The executive producers of This Is Us told us last week that we'd finally get our answers about Nicky Pearson in tonight's episode, and they sure weren't lying. The episode was so jam-packed with revelations about young and adult Nicky that it's hard to know where to start.
So what did happen? Kate flew to Pittsburgh to join Randall and Kevin on their road trip to meet Nicky, who is now 70 and living in a trailer park about five hours away. It's Nicky's first time meeting the big three; he had only seen one photo of them as kids before, in 1992 when Jack decided to finally visit his brother after Nicky sent postcard after postcard begging to talk.
Nicky desperately wanted to see his brother to explain what happened when the explosion occurred in Vietnam. Nicky had taken the Vietnamese boy on a boat to go grenade fishing. Nicky originally wanted nothing to do with him (whose mother is the mysterious Vietnamese woman, Hien), but the kid won him over so the two went out on an adventure. One of the grenades exploded on the boat, and the boy died. Nicky survived, obviously, but Jack was left to comfort the boy's grieving mother while Nicky was sent back to the states. It was a terrible accident, one that Jack never wanted to talk about with Nicky ever again.
Some 15 years later, we find out that Nicky blames himself every day, but Jack doesn't want to even talk about it. He's stubborn and only sees things in black and white. Jack's focus is only on here and now, but Nicky can't get over the past.
When the big three visit him as an adult, though, Nicky has no idea that Jack is dead. It's heartbreaking and devastating. Nicky leads a solitary existence, closed off from much of the world. He's reluctant to open up about his life prior to this moment, but Kate says she flew all this way to meet him and she's not leaving without answers. "Your Jack's kids alright," Nicky says.
After getting as much info as they can, Randall, Kevin, and Kate leave, but then Kevin remembers that his dad once told him never to repeat the mistakes he made. Kevin tells Kate and Randall that they can't leave Nicky like Jack did. They turn around, and when they get to Nicky's trailer they find him alone with a gun on the table and a bottle of alcohol. Kevin pulls the gun away, and Nicky says, "I never got to tell [Jack] that it was an accident."
So now that the big three have come into Nicky's life, what does this mean for his future? And theirs? Will Nicky agree to let them help him? How will things unfold when he and Rebecca meet face to face? And could Nicky have a family of his own? With still so many questions, we called up This Is Us executive producers and co-showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger to get all the answers. Read on.
Glamour: How difficult was it to craft this episode given the enormity of the story?
Elizabeth Berger: This is one where we figured out the story for a lot of it way back when we had [historian/author] Tim O’Brien at the beginning of our season. We went out of our way to figure out the Vietnam arc with Tim present so that we could tell the story as authentically as possible. We really wanted to get this one right since it involves such a tragedy.
Isaac Aptaker: Tim brought us the idea of grenade fishing, which was something he saw a lot of the guys do in his experience. So it didn’t feel like too big of a leap of the imagination to see how it could go terribly wrong.
Before we get to what happened in Vietnam, the episode starts with Kevin and Randall already having told Rebecca and Kate about Nicky. Talk about the decision not to show their immediate reaction to Nicky being alive.
IA: Oh, interesting. This has been so much Kevin’s story for the season; he’s been the one on this quest to reconnect with his father by learning about this part of his life, so it felt like he was front and center here and we could have him filling in the family as a catch up.
EB: But we’re definitely going to be delving into the reactions more, especially Rebecca’s as the season continues to play out.
Nicky had no idea that Jack died. For someone who wanted so badly to talk to his brother, why didn’t Nicky try to track him down again in the remaining six or seven years of Jack's life?
EB: I think that interaction we see between the two of them was sort of the end of Nicky following Jack and sort of the progress of Jack’s life. I think it was obviously an extremely loaded and extremely painful interaction for the both of them, and I think there was something about learning about Jack’s life and the future that he went on to have that hurt so much that Nicky sort of let it go at that point.
IA: I don’t think Nicky was big on Facebook or anything. [Laughs] He’s not the kind of guy that is going to get that kind of news all that readily. He’d have to really seek it out, and like Elizabeth said, that was sort of the end point there of him wanting any answers.
You mean he’s not like Miguel where he’s finding people on social media?
IA: Yeah, I don’t think he has like 1,000 friends or anything. Maybe Nicky loves Instagram. [Laughs]
It makes sense that Jack didn't want Nicky around his kids, but it’s still infuriating that he wouldn’t allow him to explain. Do you want viewers to be upset with Jack right now?
EB: I definitely think it’s OK to feel like it was a very complicated decision and to feel frustrated by him. He has a lot of really upstanding qualities, but he’s also human. He’s limited in some ways. I think we’ve seen there is a part of Jack that sees everything in black and white, and this part of his life exists in such a terrible gray area that for whatever reason it was just too painful for him to figure out how to make it work with his present day life. We tried to show that’s what’s interesting about Kevin making a different decision than his father and trying to do better as the next generation carrying on a piece of this story.
IA: I think that Kevin moment [at the end] shows that even though Jack may not have made the right decision in the moment, he was able to raise kids who do one better than him, which I think is the ultimate goal.
