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We always knew Jack Pearson was more than a mechanic in the Vietnam war, but until Kevin showed an interest in his father’s history during last week’s episode of This Is Us (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV) we never really thought twice about how that experience shaped him. The writers sure did though. Oh, did they ever think about how things in Vietnam would inform our favourite TV father. And just when we thought we had Jack Pearson all figured out, too.

The night was filled with poignant and telling moments (told in reverse chronological order, just like Nicky would have wanted) that helped to shape Jack into the man we first met two seasons ago. From his history with his brother to even more backstory on his alcoholic father, let’s break some of the bigger emotional threads down, shall we?

Jack’s heart exempted him from the war

Remember that bad ticker that eventually killed Jack following the fire? It turns out he’s always had a bum heart, which kind of breaks ours. That heart is why he was exempt from going to war when the country was so desperate for people to serve, but it didn’t exempt Jack’s younger brother Nicky. As we learned in the episode, Nicky was conscripted in an awful, Hunger Games type lottery thanks to the day he was born, as so many young men were back in the day.

But he enlisted anyway

Jack has always looked out for Nicky like it was his only job, which were the instructions given to him by his father on the day Nicky was born (more on that later). So when Jack realized that Nicky was in trouble and a danger to himself in ‘Nam, he enlisted and rose rather quickly to become a staff sergeant. While that didn’t reunite him with his baby bro right away, it definitely helped him understand the awful nature of the unwinnable war, and gave him new perspective when he witnessed someone on his own team blown to bits.

Nicky could have escaped going to war…

But sometimes a person just has to strike out on their own, the way Nicky did when he was conscripted. Originally he was going to cross the border into Canada and avoid serving, as per Jack’s plan, but then he went out anyhow. In his mind, it was the only way he could potentially become the medic he wanted to be, and, even more importantly, it was the only way he thought he could make his father proud of him.

How awful is that?

Two minutes is a lifetime

As the episode dove even further back in time, we learned that Nicky was born at 11:58 p.m. on Oct. 18. Two minutes later and not only would he have shared a birthday with his grandfather, but he would have never been conscripted to serve in that war at all. It’s those little touches that make us so completely invested in this show.

Jack’s father was actually a good guy

A show of hands: how many people actually thought they’d feel sorry for Jack’s dad one day? Anyone? Bueller? As it turns out, Jack’s father never actually drank until sometime after Nicky was born. At the hospital he was every bit the loving, doting father that Jack was in his older days, but it was HIS father (a.k.a. Jack’s grandfather) who was the alcoholic. And while we know that alcoholism can run in families, we really, really want to know how Jack’s dad took that dark turn. Also, we totally get why Jack was so motivated to turn his own life around once Rebecca caught him taking to the drink—he saw firsthand what it did to his father, from beginning to end.

We still have so many questions

If this episode taught us anything, it’s to stop assuming that we know all the things. Because while it seemed obvious that Nicky died from some sort of trauma in the war, for all we know he took his own life. We also always assumed the worst about Jack’s dad, but even he was shiny and happy once upon a time.

All we know is that, while the episode certainly tugged at our heartstrings, there’s a lot left to be discovered, and we’re already bracing ourselves for the inevitable impact that’s bound to come whenever we do return to this storyline.

Like we’d expect anything less from this show.

 

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.