Jack Pearson may be one of the most beloved patriarchs in television, but This Is Us keeps reminding us there’s still much we don’t know about him. In “Vietnam,” we went back in time and stayed there. The series delivered another bottled hour of television, this time giving us some necessary backstory on the Pearson clan. This was the Pearson family before Jack met Rebecca and before The Big Three came along. It was an emotional roller coaster of an episode and it likely had you reaching for your tissues more than once.
Read on below to find out why this might be one of my favorite episodes of the series so far!
C.K. = A Tough Guy in Disguise
Jack Pearson is a freaking superhero.
Everyone knows this. His wife has said it. His children have said this. It’s no secret this is a man who has gone above and beyond for the people he loves. In Vietnam, we learn he’s been that way since childhood. As a boy, Jack protected his little brother from their abusive father. As a man, he protected his comrades in war.
There were a handful of different plot threads within this episode, but all revolved around Jack and his brother, Nicky. We got to see the day Nick was born, the day he was drafted and a few other pivotal moments in between. To Nick, Jack was his superhero. He called him his Superman. But to Jack, Nicky was his everything.
Watching Jack enlist in the Vietnam war because he knew his brother was struggling there, and then fighting to hell and back just to get to him shows us the kind of man he’s always been. Loyal and determined, Jack Pearson doesn’t take no for an answer and he doesn’t give up easily.
The way this episode ended show they’re not done telling this story. Although the next time we see Jack in Vietnam may not be quite like this, I am still excited to see these stories told through Kevin’s research about his father.
In the last episode, we saw him email a man who may have known Jack in the war. This episode, we met that man and learned Jack saved his life in the trenches. The two men were good friends, and he’s definitely going to have a lot to say to Kevin when the two of them meet.
I do secretly hope Kevin’s deep dive into his father’s past brings more of his family’s history to light. I’d like to see Kevin learn about his uncle in the war as well. I want to hear stories about how inseparable the two were. Eventually, I want to find out how Nicky died. These episodes about Vietnam will be extremely dark but also very necessary. I think this could ultimately be good for Kevin. I can only imagine that it’ll strengthen his relationship with his own siblings and his mother.
A unbreakable bond separated by war
They all said Nick Pearson was born lucky. The nurse who helped deliver him said 18 was her lucky number.
On December 1, 1969, the United States held a draft lottery to enlist young men to fight in the war, and the number 18 turned out to be very unlucky for Nick. October 18 was picked fifth.
If Nick had been born two minutes later, he wouldn’t have been drafted at all.
In the hours leading up to the draft, Nick was nervous. He believed they would call his number. When he told his brother his fears, Jack promised he had a plan. Jack was adamant they wouldn’t need it because Nick was born lucky. But when his brother’s number gets called, Jack wastes no time in setting his plan into motion. He’s going to smuggle Nicky out of the country and set him up with a new life.
Disguised as a hunting trip so their father doesn’t know, Nick and Jack head north toward Canada. On their way there, Nick tells Jack that maybe he could be a medic and not see combat. Jack reminds his little brother that being a medic isn’t a safe job either. The two of them decide to spend one last night together in a motel so his brother can cross the border the next day.
Sadly, when Jack wakes up the next morning, Nicky is already gone. His brother decided to not run away. He’s going to Vietnam.
Jack’s dad wasn’t always abusive… or a drunk
One of the most surprising things to come out of this episode was watching Jack’s dad on the day Nick was born.
We’ve always known Jack’s father as the drunk who beats his wife and kids. But he wasn’t always like that. At one point early on, he was a good husband and a really good father. He didn’t drink at all. But his own father did.
In the hospital waiting room, while his wife was in labor, Jack’s grandfather showed up. He was drunk and when he offered a drink to his son, Jack’s father turned him down. This opens up a whole new mystery I hope we get to see more of. I want to know exactly when Jack’s father started drinking and why. It’s obvious he became his own father, which is heartbreaking. Alcoholism destroyed Jack’s family. I want to know more about why.
Jack’s heart condition that we did not know about
Last season, we finally found out how Jack died. After months of speculating that it’d be due to drunk driving, Jack’s untimely death was caused by severe smoke inhalation.
Everyone expected him to die during the fire that we knew was coming, but he actually died after the fact. This episode shed some light on why that might have happened. Jack had tachycardia, an abnormally rapid heart rate, since childhood. This is why he was able to defer from the war and not be drafted.
Jack’s heart condition shines a new light on his death. Some of us wondered how a relatively healthy man could suffer a heart attack at such a young age. Jack was only 52 years old when he passed away. This new reveal explains a lot. Now, I wonder if the doctor who treated Jack that night failed to give his patient proper care. Shouldn’t this have come up in his medical history?
Here is where it gets tricky.
Jack wanted to go to Vietnam to be with his brother, but he’d been spared from the draft because of his condition. But he was still able to enlist after their family doctor gave him tips to hide his condition. Is it possible that this condition was something Jack was hiding the rest of his life because he’d learned how to do so?
It’s likely that not even Rebecca knew about this. Otherwise, she might have said something at the hospital the night of the fire. I’m sure the writers fully intend on exploring Jack’s heart condition. They wouldn’t have revealed such an important detail if they didn’t plan on expanding their story with it.
- “Hey little brother.” The bookends of this episode beautifully focused on Jack finding Nicky in Vietnam while the entire episode jumped around their lifetime together to showcase their bond.
- The soundtrack was incredible. I’d download an entire album with music from this episode alone.
- The heavy focus on Superman. Not just because I’m a lifelong Superman fan. I like that this fictional character gave these fictional boys hope throughout their childhood. I can relate.
- The reveal that Jack and Nicky’s dad wasn’t always a nightmare gives him depth.
- October 18 is not lucky and the hospital scene that focused on all the names of sons born on that day broke my heart. I hope we get to meet each and every one of those men during this Vietnam arc.
- Jack’s friend in Vietnam being the first to teach Jack the breathing technique that he passed on to Randall.
- The way they confirmed that this is the Veteran that Kevin contacts in the future to learn more about his father.
- The dichotomy between Nicky’s letters about Vietnam. At the beginning, he was a hopeful young man who wanted to save the day. By the end of his time there, he was a broken man who believed he was living in hell on earth.
- This arc will make a lot of people question their political stance on war, but I can already tell it’ll be done with subtlety and care. They’re not trying to change your mind. They want you to think about the reasons why you believe what you believe.
- The entire draft sequence was harrowing. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. People around the country sat in front of a television to their find out their fate or the fate of a loved one.
- Milo Ventimiglia’s acting in this episode alone should win him an Emmy. He deserves it.
- I thought I wasn’t going to care about Nicky because the casting didn’t really excite me, but now I just want to protect him as much as I want to protect Jack.
- This episode was only meant to be a tease of what’s to come and I’m not sure I’m ready for the rest. I’m very emotional about the entire thing.
This Is Us airs Tuesday nights at 9/8 Central on NBC.