By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 12, 2022 at 6:56 PM

It'd be easy to overlook Tuesday night's new "This Is Us." Sure, there was a little reveal at the very end of the episode, but it wasn't exactly a revelatory twist. Nor did the hour feature the kind of massive Kleenex-inducing fireworks that became the drama's hallmark. (Unless cringe makes you cry, which in that case, you almost certainly ran out of tissue.) 

And yet, Tuesday night's episode was quietly a revelation – dedicating a remarkable amount of television screentime to older characters, talking openly and with refreshingly honesty about aging, about growing old and about regret, near and far. Sure, maybe for the sake of Deja and Malik's storyline, it was too much time this episode. (Classic Boomers, using up everything and leaving the younger generations with crumbs.) But thanks to all of that lovely, thoughtful and human discussion, the big reunion between Sally and Nicky ended up being worth the trip, evolving Nicky, Rebecca and Miguel in rewarding directions by the end. 

And what directions might those be? Let's talk about the five major takeaways from Tuesday night's new "This Is Us" – not including the fact that Sally and her husband are super getting divorced, right?

1. Well, that reunion could've gone better

Who could've guessed that reconnecting with a fling from your far-gone past with no notice – and not even any confirmation that you're knocking on the right person's door – would go poorly? Especially when one of the people is still working his way to sociable behavior? Credit to "This Is Us": They made the Nicky and Sally reunion as awkward as it probably would be in reality – and then some.

Things didn't get off to the cleanest start either. After going through his closet of identical plaid shirts – a fun quick visual gag – a nervous Nicky gets flustered pretty quick out of the gate trying to buy an antique camera from a shop on the way to Sally's house. Or what he just THINKS might be Sally's house as he didn't actually talk to Sally on Facebook or even make sure it was the right Sally; he just saw a Sally with the right name and a bunch of nice photos of animals and plants, and assumed it was the right person. Add in the fact that the camera is more expensive than expected, and Nicky's ready to jump ship. Thankfully, a travel-weary Rebecca isn't going to waste this gas for nothing, so she and Miguel talk some sense into Nicky and even help purchase the camera.

Now they just have to hope that Sally's actually home. And that she's actually Sally. And not a stranger accidentally catfishing them. Other than that, the plan is solid!

Thankfully for everyone involved, when they arrive, it does end up being the right Sally – though it takes a good while for Nicky, Rebecca and Miguel to jog her memory. Still, it's not like things aren't awkward – especially since Nicky leads off with a bad tired joke and Rebecca brings up how much he was pining after her over all these years while she definitely left that brief chapter of her life in the past. Plus, after Sally notes that she can't bring herself to watch Martin Scorsese's Woodstock documentary and relive her experience because apparently you can see her dancing topless in it, Nicky pervily mutters that he definitely could bring himself to watch that. Cue the polite awkward laughter! 

Hopefully she doesn't have a husband around the corner too, because somehow things could get even more uncomfortable. Oh no, would you look at that; there's her husband Eric coming around corner. Well at least we're not staying for dinnOH GOD, WHY ARE WE STAYING FOR DINNER!?

As you might expect, things do not get less awkward around the table where Nicky brings up the whole "Miguel's married to his dead best friend's widow" thing, then clearly remembers his past with Sally better than Sally does – something Eric the husband definitely notices as the meal goes along. And if he didn't, he surely would after Nicky prattles off all the details of their magical summer together – from the exact clothes she wore when they met to the date they went on to a vivid recollection of the time she took his virginity in her van. It is ... a lot to unpack.

To her credit, Sally handles this all with grace – even when her husband makes a weirdly mean crack about how she apparently deflowered most of the East Coast back in the day. (Are we having fun yet!?) To add to the awkwardness, while remembering her old Pittsburgh days, Sally makes an offhanded joke about thinking she had Alzheimer's – which gets under Rebecca's skin to the point that she brings it up at the table. Because things were going so well thus far. And listen, if you're gonna have a trash dinner, you might as well pour the whole can out – so after some earnest talk about aging, Sally digs into Eric about the slow quiet collapse of their marriage, about how they've drifted apart and how he no longer treats her as a romantic partner.

Yeah, Eric, I'll join you guys in some bourbon after all of that too. 

Yet somehow, there's a sweet if melancholy ending to all of this for Nicky. (And for everyone, except maybe Eric, but we'll talk more about that in the next point.) While meandering around the house and preparing to head out, Nicky comes upon Sally's wall of photos from her art days – and amidst the images is one of him in the van. Even if time, life and distance has made his fairy tale romance out of reach, he now knows that he meant something to her as well over these years. Maybe she didn't remember it as clearly, but he was there. And that's enough for him to end this chapter of his life and move forward. 

