Thursday, March 25, 2021

This Is Us 5.11: “One Small Step”

“It seemed impossible, but here I am. You two are my moon.
– Nicky

This was a really strong episode of “This Is Us”. I wasn’t in love with the Vietnam storyline in prior seasons but I liked that it introduced us to Nicky and gave us more insight into who Jack is and how he came to be the way he is. And this episode highlights Nicky as a person, where he started out and where he’s at in the present day. When we left Nicky, he was standing on Kevin and Madison’s front step having arrived out of nowhere to meet his great niece and nephew. He tells Kevin it wasn’t a big deal for him to come out, but we obviously know that isn’t true. And looking at his past, we see why what he’s done is such a huge thing.

In 1969, we find Nicky living at home with his parents and the family is gathering together to watch the moon landing. Nicky is really excited to show his dad the model lunar module he built. Nicky is kind of a space nerd and it’s really adorable. Jack has moved out at this point and he points out that maybe Nicky ought to move out, too. Nicky says that his dad is better with his mom when Nicky’s around. I’m sure jack felt like he had to protect his little brother growing up but Nicky feels the same way about his mom. He does end up admitting to Jack that there’s a girl at the vet clinic he likes named Sally. She’s a very free spirited hippie who lives in a van named Pearl. After asking Nicky out, we watch them go out and fall in love over a very short period of time (between the lunar landing and the astronauts coming home). Sally wants to go to Woodstock and then head out to California and live a life on the road. And she wants Nicky to join her. He’s hesitant to leave home but Jack is encouraging. He buys his brother a suitcase and everything. It’s unclear whether Nicky goes to Woodstock but I’m pretty sure he sticks around, seeing as he gets drafted for the war shortly thereafter.

We then jump forward in time a bit to after the war. Nicky is living in his trailer years later and he gets a call from an Army buddy (or at least a guy from his unit) about a get together that’s happening not far from Nicky. It might be good for Nicky to go to it, especially since Jack is going to be there, too. The Pearson brothers haven’t seen each other in years at that point but Nicky takes the risk, gets dressed up and even gets out of the car. But he doesn’t have the courage to reach out to his brother (who is now on his way to propose to Rebecca after his own army buddy tells Jack that it’s fine that he lied to Rebecca about his time in the war and to just keep that stuff buried down).

In the present, we see that Nicky gets the baptism invitation for the twins but he doesn’t really understand what Zoom is. This is what prompts him to decide he’s going to go all the way to California to meet the babies. So, he enlists Cassidy’s help in ordering a boatload of stuff from Amazon. He’s making a handmade gift for each kid and she even helps wrap the gift and drive him to the airport. He’s worried about just showing up, but he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone if he chickens out. Cassidy gives him a pep talk that Nicky is facing a lot of his fears and stepping out of his routine which is a positive step. This all takes a tenuous turn when going through security at the airport and they open the gift and discover he’s made snow globes. They exceed the amount of liquid you can bring on the plane. Obviously Nicky didn’t know about this rule and he goes to dump the water out in a nearby trash can but then he drops them and the glass shatters. One could imagine that the Nicky we first met when the Big Three went looking for him would have caused such a scene, he would have been escorted out of the airport (or maybe even arrested). But, he manages to get on the plane and shows up at the house. So yes, Nicky, it was a big deal for him to get there (and the title of this episode is apt on so many levels). Later that night, he calls Cassidy, saying he’s thinking of bailing but she reminds him that Jack would be proud of him and so he sneaks into the nursery to gift the babies paperbacks of his favorite John Grisham novels he picked up in the airport gift shop. He’s jotted some notes in the books but he gives a beautifully tender monologue about how the moon landing made the impossible possible and that he never thought he could be happy or find love from family again after the war and yet these two tiny lives had done just that for him. As he says, they are his moon. It’s touching and reminds you how sweet and gentle of a soul he was before the war messed him up. The next morning, Kevin finds Nicky asleep in the nursery and finds a picture that Sally had taken during a dinner at the Pearson home with Nicky and Jack smiling and happy just before everything changed.

This was a great episode all around and it just touched me to see the acting so seamless between the older and younger versions of Nicky. You could really see the transformation he underwent as time passed and he’s starting to find himself again. He may have thought he lost all connection to his brother but Jack is still there for him, just in ways none of them ever expected. And this is why I love this show. It gifts us such beautiful, touching moments of family and humanity.

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