I have an unwavering soft spot for Nicky Pearson. He is damaged and he is grumpy and he has lost so, so much. And yet, even after decades of giving up, here he is trying! Here he is opening himself up to family and love! Here he is using the word “deflowering” at a dinner table at which every other guest is clearly uncomfortable with that term! I love him. For me, that means it was hard not to love this episode. “One Giant Leap” is very clearly meant to be the bookend to last season’s “One Small Step …” (they put it in neon lights for us), in which we watched present-day Nicky work up the courage to get on a plane and head out west to meet his brother’s grandchildren after seeing a young Nicky fall in love with a girl named Sally in 1969 and chicken out on running off to California with her; he pined away for her ever since.
This episode, which follows Nicky, Rebecca, and Miguel as they road-trip to track down Sally, works well as closure to that story. Nicky, with the most assistance from his two new besties, knocks on Sally’s door and gets to tell her how he’s felt about her even after all these years. Unfortunately, it does not go exactly the way Nicky may have imagined. I mean, Sally does answer the door and lets him in, which sounds terrifying to me, an adult human who maybe sometimes hides in her house when someone comes to the door. If the trade-off for this is knowing that I’ll never have some mystery man from my past show up and profess his undying love for me after decades of not seeing each other, so be it. In real life, doesn’t that prospect sound super-creepy and not at all something you should do? At least send a DM first, okay? But Nicky, dear, sweet Nicky, has not sent Sally a DM. He has done basically zero research on what Sally is up to these days. She could be dead for all Nicky knows, he tells his buddies. We have not gotten the chance to see Rebecca and Miguel parent together, but I imagine it would look something like this episode.
Anyway, Sally is not dead. Sally, though taken aback, is warm and inviting and has these three strangers come inside for a chat and then dinner. But it becomes clear that there will be no epic romantic rekindling here. For one, Sally is married to a man named Eric, who somehow remains very calm upon learning these randos will be joining them for dinner and also with discussing his wife’s sex life. The more glaring reason nothing will happen between Nicky and Sally — let’s be honest, Eric is an ass and Sally doesn’t hold back letting these strangers know her marriage sucks — is that while Nicky remembers every single detail of their time together, it is all hazy to Sally. Eventually, she remembers the Salisbury steak and meeting Nicky’s brother, but still, everyone at that table can see that while Sally defined much of Nicky’s life, the feeling is not mutual. While Nicky seems hurt by that realization at first, when he finds a picture of the back of his head, sitting in Sally’s van and looking up at the moon, pinned up on her picture wall, he knows that in some way their time together did mean something to her. Nicky can finally close that chapter of his life and really move forward. His journey out to California had him facing things he was most scared of, and he came out of it alive. And now the man can live!
It’s perfect timing, really, because it means he is feeling free enough to flirt with a pretty flight attendant on his trip back home. Her name is Edie, and yes, she is Nicky’s wife This Is Us has been hinting at in its flash-forwards. We know they’re already married and that Edie is in dire need of tights five years in the future during Kate’s wedding, and then we actually see her arrive at Kevin’s cabin in the way, way future as the family gathers to say good-bye to Witch Rebecca. She lovingly embraces both Old Randall and Adult Deja before kissing Nicky hello. They seem still very much in love. Nicky gets a big win, guys! What a time, what a world.
The surprising thing about “One Giant Leap,” however, is that as well as it works as a character-development piece for Nicky, it works even better as a showcase for Rebecca. Wowee, Mandy Moore and Jon Huertas are great in this episode. If these first two episodes are any indication, it seems like this final season of This Is Us is just going to be one long twist of the knife in the open wound that is Rebecca’s diagnosis. It sounds exhausting and depressing and also I can’t wait. We know what show we signed up for, people!! In the season premiere, we learned that Rebecca’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse. Here, we watch as she grapples with the looming idea of the “candle going out” and figures out how she wants to spend her days before that inevitably happens. Moore is doing so much great work in these tiny moments: Her “Hooked On a Feeling” sing-a-long that turns wistful, catching a glimpse of her reflection and not fully recognizing (or wanting to recognize) it, her speech about being annoyed that even now, she still “sweats the small stuff,” and yes, that lovely Rebecca-Sally scene. Sure, it’s about these two women talking about aging and when they stopped wanting to see reflections of themselves, which is moving. But it is also about the fact that everyone on this show needs more friends! The Pearsons need friends, and not just friends who turn into love interests for other Pearsons, okay, Miguel and Madison?? Everyone would be better with friends, and this scene proves it, because have you ever seen Old Rebecca just let go? And have fun? And talk about liver spots? It’s glorious.
Because she chats with another woman who understands her, Rebecca remembers that she isn’t dead yet and also who the fuck cares about that idiot girl in her salsa class who pointed at her and Miguel like they were sideshow freaks because they were simply older people dancing. That girl has problems, and I bet she won’t nab two dreamy husbands in one lifetime or look half as good while crying as you do, Rebecca. Rebecca decides that she and Miguel are taking up salsa dancing again. This is what having friends does for you; all the other Pearsons should take note.
This, it seems, is also what having a Miguel does for you. Oh, Miguel. Dearest Miguel. Rebecca recognizes that she isn’t the only one who has to deal with what is going to happen to her in the coming years. With their late-in-life romance, Rebecca can’t help but feel extra guilty that Miguel didn’t even get “the best version” of her to start with, and now he has all of her health issues to take on. But Miguel doesn’t see any of it that way. This man loves this woman so much! He promised to love her “in sickness and in health,” and he intends to make good on that. He makes more promises to her, sitting in the car outside of Sally’s: that he’ll be by her side through all of this and that he’ll “be amazing for [her].” They’re in it together. And then they start making out, and it is very hot, and honestly, if “One Giant Leap” isn’t all the evidence needed for us to get both a standalone Miguel episode and an episode about Rebecca and Miguel’s love story, I don’t know what is! The clock is ticking!
This Is the Rest
• Deja also goes on a trip fueled by love this week: She lies to Beth and Randall about sleeping at a friend’s and instead sneaks up to Boston to be with Malik. He’s struggling to juggle Harvard, his daughter, work, and his ex, but he does make time to call Deja “incandescent,” and the young couple has sex for the first time. This is only going to end in heartbreak, isn’t it? I am unprepared.
• Randall and his dad jokes, even in text form, kill me. He’s just so proud of himself.
• Anyone else get teary-eyed at the mention of how Jack would feel about Nicky, Rebecca, and Miguel hanging out? Or Nicky telling Miguel and Rebecca that Jack would be so happy seeing that they found each other? I don’t know, guys, it’s been six seasons, and this show has worn me down; I’m fragile.
• Wait, I love how Nicky has become Miguel’s No. 1 fan now. He says he’d be worth a million bucks when discussing how age increases value, and he compliments the guy’s hair. Everyone is aboard the Miguel Love Fest in season six, and we are all the better for it.
• Oh, finally some mention of Kevin’s promise to build Jack’s cabin. Let’s break ground, people. It is time to build that house and for Kevin to start Big Three Homes. Follow your destiny, kid.
• Okay, so let’s talk about the big Rebecca-is-dying flash-forward: With Edie getting out of the white car, it means we’re still waiting on confirmation as to the whereabouts of Miguel and Kate. We know Adult Baby Jack is on the way with at least one other person. We know Kevin is married, but her identity remains a mystery (Cassidy, right?). Are we going to get a Miguel death episode before this thing is out? Again, I tell you: I am unprepared!!!
• “Okay, I’m gonna leave before I throw up.”