The plotline wasn't exactly fun to watch play out, but for all its drama and tension, the earnesty felt real – as well as Nicky's final revelations about finally growing from the past and looking toward a future. Last season, in the episode "One Small Step," Nicky made one of his inaugural moves toward his future, overcoming his fears – ones that overtook him with Sally and with Jack at the veterans' reunion – to take his first flight in 50 years to see Kevin and Madison's babies. Now, in this episode, with another big trip, he seems to have fully closed the book on his fears and regrets from the past. The episode's title? "One Giant Leap."

2. Everyone agrees: Getting old sucks

Tuesday night's cringe-a-thon dinner didn't just serve up revelations for Nicky and Sally. Rebecca too comes away with a new look at life – what's passed and what's to come.

The revelations actually came well before the main course at Sally's house. On the road, while blasting "Hooked on a Feeling," Rebecca suddenly flashes back to the last time she was singing along to this classic tune: a road trip with Jack in their earliest days, the two fueled by that irrational young love optimism. Rebecca even pops out of her seat to sing with the wind sweeping her air in the wind like they do in the movies. Cut to the modern day, and Rebecca's alarmed by how much time has done to her, her memory on the precipice of breaking and her body no longer young in the mirror. 

In case she needed a reminder of how much her life's changed and how old she now is, in comes Sally with her crack about Alzheimer's at the dinner table. So she vents her feelings on the matter – not with anger but regret, not toward Sally but toward herself. You see, despite growing older and despite feeling gravity beginning to pull her toward a finish line she doesn't want to cross, she still is stuck thinking about the small worries. Everyone else chimes in with the same regrets, albeit with different concerns – a deck, a lost hair. How much of their limited time on this planet have they spent worrying about things that simply don't matter? Nicky's story isn't quite the same: He spent so much of his life thinking about Sally, but doesn't regret it. He needed it to get through the dark times – even if, by the end of the visit, he realizes he's finally ready to let it go.

After the dinner, while the men have likely the world's most necessary yet awkward bourbon in recorded history, Rebecca and Sally have a heart-to-heart – not about Nicky but about themselves and how they've changed over the years and yearning for the young, optimistic, carefree people they once were. Sally used to take self-portraits without a second thought; Rebecca and Miguel used to go salsa dancing until she caught a younger woman, without malice, looking at them like they were some novelty act. Much like Nicky, in their own ways, they're spending more time looking back rather than looking forward – something Rebecca happily tries to amend by the episode's end, going salsa dancing once again with Miguel, embracing the person she now is rather than regretting it. 

"One Giant Leap" may not have had the giant twists or emotional punches that became the signature of "This Is Us" – but with interactions like these, the episode was rather moving and, in a quiet and modest way, groundbreaking. After all, how often do you see a group of older people on television talking honestly about regret and getting old? No plot, no drama – just discussing what it's like to age and to consider yourself with new eyes, for better or worse. They're rare conversations that, in the end, were worth the four-course dinner cringe.

3. Deja and Malik were also technically in this episode

Huh. I would've sworn the advertisements and previews for Tuesday's new episode emphasized that Deja and Malik would be at the center of this hour. Instead, with so much to unpack with the olds, the young lovebirds played the Kate role here, stuck very much in the B-storyline as their sweet and optimistic growing romance basiscally just served as a sweet counterpoint or echo to the melancholy wisened relationships having the world's most awkward dinner elsewhere. 

This episode, Deja does her best impression of a Dropkick Murphys song and ships up to Boston to visit Malik at Harvard – not to study with a friend, as Randall thinks. On the bus ride there, she has a pleasant conversation with her seatmate, who tells her that "love changes you." Can't imagine that'll be a theme reflected later on in this storyline!

Anyways, she arrives to Harvard to a clearly exhausted Malik, old coffee cups scattered across his apartment from battling the Ivy League school workload all while also helping raise his daughter. At least he's getting a break in the case of the latter as his ex Jennifer is taking her for the weekend, giving us our first real interaction between Deja and Jennifer. Oh uh, more awkwardness on the menu this episode? Thankfully for everyone, she seems nice enough – at least to Deja. To Malik, less so, as she's not impressed by his tardiness for the pick-up, the fact that her clothes aren't clean and that he's seemingly flighty from all the schoolwork. She doesn't seem mean, more so exhausted in her own right, perhaps with Malik being absentminded like this before. Perhaps a little more time with this subplot could've fleshed out that interaction more – but only so many minutes in an hour, especially when you're sharing it. 

