Caitlin Thompson as Madison in This Is Us

'This Is Us' Honored A Real-Life Unsung Hero In The Most 'This Is Us' Way Possible

by Ani Bundel

This Is Us may set its stories in historically accurate periods, but the stories it tells are typically fictional. In real life, there was no Jack Pearson, no more than there was a Malik in Philly. But with Season 5, Episode 8, This Is Us broke from that formula to tell the story of two relatively unknown people's lives and how they affect not just the show's characters, but most fans' everyday lives. So, who are Nasir and Esther on This Is Us? This show's tribute to these real people was pretty much perfect.

Warning: Spoilers for This Is Us Season 5, Episode 8 follow. When the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, it was the first time in 100 years that businesses shuttered due to a disease. But much of the world didn't stop working. Instead, people went home, opened their laptops, and started working from kitchen tables and couches, using Zoom and Skype and the like to video chat their colleagues. Similarly, social media became a desperate form of connection, with people sharing photos and participating in video calls to keep families and friend groups together. That technology already existed in the Before Times, but during COVID, it became (and remains) a lifeline.

That was the theme of the Feb. 16 episode of This Is Us, as Kevin and Madison and Kate and Toby have life milestones in a socially distanced reality. As Kevin said in the previous week's episode, the most important thing you can be for your family is there. In this pandemic-ravaged world, video chat and photographs are how you do it.


Strung in between these major life moments of Kevin becoming a dad and Kate becoming a mom of two, the show added in scenes of two people unconnected to the Pearsons, Nasir and Esther. It started with their meet-cute at a mixer, two immigrants new to the country coming together. Nasir was more interested in his books and applied mathematics. When Esther asked him about it, his passion for algorithms and numbers shined through and their relationship took off from there.

The show also intercut Nasir and Esther's son's birth, and then four years later when Nasir arrived home late for dinner. When Esther demanded he explain what could matter so much that he'd miss quality time with his son, Nasir explained his project was on the verge of a breakthrough.

What Nasir was creating, the "Discrete Cosine Transform," is the process that separates images into parts to compress them into tiny packages, if you will. It is the basis of the technology that today allows people to upload pictures to their phones, post them to social media, and email them to family. It is also the basis of video-chatting technology.

As fans learned by the end of the Feb. 16 episode, Nasir and Esther Ahmed's story is real. Nasir first proposed the idea of the DCT in 1972 and led a team of researchers to turn that theoretical technology into a reality.

This Is Us has a tendency to introduce side characters whose lives intersect and impact the Pearsons. For the first time, the series has gone beyond that, introducing people who touched everyone's lives during coronavirus and honoring them with a special little side story.

This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.