Warning: This recap contains major spoilers from This Is Us‘ fall finale.
There are two gigantic revelations at the end of This Is Us‘ fall finale, both with rather large ramifications for the storyline as it moves forward, but let’s start with the most shocking first:
Jack’s brother, Nicky, is alive.
The final few moments of the episode show that the Pearson we — and Jack — believed had died during the Vietnam War is actually living in Bradford, Penn., in what seems like the present-day.
In addition, that final montage also gifts us with the knowledge that the “her” referred to in the flash-forwards is… Rebecca. (But what does Pin the Tail on the Donkey have to do with it?)
Mind blown yet? Read on for the highlights of “The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning.” (We also got a full download on the episode from the series’ EPs.)
NIGHTMARE CONDITIONS | Let’s handle war-era Vietnam first. As his time with his brother dwindles to a mere 48 hours, Nicky is still very standoffish with Jack. And Nick’s commanding officer denies Jack an extension, which seems to sway the younger Pearson just a bit: He allows Jack to take him to a quiet spot on the water, where Jack points out that now that Nick is off drugs, all he has to do is focus on the mission. “The mission is to kill,” Nicky says. “No, Nicky,” Jack corrects him. “The mission is to get home.”
But when a nightmare wakes him one evening, Nicky raids the medic’s pack for something to help him take the edge off. Jack finds his brother, stoned, sitting on the pier and pretending to shoot Vietnamese villagers with his hand. Nicky says he has no desire to leave drugs behind again. “I see it all when I’m clean,” he says. “I’m not gonna complete the mission.”
At the end of the day, Jack can’t find Nicky. Suddenly, there’s a huge blast from the water: It seems like a boat has exploded, and one of the soldiers says there was a guy in it. A panicked Jack rushes into the river and swims toward the wreckage, and we don’t see what happens when he gets there, but the overwhelming feeling is that Nicky has blown himself up.
NICKY IS ALIVE?! | In Vietnam, Kevin is frustrated that the weather has delayed their visit to the “Ville” where his dad was stationed. Zoe reminds him that going with the flow is the best way to handle the trip, and that “The thing about documentaries is, you can’t force them to end the way you want them to.” Finally, their guide says the roads are passable, and that they’ll meet with a man who grew up in the village and was a boy during the Vietnam War.
This man, whom the guide deems a local “historian,” does not remember Jack or the woman wearing the necklace in the photo. But he serves his visitors some food and recalls memories of his own father, a Viet Cong soldier, who would slip into the village to visit him and his mother once a week. “Our fathers were enemies, but they were not so different,” the man says, via translator, to Kev. “And now here we sit, happy, healthy, sharing a meal in a place where our fathers once fought. It may not be the answer you’re looking for, but maybe it’s the answer to something bigger.”
Still, Kevin is disappointed that his trip is winding down and he’s got zero answers to bring home. “Maybe it’s not the ending. Maybe we’re just in the middle,” a sympathetic Zoe tells him… or maybe they’re about to be handed the answer to a question they hadn’t even asked.
As they prepare to leave, Kevin’s guide casually mentions that he’d searched an online database of the Vietnam War Memorial for Nicholas Pearson, but hadn’t found anything. The guide adds that Nicky didn’t die in Vietnam, “not in the war, anyway.” And then the camera cuts to a bespectacled man (played by actor Griffin Dunne) in a trailer home. We don’t get a great shot of his face, but it sure looks like Nicky. And the mail on his table is addressed to Nicholas Pearson, 2125 Songbird Rd., Bradford, PA 16701.
If Nicky has lived there for a long time, that means he was a three-hour drive from his Pittsburgh-based brother for years, and Jack never knew.
IT’S A… | Kate’s pregnancy is progressing well, but her doctor doesn’t love the fact that the mom-to-be has to drive — and therefore sit — for hours to get to and from her Singing Adele-o-gram assignments. (It’s a blood-pressure thing.) But Kate doesn’t want to stop working, given that it’s the only thing distracting her from her anxiety over everything that might go wrong with the baby.
She’s very excited about the idea of becoming choral director at a local high school, but the interview goes south when she admits that she’s a few credits short of a college degree. This leads her into a minor tailspin about how she and Toby are so afraid that something terrible is going to happen to their kid, they don’t even want to know what its sex is.
So Toby suggests that she use the final six months of her pregnancy to finish her college education. He admits that he’s scared like she is, but that things are going to be OK. And to cement that/celebrate, they order a gender-reveal cake… that tells them their hatchling is a boy.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE | Though Beth is no longer working for Randall’s campaign — “It was best for both of us,” she reassures him — she helps him prepare for his debate against Councilman Brown. “You are fierce, dignified and in top form,” she says right before he goes out on stage… where Brown mocks him for being boring, from New Jersey and out of touch with Philadelphia voters. And it looks like Randall’s going to go down, hard… until a smug Brown gets him just mad enough to bring out All Fired Up Randall.
All Fired Up Randall points out that Brown likes to say he’ll look into complaints… but then does nothing about them. All Fired Up Randall eschews the lectern in order to sit on the stairs and talk to his constituents on their level. And All Fired Up Randall promises that if he can’t get progress made on, say, snow plowing in the winter, “I swear to God that I will show up and I will shovel it with you.” The crowd loves him. Brown, understandably, looks a little worried.
But afterward, Jae-won says that the latest poll numbers show that Brown is going to win again: He’s got too large a lead for Randall to surmount in the time they have left. But Randall won’t accept that, and this is disconcerting to Beth.
WE’VE ALL GOT A LONG WAY TO RUN | Back in Alpine, Deja approaches Beth and Randall: She wants to visit her mother, who’s living in Delaware. Though they’re wary, they agree, which pleases the teen. Then Tess, who apparently has taken Rebecca’s warning about not keeping secrets so long that they turn into physical pain, comes down to the kitchen and tearfully informs her parents that she thinks she likes girls. “I didn’t want to tell you guys because I didn’t want it to become a thing,” she sniffs. Beth pulls her kid close and reaffirms that “We love you no matter what, OK?” Tess visibly relaxes before heading up to bed; after she’s gone, Beth and Randall admit that neither of them saw that one coming.
But back to the campaign. Randall thinks it isn’t over ’til it’s over. Beth thinks it’s time for him to quit. And when he doesn’t agree, she reminds him that he promised to stop running the moment she was no longer on board… and she’s really no longer on board. So Randall lovingly and diplomatically says he needs to see his political bid through to the end. “Maybe you can’t win this campaign, but you sure did learn how to talk like a politician,” she shoots back. It’s not a compliment, as evidenced by her pulling out sheets and a pillow, because he’ll be sleeping on the couch for the foreseeable future.
PLIÉS AND PARTY GAMES | The episode also gives us a little more of that flash-forward, with Future Randall asking Future Tess if she’s let Beth know they’re on their way. “I’ll call her from the car,” she replies. Then we see Future Beth — who, as promised, is decidedly not dead— watching a ballet rehearsal from a balcony of what looks like a rehearsal space; an employee approaches her and relays Tess’ message. Then Beth asks if the woman has brought the Pin the Tail on the Donkey game from her office (she has), because “I promised I’d bring it.” So make of that what you will!
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Hit the comments and let us know!