‘This Is Us’ Welcomes Uncle Nicky Back Into the Mix With ‘One Small Step’ (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 11 of This Is Us, “One Small Step.”]
This Is Us takes a trip down Nicky Pearson’s memory lane in its latest installment, “One Small Step.”
The title applies to the three distinctive timelines covered in the episode as the show covers Nicky’s pre-war love, post-war struggles, and present-day woes. Below, we break down the ups and few downs, so beware of major spoilers ahead.
Shooting the Moon
The story set farthest in the past revolves around the moon landing in 1969, when Nicky’s (Michael Angarano) is living at home with his parents. When Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) comes to visit and watch the landing, he questions his baby brother about why he hasn’t moved out. Nicky claims that their dad is less rough when he’s around to subdue tense situations, but Jack’s advice is that Nicky get a girlfriend.
Nicky’s reaction suggests he has an eye on someone, and it would seem that he does. When he next goes to the pet clinic where he works, we learn about his co-worker Sally (Genevieve Angelson), and it’s clear he’s smitten. Jack happens to walk into the clinic at the same time Sally essentially invites Nicky to go watch the moon from the mountaintops.
When Jack tries to intervene following Nicky’s indirect answer, Sally butts in and tells Jack she’s perfectly capable of asking Nicky out herself. And they do meet later than night, spending time inside her van, referred to by Sally as Pearl. We see their love story unfold from a first kiss to late night meet-ups at her van. When the L-word comes into play, he introduces her to the rest of the family.
Jack approves and poses for a photo of himself and Nicky that Sally takes, which resurfaces a few times throughout the episode. Later in their relationship, Sally mentions Woodstock, her desire to travel, and plans to visit California. Nicky agrees to go with her, and to meet her the next night at 11 after his parents have gone to bed, ready to go. When Jack delivers a suitcase for Nicky to use, Nicky begins to question his decision.
Jack encourages Nicky to leave, but while watching the return parade for the astronauts from the moon landing, Nicky decides to stay put. Sally is clearly disappointed as she departs without him.
Unable to Close the Distance
The next story picks up following the Vietnam War and Nicky living in his trailer. He’s doing OK and is on the mend after the events of Vietnam. A fellow vet invites him to a celebration reunion of sorts, but he isn’t sure about attending, especially when he learns Jack’s going to be there. Writing down the address, he wrestles with the decision, but after looking at the picture of himself and Jack that Sally snapped, he decides to go.
Along the way he practices what he’s going to say, but remains in the car as he watches Jack enter the bar. Inside, Jack’s former Commanding Officer Sheehan (Scott Michael Campbell) discusses relationships and bad memories. Jack hints at Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) role in his life and how he hopes to propose. Jack also mentions the lie he told her about Nicky’s death, and Sheehan advises that he lock memories from Vietnam away and only look at them occasionally.
Just as Nicky’s about to finally enter the bar, he’s stopped in his tracks as he notices the engagement ring Jack’s inspecting in the distance. He essentially loses his nerve and stays away, which results in the brothers’ prolonged estrangement.
Nicky’s Big Trip
Nicky (Griffin Dunne) doesn’t lose his courage in the present though, as fans recall the uncle showed up at Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison’s (Caitlin Thompson) door in the last episode. Rewinding briefly, we see Nicky learn about the twins’ birth and an impending baptism that is Zoom-only, but the non-tech savvy army vet doesn’t comprehend what that is, exactly.
So, he calls up buddy Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison) to help him order items off Amazon, which he uses to create beautiful custom snow globes for babies Nick and Franny. Calling for help from Cassidy repeatedly throughout his preparations, Nicky plans his trip to California, gets his two COVID vaccinations, and pulls out the old suitcase Jack got him all those years ago.
Cassidy wonders aloud if Nicky should warn Kevin and Madison, but he worries about getting their hopes up if he doesn’t make it. Cassidy takes him to the airport, running through security measures as Nicky hasn’t flown since 1971. All of the prep in the world doesn’t get him ready for what awaits, and when he goes through security, Nicky’s beautiful gifts are opened up due to the liquid they contain. When TSA agents go to take them, he attempts to empty the liquid out, but they end up breaking, leading him to pick up some interesting baby gifts at the airport.
The rest of the story picks up at his entrance at Kevin and Madison’s house. Downing some sushi, he apologizes for dropping in, but Kevin can’t contain his excitement and begins planning out their next few days.
The itinerary begins to freak Nicky out though, so Kevin helps his uncle settle in and they call it a night. That’s easier said than done though, and Nicky calls Cassidy, who advises that he stays for Jack’s sake, because it would make him proud.
To settle his nerves, Nicky visits the nursery and talks to babies Nick and Franny, who he gifts his favorite John Grisham novels (his airport gifts). He tells them he’s thought a lot about the things he didn’t do and how the trip made him think of the moon. “You two are my moon,” he tells them poignantly, hinting at the big step it took him to make it to California.
The next morning, Kevin finds Nicky asleep in the nursery, and when he picks up one of the books, the photo of him and Jack falls out.
It appears as though there’s more quality uncle Nicky time ahead. The only question is, will he run into former love Sally? If she’s alive, there’s a chance she could still be in California. After all, in the show’s Season 4 finale flash forward, Nicky was spotted wearing a wedding band.
This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC