’s first duty in an active war zone is to punctuate a dramatic moment. So this is Nicky, the brother whose death sends Jack down a lifelong path of both heroic behavior and self-harm. All signs point to a grim few weeks as we chase this story down.
BUT. I have an actual fan theory that just might bring…joy? We’ll get to that later.
We flash back a few weeks—this episode is like Inception in the ways it’s constantly flashing back a few weeks—to Sergeant Jack and his platoon conducting some kind of nighttime mission that is for sure going to put someone on a stretcher where they’ll deliver a focused and insightful monologue about the nature of life as they bleed out. And once one guy starts talking about how he’s got 90 days until he gets discharged and can go back to his career as a Triple-A baseball player, we have our man. He gets his foot blown off by a land mine right away, actually asks for his foot so he can stuff it into his jacket, and then tells Jack: “Sometimes we’re so scared to die, we forget to do the thing that makes us feel most alive.” Jack holds his head, and we briefly flash-forward to him doing the same for young and anxious Randall. So, in this moment, we establish that…Jack likes to comfort young black men? Anyway, this must be the guy we saw at the end of the last episode, getting the email from Kevin and Zoe, and it sure would be nice to see their faces, but no: just ‘Nam and elder Pearson family emotional repression tonight.
The platoon comes upon a riverside village, where they will set up camp, and the rest of the boys are so relieved to see water, they jump right in with their fatigues on. (This is what the 21st century has done to me: I actually say out loud “Guys! Your phones!”) This village will need to be pacified, says Jack’s superior, who thinks Jack’s platoon is “the sloppiest buncha junkyard dogs I ever seen.” That is a direct quote, and I am no happier about it than you are. With the promise of cold beer, Jack whips those ol’ dogs into shape, except for one, who is named Townie. Townie fails to see the humanity of the Vietnamese whose village they are squatting in, because Townie is racist, and will be trouble. Also, since it’s traditionally a derisive term college students use to describe the locals from their college towns, isn’t “Townie” itself inherently classist? Forget it, Dave; it’s This Is Us-town.
From here, we leap back 14 months, to poor Mrs. Pearson, who goes out to meet the mailman with a black eye. “I’m so clumsy,” she says, and not even the mailman is convinced. She gets a letter from Nicky, who’s just been demoted back to Private in some remote part of Vietnam for reckless endangerment. Jack reads the letter, and goes up to Nicky’s room, which has been immaculately set-designed: there’s the Steelers pennant, there’s the Superman action figure, there’s the professional-looking shot of Jack carrying Nicky on his back. All that’s missing is an Etsy bar sign that says “Your Purpose In Life Is To Protect Your Little Brother. That’s Literally All.” Jack sees all this and gets an idea: he’ll enlist. Sure, when you’ve been given a medical deferment because of the mild heart condition that will eventually kill you, why not go to war and scoop your little brother up? It’s what Superman would do.
We flash back again to the day of a Vietnam draft lottery calling, which the brothers go and watch in a bar, which feels like a really grim communal viewing experience, but I guess at this time in history nobody had thought of live-tweeting it. Nicky’s birthday comes up. Their Dad, ever distant, ever drunk, says “Make me proud.” Nicky doesn’t want to go, Jack doesn’t want him to go, so they plan an escape to Canada. And they nearly make it; they bunk for the night in a motel just near the border, but in the middle of the night, Nicky decides he must obey his father, and vanishes for the war.
And then we’re back 21 years earlier than that, on the night Jack’s mom arrives at the hospital to give birth to Nicky. It’s late on October 18th, and her husband wants the kid to arrive on the 19th, so he’ll have the same birthday as his dad, but Nicky is a tiny bit early, which we now know seals his fate, and the fates of all the boys in the nursery. It’s depressing as hell, and that’s before Michael Ironside shows up as Jack’s grandpa, who gets Jack’s dad to drink for the first time thereby keeping a generational cycle of self-destructive behavior spinning. Michael Ironside was also in Scanners. People’s heads blow up in Scanners. Scanners is less emotionally scarring than This Is Us.
So okay, then we’re back to where we started, with the dramatic cigarette fire, and a newly-shorn, battle-scarred Nicky, facing his brother and protector for the first time in years. Over the coming weeks, we will see the series of events that leads to Jack failing to save Nicky from a gruesome and maybe heroic death.
Or are we?
Here’s my theory: I think Nicky’s alive. I think instead of leading him into harm’s way, Jack helps him go AWOL. Jack will have to pretend that Nicky is dead, which will lead his father to drunkenly resent him, but will keep the elder Pearson’s image of Nicky as a hero intact. It will undo Jack’s guilt for having failed to protect his brother the first time around, but also give him a painful secret that will send him deeper into the bottle. Maybe he’ll tell Rebecca in the ’80s, who will tell Kevin in the present, who with Zoe will do what she has failed to do, which is turn the story into art. Maybe they can find him.
This is my theory, because I cannot watch another death, and I want this family to evolve, and I need to see Michael Angarano in old-guy makeup.
But probably Nicky will end up in a situation where he has to sacrifice his own life to save his brother and a bunch of other guys– even dumb, racist ol’ Townie– and prove that he was the real Superman all along, in a gut-wrenching scene set to a Ray LaMontagne song. Hard to say.
Anyway, we won’t know for a little while, because next week’s episode will for sure start with ten minutes of Kate deciding whether to eat a cupcake.