Even with Jennifer gone, though, Deja's dream date weekend still has some other speedbumps to get over – mainly a big paper that's due for Malik. With Malik strained and stressed about that, she says he should take some time to finish it up at the library while she holds the fort and cleans up at the apartment. It's a sweet gesture that ends up making the whole night better, Malik's head no longer stuck in his books and focused entirely on Deja, dressed beautifully (pardon me, "incandescent," a very screenwriterly word that thankfully Deja pokes fun at immediately after) up for their night on the town.

It's a short night, however, as not long into dancing at a party, Deja decides that she's ready to take the next step – THAT step – in their relationship. So the two head back to the apartment and are intimate together, swooning all the way into the next morning, where the former coffee hater is glowingly back on the bus back home – complete with a cup of joe from Malik's favorite campus coffee shop. You could almost say ... that love changes you.

It's a lovely little final gracenote in a tender and cute subplot – one, though, that could've maybe been better served with either more screentime in this episode or more room to breathe in another episode. The reunion elsewhere carries so much weight and has so much to unpack that Deja and Malik don't quite have the same space – a shame since this feels like a major step in their lives and futures. Though ... do we have confirmation Malik and Deja are together in the far future at the big cabin gathering? Maybe that Jennifer interaction was less about their past and instead foreshadowing problems in the future. 

4. Is this the end for Nicky and Sally?

So, after the reunion dinner from cringe hell, this would seem to mark the end of Nicky and Sally. (Sicky? Nally? Yeah, let's forget this experiment.) Not so fast! After all, as we slowly found out through the dinner, Sally and her husband are not on the best of terms, growing apart over the years to the degree that they're willing to snipe one another at the dinner table in front of almost complete strangers. So perhaps Sally, after splitting with her current hubby, is still the unseen wife in the near future who needed an emergency stocking run?

Eh, unlikely. First of all, on a purely logistical level, the wedding isn't THAT far off in the future, meaning Sally's divorce and new marriage with Nicky would have to happen in record time. But most important of all, Nicky is ready move on from his Sally obsession. By the end of the episode, after seeing a photo of him in the van from their brief intersection, he's realized that he made his impact on her, that what they had was meaningful in its way – and that's enough, ready to move on with his life, move back to Pittsburgh and look forward to the rest of his life rather than lingering on the past and the regrets. Progress – progress that would be rather disappointing to undo in the name of "storybook romance." (The same reason why Kevin ending up with Sophie would be a bummer too.)

So, if it's not Sally, then who's Nicky's wife? We know for sure that Nicky's married in the future (I would've sworn Sally's name was said in the season finale flash-forward – but not the case!) so who could it be? It's not like Nicky could meet somebody in the final few moments of this ... 

5. Meet Edie!

Somehow, two episodes into its final season, "This Is Us" is still introducing new integral characters into its story. At this point, I assume the finale will feature some fourth secret grown Pearson child who was off living in Hungary this whole time. (I kid ... maybe ... )

At first, the late-episode reveal solves a completely different mystery: Who were a greyed Randall and a pregnant Deja looking at arriving to the cabin in the far-off future? The answer ends up not being Kate or Toby ... or anyone we've even met before. Instead it's revealed to be a lovely older Black woman named Edie warmly greeted by Randall and Deja before going to kiss Nicky, the two cutely talking about how much they missed each other.

So who is this woman? Well, cut back to the present and Nicky on a plane, being told to return his seat to its upright position. And if you think Nicky's not gonna be That Guy on the plane and say something grumbly about the finnicky rules, well, I hope you enjoyed watching your first episode of "This Is Us" – weird place to start, but you do you. Indeed, Nicky starts harrumphing about having to raise his seat, only for the stewardess to snap sweetly, "Are you going to be a problem, sir?" The two smile and banter a little more, in the process revealing that her name ... is Edie, the mystery wife from the future. Yes, apparently this interaction was the start of a thrilling romance – as opposed to the start of viral YouTube confrontation. Quite the time to choose "airplane rules and etiquette debate" as the bedrock for a love story, "This Is Us" writers. Somehow I feel like Edie would be less charmed by this chat in reality. 

But forget reality: Nicky's apparently met his someone – someone we'll surely get to meet more in future episodes this season – and that's wonderful news. Somehow I bet he likes airplanes a lot more now.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.