Spoilers ahead for the Season 3 mid-season finale of This Is Us. Wow, everyone probably needs a minute to take all of that in, right? Was any fan ready for the bomb that the show just dropped on us about whether or not Nicky was alive or dead on This Is Us? The answer is NO. For two-and-a-half seasons, fans have been suffering alongside Jack and his kids, empty at never knowing Jack’s brother, Nicky. Jack never talked about Nicky except to say that he died in the Vietnam War, and that’s where that conversation ended. But he's not dead, nope. I repeat, Nicky Pearson is alive on This Is Us, and he lives not in some far-off land but in Pennsylvania! You know, the state where the Pearsons came from. Oh, Mylanta.
In case you're just tuning in (and who can blame you), viewers learned this season that Jack, being the martyr that he is, followed his brother to war when he learned that Nicky had received an Article 15, or disciplinary action for using drugs. After enlisting in the Vietnam War, Jack somehow managed to convince his commanding officer to let him hang around Nicky for two weeks. But those two weeks are nearly up, and Jack has to, well, hit the road. In a flashback, Jack is tells his brother, “Nicky, you can be a hero.” And Nicky tells him that he doesn't want to be. He wants to get high and forget everything there is to know about being a soldier, which is completely understandable, if not recommended by mental health professionals. The last we see of him, he's fighting with Jack, and then Jack can't find him. Well, sort of.
At the very end of the episode, Kevin gets a huge revelation from his host in Vietnam — his uncle isn't on any memorial lists from the war, which means that if he is dead, he didn't die in the war. That means Jack lied at least a little bit to his family. The episode ends with a flash to the present day, with an older man in a small home, maybe a trailer even, looking through his mail. The name on the envelopes? Nicholas Pearson. Again, what?
This obviously opens up a whole other can of worms in the Pearson narrative. Nicky may not have physically died when he went away to war, but perhaps a part of him, the happy part inside, did, and Jack wanted nothing to do with it. Saying Nicky was dead was easier than accepting that his brother was a shell of a person. And in a way, the old Nicky would be dead, if Nicky were that changed by what he’d seen.
Another probable theory is that Jack, knowing how much his brother was hurting but not wanting to keep him there, used his connections in the small fishing village to help Nicky go AWOL. Then, sometime after the war ended, Nicky could have fled the country, back to this little town in Pennsylvania. Because deserting the army is a crime, that means that Jack would have had to cover it up all of these years and just told people he died because it was more believable. Or, Nicky faked his death in that explosion fans saw at the end of the episode and deserted on his on, never to reach out to Jack, eternal do-gooder, again.
But if either of those scenarios were the case — how is Nicky using his actual name to receive mail? Surely, a deserter can't use the postal system.
In any case, it's a lot to take in. Did they just have a falling out? Did Jack know that his brother was alive? Did he tell Rebecca about it? Now that Kevin knows his uncle didn't die in the war, it's possible he will try to find out the truth, leading him to that messy, lovely AF-looking house. This subplot is a lot to take in, but there's obviously a lot more to come when This Is Us Season 3 returns in January.