The "world's most awkward dinner" turns out to be life-changing for so many more people than just Nicky -- plus, in the future we finally learn who pulls up to the cabin in the white car and it answers so much!
Sometimes the smallest thing can have the biggest impact, but not always in the same way for everyone. That's one of the life lessons explored as "This Is Us" took a look at love through the ages (literally) from Deja's big step with Malik to Nicky finally meeting up with Sally.
As teased in the trailer for this week's episode, Rebecca and Miguel weren't going to take no for an answer from their grouchy roommate anymore, and so they packed up Nicky for a road trip out to meet Sally.
Elsewhere, Deja lied to her parents so she could effectively sneak off to see Malik and decide if she was ready to take their relationship to the next level. After getting a sweet tease about how life-changing young love can be, and meeting Jennifer (Malik's baby mama) for the first time, Deja decided she was ready to make a change in her life toward womanhood.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, an unexpected result of the meeting with Sally was that Rebecca finally got to spend some time with another woman of a certain age and it proved an experience as life-altering and affirming as the one Deja experienced.
Don't think Nicky was left out of all this, though. In fact, his heart and story are the centerpiece of the whole story from flashbacks to his time in the van with Sally all the way back to the flash-forward at the cabin as that white car pulls up (has it been almost a year since we last saw it?!) and we finally see who steps out.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
As much as it was one of only two main storylines, Deja's secret rendezvous with Malik was very much the secondary story and in very many ways designed to reflect the young love Nicky was still chasing in his mind with Sally. Deja even wore the same type of red floral dress he remembers Nicky wearing.
That's not to take away from this sweet story, as it was so powerful seeing Black love represented so authentically -- and beautifully -- with Lyric Ross "incandescent" in her red-hot ... innocence. This is the age where love can conquer everything and, as the older woman on the bus attested, be life-changing in a single moment. For Deja, it was finally taking things to the next level. So is this her forever love? Is it Malik getting out of the car as she and Randall look on in the flash-forward? Not so fast!
There was something so poignant and true about everything between Sally and Nicky. After pining and obsessing over every detail of their time together over the past five decades and recognizing her immediately despite the passage of time, Sally had no idea who he was at first. Oh sure, it came back eventually, but even then it wasn't immediate nor complete. Nicky was a forgotten chapter of her life as she evolved past her Woodstock years.
It's a truth that was beautifully presented, that we do not always impact others as much as they might impact us, and vice-versa. This also goes for moments that might ring so vividly for one but be forgotten entirely by the other. Neither is wrong, it's just the way things go. What's remarkable for Nicky was how he received all of this information, like learning that she'd settled down in a fairly mundane life, complete with an unhappy marriage.
2 tissues (things don't always work out the way you want, but that's okay)
A man who lived his entire life in regret turned a major corner upon meeting Sally and getting a glimpse into her real life. He saw that time does not stop, that it simply marches on and Sally did the same. But he also saw the value in what he held onto for himself as that candle he kept lit for her carried him through some very dark chapters. It may have been more fantasy than reality, but for Nicky in those years, it was a fantasy he needed.
What's remarkable for his journey is that sitting at the "world's most awkward dinner" with Rebecca, Miguel, Sally and her husband Eric helped Nicky realize that he was not only ready to close this chapter of unrequited love for a fantasy, but he was okay with doing so. Suddenly, a world of possibility was opened and it was immediately evident that he wasn't so scared of it as he'd been before. Something clicked and shifted in him on this trip.
2 tissues (even disappointment brings growth if you're open to it)
After Sally remembers Nicky more fully, she jokes that she's glad or she'd have worried she had Alzheimer's, at which point Rebecca reveals that she does have something like that and even wonders what her last memory will be before it all goes away. It's a palpable moment as she begins what will be a difficult deterioration with her condition. It's perhaps small things now, but there is no prognosis but a journey of decline. What she has, though, is what she'll do with it.
Earlier on the road, we saw Rebecca grow self-conscious about her neck while remembering a similar younger road trip. After Sally blows up her marriage a bit by exposing how her and Eric are barely together anymore, Rebecca goes to console her in a moment that proves life-changing for both of them. Here they connect over growing older and that they allow themselves to be ashamed of that experience.
Sally says she stopped taking pictures of herself somewhere along the way, wondering when that was, while Rebecca admits to wearing scarves to cover her neck and putting makeup on her liver spots. It's a beautifully raw exploration into the psychological and social challenges women face while aging. Rebecca gave up salsa dancing because a younger woman pointed at her as if out of pity. At the same time, both she and Sally laugh off the idea of just embracing their gray hair. There are, after all, lines.
But perhaps most importantly, by the end of their session together, both women were laughing and bonding and Sally had actually taken some old-school selfies of the two of them together. She took a picture of herself again, which could be the start of big changes for her. So could Sally be the woman in the white car? Is she Nicky's wife? We're not there yet, kids!
2 tissues (it's never too late life-affirming confidence)
The Nicky that exits Sally's house is not the same one that went in, and it's because he had his own life-affirming experience. Even if Sally didn't remember him or what he wore in her van or even their time together, he did make an impact on her. On her photo wall of memories she has up today is a picture of him in her van. 50 years later, a piece of him exists on her wall.