Right. Because it’s like, why drive all the way out there if you’re not going to hear what your brother has to say?
IA: Right, I think that’s fair. I think it also speaks to how Jack compartmentalizes his life. He’s not able as a person to reopen that chapter, and he doesn’t want to take in any new information because it was so painful; the only way he could function in the world was to bottle up and plow ahead.
Does Nicky have an estranged family? Might he have gotten married or had kids?
IA: Maybe, maybe not. We can’t tell you that, but our story with Nicky isn’t totally done. We’re going to learn more about him next week and who knows in the future of the series. You’ll get some more answers on Nicky pretty immediately.
Talk to me about the explosion scene in Vietnam. I know Nicky was trying to instruct the boy to get off the boat, but when he jumped off the boat why didn’t he grab the boy with him?
IA: I think he tried in a very stressful, compressed amount of time to do what he could to save the boy, and the boy was sort of inching away from him toward the other end of the boat. At a certain point he felt he just had to get off of it.
EB: I think it’s one of those horrible life moments that just gets away from you so quickly that Nicky has probably replayed a million times in his mind and probably asks himself that same question. I think in that moment he froze, and then it was too late to make that move.
Will we see Jack and the Vietnamese lady interact now that Nicky has left Vietnam, or is this the end of her journey on the show?
IA: This is the end of her journey and the end of our story of what happened to these guys over in Vietnam in this episode.
After Nicky finds out how Jack died, he murmurs something along the lines of "Jack’s an idiot." Do you know what he said?
EB: We don’t know. Some of it is just really interesting stuff that Griffin Dunne brought to the role in terms of thinking about a guy who has PTSD and has been along for a long time and isn’t used to interacting with that many people. It was one of the ticks that he gave Nicky, that he does this mumbling thing that we all loved very much. But no, there’s no secret meaning in it.
IA: It wasn’t scripted, but my read on it was he was mad at Jack…it’s like, speak to that hero complex that brought Jack to Vietnam. If you remember, Nicky was really frustrated that Jack had sacrificed himself to come to Vietnam to save Nicky; it’s kind of that same like, "Ugh, I can’t believe he went back into a house." Like, "That’s so Jack, of course that’s how Jack died."
At the end of the episode it looks as though Nicky is going to use the gun on himself, but is there a chance it was for protection? He lives alone in the woods, so maybe gets his gun out every night for protection? Or are we meant to believe that he was thinking of taking his own life?
EB: I think it’s a little vague. I mean, obviously, this is someone who has been alone for such a long time and has such specific routines. Our feeling was that even if he was in some way considering taking his life, this might be something that happens pretty routinely and then he talks himself out of it. I think we’re coming to him fresh, but he’s been alone in this trailer for a really long time going through these very specific motions that we can’t totally understand.
We know from tonight’s preview that Rebecca tells Nicky it’s time she and him talked. What more can you say about that interaction?
IA: Clearly, this is going to be the next chapter of the story, where Rebecca has found out that Nicky is alive in this trailer and she comes to meet this man.
EB: And obviously our big three learning a lot of information they didn’t know about their dad. There will be a certain amount of having to re-contextualize their childhood and think about the man they thought they knew inside and out and wonder what was going on beneath the surface in a way that they haven’t yet had to deal with head on.
Is it going to be like Randall and William 2.0? I’m very excited about this.
IA: [Laughs] Interesting. I guess, a little bit. You could kind of say that. There are definitely similarities there, and you track someone down, knock on their door and then see what beauty or havoc they’re going to wreak on your life, right?
EB: Definitely. But this has a very different conclusion, so you’ll see.
Will Nicky be sticking around for the remainder of the season?
IA: There’s more to Nicky. We’re not going to say exactly how many episodes, but he’s a part of the bigger picture plan here in some really cool ways.
We saw in this episode that Kate has been much more assertive lately. Is this a new Kate we’re seeing emerge, especially as she’s about to become a mother?
EB: I think definitely. It’s a different situation when you have to put this life that you’re growing inside of you first.
IA: I absolutely think so. She’s pregnant, and she’s putting the needs of her future family first. She’s willing to put her foot down of what she can and can’t handle. And as we see, she wasn’t sure if she should even go on this trip. She then decides that she can, but she’s coming into her own in a new way. I think we’re seeing the mother Kate emerge already in a really exciting way for the character because she’s been a bit passive and a bit angsty for so much of the series that it’s wonderful to see her find this strength.
At the beginning of the episode we see Beth about to do more job interviews. Might this be the start of her career as a dance teacher/coordinator? Or is that still a long way off?
EB: That you’ll have to wait and see, but three weeks from now we’re going to be delving into our very special Beth episode. We’re going to both learn a lot more about her past and what is next for her.
IA: But these interviews that she’s going on, right now she’s still pursuing her former career, which is urban planning. These are new firms similar to what she has been doing.
This Is Us returns with a new episode on Tuesday, February 5.
Published at Wed, 23 Jan 2019 03:05:00 +0000