UPDATE: This story was originally published on November 15 at 12:55 p.m.
This Is Us viewers first found out the importance of a mysterious Pearson family heirloom — a necklace handed down from Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) to his then-teenage son Kevin (Logan Shroyer) — nearly a full year ago with November 2017 episode “Number One.” When Jack passes the piece of jewelry to teen Kevin, who was in a dark place of his own after a football career-ending injury, the Pearson dad explains the necklace brought him out of the toughest period of his life. It is heavily suggested Jack’s time at war in Vietnam was the reason he needed the item in the first place.
Well, Tuesday night’s “Toby” finally confirmed that theory was true. At the close of the episode, where adult Kevin (Justin Hartley) tracks down one of Jack’s war buddies, Don Robinson (Charles Robinson), the actor is gifted a wartime photo of his dad from Mr. Robinson. In the photo, you see a young Jack and a mystery woman. It seems the woman is named Hien (Porter Duong, who is scheduled to appear in three more episodes this season), according to This Is Us credits on IMDb, and we saw her and the boy suggested to her son in last week’s “Vietnam.”
Hien, is wearing “Jack’s” necklace. Clearly, the piece of jewelry now hanging around Kevin’s neck originally belonged to Hien.
As previews for next week’s “Kamsahamnida,” which translates to “thank you” in Korean (not Vietnamese), show, Kevin will be desperate to figure out why some random woman in Vietnam gifted his dad such a meaningful necklace (the original story below proves this item isn’t some mere trinket). Maybe, she isn’t so random after all.
Although fans are likely convinced the photo hints The Big Three might have a Vietnamese half-sibling out there, This Is Us has already pointed towards a different possibility with “Vietnam.” In the episode, Jack is the only soldier who is kind to Hien's apparent son. One soldier yells at the boy and sounds like he’s ready to kill the child to ensure he won’t grow up to join the rival Vietnamese forces. If Jack saves the boy in a coming episode, that just might be reason for Hien to give him that all-important necklace.
Continue reading to understand the deep secret meaning behind Jack’s — and now Kevin’s — necklace.
Original story follows.
On Tuesday night’s This Is Us, we got to deep dive into the psyche and privilege-ridden burdens of the Big Three’s No. 1, Kevin Pearson (Justin Hartley). Yet, because this is This Is Us, everything can always come back to the life and death of Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia). In “Number One,” our attention is repeatedly drawn to a mysterious necklace, which we see hung around Jack’s neck. By the end of the episode, we realize Kevin has also been sporting the necklace throughout the series, to a near obsessive degree. If you’re paying close attention, This Is Us proves the necklace not only connects Jack and Kevin, but also Jack’s untimely demise and that of his brother Nicky (played as a child by Donnie Masihi).
While we first officially glimpse the necklace in a five-second “Deja Vu” flashback, we get our big explainer about it in “Number One.” This time, we re-enter the flashback when Jack hands it over to 17-year-old Kevin (Logan Shroyer) following a “catastrophic” knee injury; the kind of break star high school quarterback Kevin suffered ends careers before they even start. So, the teen is forced to say goodbye to his lifelong dream of one day leading the Notre Dame football team, going pro, and winning the Super Bowl, all while his dad sheds tears of pride from the stands. This is the greatest blow to young Kevin’s spirit he’s faced yet.
To relieve some of his son’s emotional angst, Jack gives him the necklace. “I got this at a very hopeless time in my life,” Jack reveals. “Someone very special gave it back to me in Vietnam.” The symbol on the jewelry, the dad explains, is a Buddhist symbol of purpose, and it greatly resembles the dharmachakra, one of the most important symbols of the religion.
If you listen to what Jack says, it sounds as though he was gifted the necklace after Nicky’s death, which has yet to be confirmed, but very likely occurred in Vietnam. “I was feeling very lost when I got that,” Jack tells his injured son. “But I put it on and moved forward.” As we saw in a single glimpse of earlier season 2 episode “Brothers,” Nicky’s apparent death had a major effect on Jack, one that plausibly influenced his drinking and caused him to lie about his time in the war. So, it would stand to reason Jack was feeling “lost,” as he said, after the death of his brother; that’s really the only crisis that could have affected him so deeply to the point of despair. This also means we’re set to meet another big figure in Jack’s secret Vietnam life: the “very special” person who gifts him the necklace after Nicky’s predicted expected death. It’s not like the late Pearson brother came back from the dead to give Jack a Buddhist piece of jewelry.
This new piece of information puts into context the timeline inching towards Jack’s inevitable death reveal — which, if I were a betting woman would peg for the upcoming midseason finale or the big post-Super Bowl episode in February 2018 — thanks to Kevin’s cast. Jack passes on the necklace right after his son gets his leg plastered. When we see the night of Jack’s death, in season 2 premiere “A Father’s Advice,” Kevin’s cast is signed by his many fans, but still very much on. That means Jack likely dies only a few weeks after Kevin’s injury — which happened in the middle of the fall football season — since the cast isn’t all that grimy yet and everyone is still wearing their autumn outerwear.
Although a lot of the intrigue around the necklace centers around the two darkest parts of Jack’s life, his brother’s death and his own, it’s also been there for much happier moments. In “Number One” Jack explains he was wearing the necklace the day his children were born. Although I went back to episodes like the series premiere and season 1’s “The Big Day,” to see if that’s technically true, or another retcon, it’s hard to tell. As Jack proves with “Number One,” the necklace hides quite well underneath all of Jack’s buttoned-up dad sweaters and shirts.
What we do know, however, is that by the end of season 1, the This Is Us team decided to make the jewelry A Thing for both Pearson men. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice in finale “Moonshadow,” there’s a chain hanging around Jack’s neck throughout his ‘70s flashbacks, which lead up to the evening he met his wife Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore). While the actual symbol hanging on the necklace is hidden by Jack’s t-shirt, it’s safe to assume it’s a piece of Buddhist iconography. For Kevin, on the other hand, we’ve seen him sporting the mysterious necklace since the series premiere, since you can see it glittering around his neck during his post-Manny meltdown scene with sister Kate Pearson (Chrissy Metz) and her future fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan).
Since Kevin has actually been wearing the accessory the whole time, his meltdown in front of former schoolmate Charlotte Everly (Stefanie Black) actually makes sense. Pill-addled and drunk, of course Kevin starts sobbing over “the only thing” he has of his dad, which he lost in the middle of sex and clearly isn’t getting back. Kevin got it (likely) weeks before his dad died, and started coveting the prized possession when he was eight years old, as “Number One,” shows with a flashback of the Pearson home, pre-fire.
While I rarely have much sympathy for the impossibly privileged Kevin Pearson, even I want him to get his necklace back now.
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