Wednesday, October 17, 2018

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Jack Joins the War in Order to Protect His Younger Brother in 'Vietnam'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 3.04 "Vietnam"

A young Jack makes a decision that will impact the course of his life.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of NBC's This Is Us.

"Vietnam" was written by Dan Fogelman & Tim O'Brien and directed by Ken Olin

This Is Us has always told its stories in a non-linear fashion. It always enjoys going back-and-forth in time to reveal some new facet about the past and its impact on the present. The Big Three are trying to move forward with their lives. At times, the stories set in the past only highlight some thematic idea to connect to what everyone else is going through. Other times, the past is treated as one big puzzle. Jack's death is something that needed to be solved instead of a twist that felt absolutely devastating in the moment. And now, the show is once again slowly teasing out what happened to Jack in Vietnam. The show established questions about his service lately. It's a convenient way to keep Jack as an active character. He's the only one from the main cast to appear in "Vietnam." And yet, this hour doesn't provide all of the answers about the tragedy that occurred during the war and how Jack lost his younger brother. Instead, it mostly tells the story of Nicky's life before those events occurred. The structure of this episode tells the story in reverse. It opens with Jack being able to track Nicky down in the Vietnamese jungles. It then cuts back several weeks to show how his squad was ambushed which led them to getting reassigned to a cushy posting. Then, it flashes back further to show that Jack only enlisted in the first place to be in the same country as his brother during this uncertain time. Then, the story just keeps going back in time until the audience gets a good understanding of why Nicky was called up to serve and the bond that he had with his brother. It once again highlights Jack's heroic narrative. He saves a fellow soldier on the battlefield. He's the guy who will hopefully provide Kevin with all of the answers to the questions he is just starting to ask about his father's service during the war. And then, it's revealed that Jack went to Vietnam in order to save his brother, who was sending some dark letters back home. But it's also clear throughout this story that Nicky feels the inability to measure up to what his brother has done in his life. Even when they were children, Jack was the healthy child who was at least doing something. Nicky just seems to be wandering around in his own life. They are both subjected to their father's rage and anger. They are victimized by his beliefs. It's actually laughable when the show features the tease that Jack's father didn't even drink when Nicky was born. That set up everything to eventually build to that tragic ending. But Nicky chose to be a hero in this story as well. He feels it's his time and responsibility to do so because Jack has been doing it his entire life. Even when Nicky tried to defend his mother from his father, Jack always had to step in and provide support. That can be crippling as many of the other Pearsons can attest. It's hard to live in Jack's shadow. And right now, the show continues to glorify Jack's actions as well. Sure, it continues to offer evidence of how he was destined to die in that fire from the smoke inhalation all those years later. Meanwhile, there is some really weird and on-the-nose dialogue that makes it seem as if the show is actually making meta commentary on the story as it's being depicted. There is no reason for Nicky to muse about seeing life in reverse except for that being the way this episode is telling the story. It's also just unnecessary for the nurse in the hospital the day Nicky is born to go on and on about this being a lucky number. It's ironic but it's not all that meaningful or cute. It's still potent symbolism though. It may mean that Nicky was able to escape the vices that have plagued numerous Pearson men throughout the generations. But it also seems like he is presented with some terrible choices. He could either be born on the day that will be picked later on in the lottery for the war. Or he could be born on his grandfather's birthday and grow up to be a drunk like so many of the other men in the family. As such, all of this is inescapable which makes it even more tragic. But again, it also features the show working overly hard to make that point in the first place.