When it comes to television, I have serious trust issues. Can you blame me? While I've expected crazy twists on series like Riverdale and How To Get Away With Murder, it's actually NBC family drama This Is Us that has made me question everything I thought I knew about TV. This is, after all, the series that ended its pilot with an insane timeline twist — and kept the theories about the death of main character Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) coming until midway through its sophomore season, when we learned of his smoke inhalation-caused heart attack.
So, when Jack informed the audience that Nicky, the secret brother we found out about like, 20 minutes ago, actually died in Vietnam — I decided something. And that's: I don't buy it. Not at all.
We learned of Nicky's existence in the season 2 episode "Brothers." Before we saw the sweet, glasses-wearing Nicky in the backseat of the car with young Jack, he was never discussed. We saw him again later, when Jack revealed a photo of him in Vietnam — next to his brother, Nicky, wearing those same glasses. Nicky is mentioned again in "The Car," when he reminds his sons that one day, he'll be gone — and all they'll have is one another. It's here, in the episode after the one in which we learned how Jack himself died, that Jack says Nicky never made it out of Vietnam.
Pause, please. That's it?!? Jack's brother, who we never got to know, died in Vietnam?
It's possible. Sure. But given Jack's secretive nature about his time in Vietnam — he never talks about it with much detail, and seemingly lied when he said he was a mechanic, not a soldier — it makes me wonder if something else is going on. Like, say, that something else horrible happened to Nicky in Vietnam... that didn't necessarily end in death.
It seems odd that Jack took a teenage Randall (Niles Fitch) to see the Vietnam Memorial, but that, at least so far, no attention has been paid to Nicky's final resting place. If Nicky and Jack were as close as Jack states, why wouldn't he occasionally go to his grave to have a chat with him? Is that not something the Jack Pearson we know and love would totally do?
Maybe it's because Nicky is very much alive — just incapable of being the brother he once was.
We know that Jack dealt with addiction issues for much of his life, and that Vietnam was a big trigger for such problems. His father was also, seemingly, an alcoholic. The series even drives home the point that people can be predisposed to addiction via genetics when Kevin (Justin Hartley) is in rehab.
So, here's my theory: Nicky came back from Vietnam, but came back with a slew of mental health problems that forced Jack to sever ties with his brother. Just as Jack hid his father from his kids and wife Rebecca (Mandy Moore), it's possible that Uncle Nicky was cut out of Jack's life for the sake of his own family. When Jack said Nicky "died" in Vietnam, he was being partially honest: The man who he used to know did die in the battlefield. Or at least was lost there.
There's already evidence for this dating back to the show's first season. This Is Us has a character make a comment to Jack in season one finale "Moonshadow" about how so many boys who went to Vietnam came back changed. Note that this same character does not give condolences for Jack's brother, which would be natural to do at that point in the conversation.
Whatever happened to Nicky, the series will explore his relationship with Jack. Milo Ventimiglia teased Nicky-related storylines in his recent interview with Esquire. He told the outlet:
"There are so many questions with Jack. His upbringing, what happened to him in Vietnam, what happened to him after Vietnam before he met Rebecca? And those early days of Jack and Rebecca, I know is an era that Dan is excited to explore. His brother, I think is something that’s going to come up relatively quickly, and play out over the next season or so. There's still so much to know about this man, from all the eras, so I'm excited to focus on how Jack lived as opposed to worrying about how he died."
Now that we know how Jack died, This Is Us can set up a whole new mystery: How Nicky lived.