That means that he did make an impact on her life. As small as it may seem, it was all he needed to know that it was all worth it. She impacted him, he impacted her and they are both forever changed by their time together, however short it might have been. After tonight's meal, though, they may yet be even more forever changed.
Nicky may have tried to back out several times along the way, and even the moment after Eric arrived, but he ultimately stayed. He powered through and walked out of it stronger and more confident and happier in who he is as a person, regardless of whether or not Sally was available. What she gave him was an odd sense of satisfying closure, even if it's not what his fantasy might have envisioned. But to know he mattered to her was enough to help him perhaps see that he matters, period. That's not always been easy for him to believe.
We immediately get a sense of that difference when Nicky declares that he's ready to head West to help Rebecca's "meathead son" as he breaks ground on the cabin where our story culminates in the future. When next we see him, he has a twinkle in his eye as he flirts and banters with the stewardess on his flight, Edie.
It's an adorable moment of bantering, and while it's classic Nicky it's got a much more playful tinge to it than the miserable and insecure and shy version of Nicky we've been experiencing these past few years. This is a Nicky with a weight lifted off of him, and it's clear that the playfulness is working.
When she asks if he's going to be a problem, he replies, "Absolutely." Flashing forward, and it's Edie that gets out of that white car and makes her way into Nicky's arm. Two questions answered in one unexpected moment. Nicky's wife is this woman he met on the flight West -- those are long flights, but still his game must have been strong! We are on the cusp of meeting a whole different version of Nicky, and looking forward to their courtship as she was sparring beautifully with him wit for wit.
3 tissues (no matter the age, "young" love is beautiful)
“He Would’ve Really Liked That You Two Found Each Other”
After their trip to meet Sally, Nicky suddenly has this whole different outlook on life. One of the first things he did was offer an unexpected affirmation for Rebecca and Miguel. The couple has taken a lot of heat on and off-screen for their relationship, with many seeing it as a betrayal of Jack and dogging on Miguel -- including the Big Three themselves.
Nicky, though, sees the love they have for each other, how genuine and pure it is. And he sees it even as Rebecca was lamenting to Sally that Jack got the "showroom model" of her, while Miguel got the "used classic with a ton of miles." The takeaway, though, is that one is not necessarily superior to the other. Both have their value and either can be just as lovely.
Considering Miguel was Jack's best friend and Rebecca his wife, getting this affirmation from Jack's brother carries a lot of weight, even if not much was made of it in the moment. But we think Nicky is probably right. Jack would have only wanted happiness for both Rebecca and Miguel, and seeing that they were able to find that, how could he do anything but stan?
3 tissues (you may not need affirmation, but it's still nice to receive)
Rebecca is in a new phase of her life, empowered into embracing who she is right now by her visit with Sally and this new diagnosis hanging over her. She now knows the end point for her, even if she doesn't know when it might come. But she also doesn't know how many good years or months or even days she has left. So in many ways, this is Rebecca seizing the day, as it were, by deciding that it really is time to not sweat the small stuff.
She may still stress about the garbage cans, but the Rebecca at the end who steps back into a salsa lesson with Miguel isn't wearing her neck scarf, and we'd wager she didn't put makeup on her liver spots, either. She also isn't looking to see who might be pointing at her.
What made the scene even better was seeing another older couple dancing by in the background. This showed just how much we get in our own way when it comes to life's little embarrassments. Rebecca enjoyed salsa dancing but let that pointing girl make her think she was too old for this and others were pointing and laughing. That other couple proves that you're never too old, she's not the only older person doing this and it was more Rebecca standing in her own way.
That's the empowering side of her diagnosis, as tragic as it may be, as it's freeing her to be more fully present, more fearless and more engaged in life.
4 tissues (it's not easy to shed insecurities and just be, but it is empowering)
You know Miguel meant every word of this, and it was a beautiful sentiment he shared when Rebecca lamented to him that he was definitely not getting the best of her in their marriage. Miguel loves her dearly and he is fully committed and on board with being by her side every step of the way.
What he doesn't know is exactly what he's signing up for. Living with someone with dementia is hard. Watching your loved one live through it and decline and even lose you is devastating. Plus, this is a TV show and he was so emphatic and passionate about it, we immediately went, "Uh-oh!"
Add to that Miguel's notable absence in the future, and there are any number of possibilities here, including the fact that Miguel might literally not be able to be there for her. Both he and Rebecca are getting older as the series progresses, and the flash-forward is even further into the future. There's nothing to guarantee Miguel lives that long.
We've been promised that we'll get a lot more of his story with Rebecca, from his courtship to what makes him one of the true unsung heroes of this show. We've seen how smoothly he handles being beat down by her kids all the time (verbally and emotionally) and how firmly he defends her and stands by her. Miguel is her rock, and he's a rock that helped hold the family together, even if they don't get it. What happens when that rock starts getting worn down? We may soon see.
5 tissues (beautiful words, but a worrisome promise that could prove very hard to keep)
"This Is Us" continues its final season Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.