It’s no secret that Griffin Dunne’s Uncle Nicky is the best secondary character on the show. Now, Nicky is back with one of the most tear-jerking episodes of this is us in months.
Last week on This Is Us, Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) showed up unexpectedly at Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison (Caitlin Thompson)’s house to meet the twins, specifically the one named after him.
This week, the entire episode features Uncle Nicky (my absolute favorite, so naturally I was weeping within the first five minutes).
When Nicky shows up to Kevin’s house, he says he’s there for the baptism. However, he misunderstood that it was a Zoom baptism, but Kevin lets that one go. Nicky is more than thrilled to be there and assures them he’s safe.
The audience then gets to see all of the steps Nicky took to make sure he could go to California and visit Kevin and his family. It’s absolutely beautiful to see how hard Nicky worked to get to Kevin. First, we see him proudly looking at the invitation, then we see him getting vaccinated, tested and more to ensure COVID-19 safety.
Then, we see another friendly face: Cassidy (Jennifer Morrison). She’s still in close contact with Nicky, and he goes to her looking for help with buying presents off of Amazon for the twins. She helps him, gives him the courage to go to California, and he thanks her for being his constant -- his one and only since he got back from the war.
At the same time, we get two young Nicky (Michael Angarano) flashbacks. One is when the moon landing happened, with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and their parents, where he’s trying to work up the courage to ask out a woman from work; the other is after the war when his relationship with Jack is ruined and his old friend from service is trying to convince him to go grab a drink with some of their old service buddies.
Nicky works at the dog shelter with Sally (Genevieve Angelson), who he wants to ask out. However, he keeps chickening out, until she finally makes the first move. The two make plans to go look at the moon, and it’s the most adorable interaction.
Sally and Nicky have a date in her van, lovingly referred to as “Pearl.” They gaze at the moon together and Nicky starts finding out that Sally is his polar opposite: an entirely free spirit. They share a kiss, and thus begins their relationship. It’s been a while since we’ve seen footage of Nicky this happy.
The happiness continues as Nicky introduces Sally to his parents. They love her, and so does Jack. He and Jack seem stronger than ever, and so does his relationship with Sally. She takes a picture of the Pearson brothers, which Nicky keeps with him always.
Sally asks Nicky to go to Woodstock with her, so they can see Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. After Nicky agrees, Sally asks him to pack up the van and leave Pittsburgh for good after the concert. Nicky is hesitant, but he eventually agrees because he loves her.
Jack brings Nicky a suitcase in preparation for his leave (the same suitcase he takes to Kevin and Madison’s house, I might add). Nicky asks Jack for advice because he’s so nervous. Jack encourages him, but later when Nicky is sitting with his parents, they indirectly make him feel guilty for leaving. Sally, waiting for Nicky, is heartbroken when he doesn’t show up.
Nicky works up the courage to go to the bar with his friends, though it does take a lot of convincing -- mainly because he’s worried about what Jack will think of him. He sits in the parking lot of the bar, desperately trying to go inside, while Jack is inside asking his friend for advice about proposing to a woman -- whom the audience knows to be Rebecca (Mandy Moore).
Finally, Nicky works up the courage to go in. Right as he does, Jack is coming out. Nicky is about to talk to him when he sees Jack pull out the ring for Rebecca and get in his car. Nicky knew he missed his window, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
In the present day, Cassidy takes Nicky to the airport. He’s nervous to go because he hasn’t been on a flight since he rode a medevac out of Vietnam. He works up the courage and checks his bag and present for the twins through security. But the security guard tells him he has to mail the present because of the liquid in the handmade snow globes that he spent days working on. Nicky offers to dump the liquid, getting visibly frustrated, and ends up dropping and shattering both snow globes on the ground. This scene is so heartbreaking, especially after watching Nicky’s excitement dwindle the more he works to get to Kevin.
But more than anything, the audience sees what a large deal it was for Nicky to travel all the way to Kevin’s house. He’s been through so much in his life, so many mental blocks and physical blocks, but he made so much of an effort because he wants to change his cowardly ways.
Nicky is so happy to hear Kevin wanting to do all of these fun things with him, but then gets visibly upset. Kevin chalks it up to exhaustion, but Nicky calls Cassidy and tells her that he doesn’t know if he can handle stepping in and acting as a grandpa to Jack’s grandkids.
“I didn’t know this brother of yours,” Cassidy said. “But I do know two pretty decent men who have spent their lives wondering if he would be proud of them. Deep down, don’t you think he’d be proud of you Nicky? It took a while, but you made it. You made it all the way to California.”
Nicky goes into the twins’ room and gives them each a book he loves, with notes throughout that he wrote. What follows is a five-minute monologue from Dunne that is absolutely outstanding, tear-jerking and all-around incredible. He tells the twins how much he loves them, how they inspired him to finally make a change and that he’ll always be there for them.
Kevin goes into the room in the morning to find Nicky asleep in the rocking chair. He picks up the book, and inside it finds the picture of young Nicky and Jack that Sally took.
This episode is an absolute showpiece for Dunne’s acting ability, as well as the most emotional episode This Is Us has produced in quite some time. Whether that’s because I adore Uncle Nicky or because of the stellar writing -- I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a healthy combination of both.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.