This week’s episode of This Is Us unexpectedly hit close to home, which I suspect is true of many episodes of This Is Us for many others. Not that I have any experience with the Vietnam War (in fact, my father was disqualified from service, owing to being a gay man under 100 pounds) but because I, too, abandoned a screw-up little brother whom I completely adored because he was bleeding me dry and because I was terrified his life would crash-and-burn into mine. Was it the right choice? I don’t know! Maybe!
Was it the right choice for Jack? I don’t know! Maybe! Sometimes, you have to start all over to save yourself, and starting all over often means completely cutting ties with a traumatic past, and that is something both Jack and I have in common. Unfortunately, doing so often means abandoning those we love. Is it selfishness? Or is it self-preservation? Yes, and yes!
So, we found out this week what happened to Nicky in Vietnam, and it was bad. Like, really bad. Like, not This Is Us bad, but like Requiem for a Dream bad. Nicky, who was stoned or high or out-of-his-mind, went out on a boat with a young (and adorable) Vietnamese kid to catch fish … with hand grenades. Except, oopsie — Nicky and the kid got into a tussle with the hand grenade, because little kids like toys, too! And it went off in the boat, killing the boy. Nicky jumped out before the bomb went off, so he has had to spend the rest of his life listening to the wails of grief from the kid’s mom inside his head. I would not want to live in Nicky’s mind.
After the war, however, Nicky — living in a rundown trailer — tried to reach out to Jack several times, just to let him know that it was an accident, but Jack — who was like, “F*ck this, I’m done” after the kid died — refused to see Nicky, until he finally did. The meeting didn’t go well. Jack refused to let Nicky explain what happened, choosing to put the war behind him. Although Jack did struggle to make the decision, he ultimately decided to leave Nicky behind and let him work out his own demons.
Twenty-five years later, and Nicky still lives in the same rundown trailer, and he’s still battling the same demons when Kevin, Kate, and Randall show up. He begrudgingly debriefs the Pearsons, but afterward, he asks them to leave. They do, but Kevin — confronted with the same decision as his father — ultimately chooses to go left instead of right. He goes back to old-man Nicky’s trailer and finds him with a gun, prepared to end his own life. The Pearson kids save him, for now, and it appears as though Kevin might try to bring him back to New York with them.
It feels like the right and just decision, but we have yet to see the consequences of it. When Randall brought his biological father home, it worked out as well as it could have. I’m not so sure, however, that Kevin (and Zoe) can contend with all the psychological baggage that Nicky is carrying around.
Header Image Source: NBC