Tim O’Brien on the Vietnam War and Season III of ‘This is Us’

Last summer we reported on the fact that the award-winning novelist Tim (The Things They Carried) O’Brien, was hired to consult on the upcoming third season of the popular NBC-TV family drama, This is Us.  That announcement strongly indicated that the season would have a strong Vietnam War theme. That indication was correct, as the war played a role in three of the first seventeen episodes—and very likely  will be part of the typically powerful and shocking final episode of the season, which airs on Tuesday, April 2.

The flashbacks to the war—along with present-day war-related developments—center around Jack, the father of the family of triplets, and his younger brother Nicky, both of whom served in the war. O’Brien explained his contribution to the Vietnam War story arc in an eye-opening interview in the March 20th issue of The New York Times Magazine.

When asked how he reacted to the offer from the “This is Us” producers, O’Brien replied:

It “was intriguing to me because so many of us believe that wars, regardless of peace treaties and the ending of hostilities, they go on and on in memory. Not only for the veterans but for the children of veterans and lovers and mothers and fathers: The repercussions go way beyond the people who actually served. I have kids, much like Jack, and I fear that my kids are dealing with the Vietnam War sometimes as much as I am. What [the producers were] were trying to do with Nicky seemed really important and much overlooked. I just haven’t seen anything even try to deal with it, much less deal that pretty darn well.”

O’Brien went on to explain how the war and its aftermath fits in so well with the constantly time-shifting plots. To wit:

“When I go silent at the dinner table with my own kids, they know what’s going on inside me. Their dad has been writing about Vietnam for fifty years. And somewhere in Orlando, Fla., there’s an old lady who wakes up at 2 o’clock in the morning every day and every night and says, ‘Where is my baby?’ Well, her baby has been dead for fifty years, but for her that war is not over, and she is as much a casualty. In the show, Randall, Kate and Kevin [the triplets] are starting to deal with the pain of a silent father who slammed the door on Vietnam. That ripple effect is what interests me about what the show is trying to do.”

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