Friday, November 17, 2017

The Changing House Numbers in This is Us (S2 E8): A Cryptological Study

[SPOILER ALERT: If you have not watched This is Us S2 E8 "Number One," watch it before continuing to read. If you don't watch This is Us at all, stop everything you are doing and binge watch it up to and including S2 E8 before continuing to read! The show is that good!]

I am not a professional Cryptologist (someone who specializes in cracking codes). I was, however, an Arabic linguist at the National Security Agency (NSA) after 9/11, where I took a week long class at the National Cryptologic School entitled "Cryptology 1010: Introduction to Manual and Machine Cryptosystems." In that course I did learn the principles of encryption and decryption. So I do know something of the field and my proposed solution to a separate cryptological puzzle was even published in the Birmingham Post.

But before I say more about the NSA, I have watched This is Us from the start. I both cry easily from emotional programming and rather enjoy it. And This is Us is, therefore, the best show currently on television.

I worked at the NSA for four years, during which time I was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Civilian Service Medal for service in Iraq in 2004. Nowadays I'm a mild-mannered Latin teacher at a public high school and weekly look forward to Tuesday night's episode of This is Us on NBC.

If you have not already spotted it or heard about it, there was a curious change in the numbers on the old Pearson House in "Number One" (S2 E8). I'm not going to lie. You deserve the truth. I did not spot this when I first watched the episode. My twin brother Kevin, who equally loves the show, brought it to my attention.

Kevin (Pearson, not my twin) is on his way to his old high school to accept an award, but he takes a detour to look at the spot of their old house. As he looks at the house rebuilt on the spot of the old house, you can see that the house number is 1920.

In his mind's eye, he then sees back into the past to the aftermath of the fire that presumably killed his father, Jack Pearson. You can see on the mailbox in front of the charred remnants that the old house was also number 1920.

As Kevin stands there, a man steps out of the house and says, "Hey! Can I help you?" But the number on the house next to the man is, strangely, 1646, not 1920.

Flustered Kevin retreats back to his Uber and leaves. As we look back on the man going back into his home, the number of the house is, once again, 1920.

Let's explore the possibilities of this curious inconsistency.

Simple Continuity Error?

Maybe they scouted out this house that they thought would work nicely as the "rebuilt" house. For privacy reasons perhaps they decided to CGI the Pearson address (1920) over the real number (1646). But someone goofed, the correction was not included in that brief scene over Kevin's shoulder. It means nothing at all.

And let's also point out the address on the house is itself an apparent continuity error with a previous episode. When, in the episode "Déjà Vu" (S2 E3), Randall takes out a newspaper ad looking for his biological parents, we see that the address on a response he receives is very clearly "34153 Forest Road, Bethel Park, PA 15102."

I don't accept that this was a mere mix-up. The numbers on the house are not just accidentally in the scenes. They are prominent. They mean something.

Meaning Yet to be Revealed

So maybe the producers will eventually just admit it was a continuity error (but don't bet on that). In the meantime, I'll offer some ideas based on potential patterns in the numbers. 

Possibly the number change is indeed significant but the true meaning will rely on information we have not yet been given in the show. If that is the case, the numbers 1920 and 1646 do not yet provide us with the clues to decipher this puzzle.

A Cryptological Approach

Maybe, however, the numbers 1920 and 1646 are sufficient clues based on information we already have in the show.

From what I have learned in the field of Cryptology, we look for patterns that may be meaningful.

1) 1920

This is the supposed actual house number (setting aside the address in "Déjà Vu" [S2 E3]). So at face value, this number theoretically means nothing, it's only the curious insertion of 1646 that would have potential meaning.

But before we move on, S2 E6 was itself entitled "The 20's." It showed us a timeline we had not previously experienced.  If we interpret the number 1920 as the two consecutive numbers 19-20 (Nineteen becomes Twenty, and now we are in the Twenties), this could be a way to tell us that the 20's are yet a timeline in which we will learn important things about the Pearsons. 

2) 1646

Taking our cue from the idea that 1920 = 19 into 20, then 1646 = 16 into 46.

16 to 46 is 30 years. Now, the show itself begins (S1 E1) on the 36th birthdays of Jack, but also Kate, Randall, and Kevin. So 30 does not seem to be of any known significance to the show. 


Look, you can add the numbers together (3566).  You can subtract the smaller from the largest (274). There's just nothing here. There is not enough information yet provided to make sense of these numbers. If they mean something, we don't yet know how and why. 

The ages 16 and 46 are not significant to any of the principals in a way that would require their prominence.

And I therefore conclude that the solution somehow lies in that man at the door next to the number 1646.

Who is he? 

He asked Kevin, "Hey! Can I help you?"

And Kevin, later collapsed in front of Charlotte's house, said, "I just need someone to help me!" (This was my twin brother Kevin's observation.)

Kevin clearly needs help. Who's out there to help him?

Here's my long-shot theory.

That man is Nicky, Jack Pearson's brother, whether spiritually or actually present. Nicky gave that Buddhist pendant to Jack when they were in Vietnam.

And 1646 will yet be explained to us...