This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us: The Glaring Problem with That Vietnam War Storyline

TV Features This Is Us
This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us: The Glaring Problem with That Vietnam War Storyline

Enough. Many of us have reached that point with someone we love. Whether it’s a romantic partner, a family member or a friend, you realize that what you’re putting into the relationship is not what you’re getting out of it. That the person is a drain on your emotional and psychological well-being. That the pain they’re causing you is too great. That they’re not going to change, so you have to. Severing all contact, blocking, de-friending, ghosting, etc.

And so it appears that’s what happened with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his younger brother, Nick (Michael Angarano). In flashbacks, we learn that Nicky inadvertently killed a young Vietnamese boy, the son of the woman who gave Jack her necklace, when they went grenade fishing. Nick jumped off the boat and survived. The young boy did not. It was a tragic, devastating and avoidable mistake. For Jack, this was the last straw. He put Nicky on a plane back to the States and told everyone his brother had died in the war.

But here’s the thing: It just doesn’t track for me with the character This Is Us has spent nearly three seasons creating.

The relationship between Jack and Nicky before the war was that Jack was Nick’s protector, always looking out for his younger brother. Jack enlisted to protect Nick after he was drafted. He got Nick assigned to his platoon. He did everything he could to safeguard and save his brother. I get not speaking to Nick for a period of time. I understand being furious with him. But lying about him for the remainder of your life? Telling your wife and children that he’s dead? Seeing your brother living a solitary life in a run-down, beat-up trailer and still being unwilling to let him back into your life?

It smacks of a desperate move by the writers and producers, who are running out of ideas. As I’ve said before, bringing a presumed-dead character back to life is better suited for daytime soap operas. How long before Randall discovers he has an evil twin? Or Toby invents a nefarious weather machine? Or some new actor begins playing Kevin and everyone pretends like they don’t notice?

The Jack we know would have eventually come around. He wouldn’t have been able to see his brother like that and not do anything. He’s not that cold, that unforgiving. Just because the series tells us Jack only sees things in black and white doesn’t make it so. I also didn’t buy “I never got to tell him it was an accident.” It’s a line designed to pull on our emotions and make us cry. But wouldn’t that have been the first thing Nick said to Jack?
The storyline was saved by the terrific performances of Angarano and Griffin Dunne, as the elder Nick. They are both incredible actors who did amazing work. They almost (almost) made me forget about the shoddy plotting that got us here.

Look, I’ve long said that family dramas are the hardest TV shows to make. Compare to Grey’s Anatomy, which is currently in its 15th season. Each week, Grey’s has patients to save. Characters can weave in and out of the narrative. Only four of the original cast members remain, and it doesn’t matter. Because it’s a hospital show. We can’t replace the Big Three. All This Is Us can do is to continue to come up with new obstacles in their path, whether it’s a dying birth father, a reluctant foster child, or a previously-thought-dead uncle.

This story bothers me far more than Randall winning the city council election. Yes, that is ridiculous, too, but it’s more in line with the usual suspension-of-disbelief shenanigans we expect on TV.

Other stray thoughts on the January episodes of This Is Us:

– The show went on its winter hiatus on November 27 and was gone until January 15. It returned for two episodes, and now won’t be back until February 5. This doesn’t seem like the way to compete with streaming platforms.

– Just how famous is Kevin? Can the show decide? Nick was able to track down Jack’s address and mail him a postcard, but had no idea his nephew was a famous TV star? I know there wasn’t a TV in the trailer, but still. Come on.

– Both Jack and the Big Three leaving the same convenience store—which apparently hadn’t changed at all in 24 years—was a little too on the nose for me.

– Can someone get me an accounting of Beth and Randall’s finances? They’ve both been out of work for a while now, and I’m thinking the city council position doesn’t pay much. Even a passing comment on how they are running out of savings would be helpful.

– Justin Hartley is just so good on this show, and he doesn’t get the accolades he deserves. I’m trying to rectify that. He’s really great at bringing humor to a scene in a believable, subtle way.

– As someone who has been pregnant, Kate’s need to pee was stressing me out. All I could think about when they met with Nick for the first time in his trailer was “This pregnant woman needs to go to the bathroom!”

I’ll be back in February to talk more This Is Us. In the meantime, read previous installments of “This Is Us Analyzing This Is Us” and check out Paste’s interview with Eris Baker, who plays young Tess Pearson.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .

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