This may be the one episode of The Wonder Years I truly loved from start to finish. Dean’s older brother Bruce returns from the Vietnam War, having been injured in combat. He will live, but he has to acclimate himself to civilian life. By the time his family comes to visit him, he has transitioned by getting himself an older girlfriend who is also a single mother. Bruce’s siblings and parents are suspicious of the woman’s intent, with particular distrust coming from mother Lillian. Throughout “Love and War,” we see Bruce navigate the challenges of coming home while learning what it means to be a stepparent.
Foundationally this episode had no reason to succeed. It was definitely great to see Bruce back amongst the family dynamics again. What proved to be more impressive was how he handled being back from war. He was bitter during his previous guest appearance on the show because they weren’t giving solid jobs to African American veterans. This is still a disgusting part of American history where a person who has served this country only has the opportunity to work as a janitor instead of being an apprentice banker. Realizing he had a new family to support, it was lovely to see that he found a way to compromise by being prideful and knowing he needed a job.
Dean’s jealousy of Tammy’s younger son is adorable, but his hatred is made exponentially better by narration from Don Cheadle. Cheadle’s internal monologue matched Perfectly with every action done by EJ Williams. The real heart of this episode is that the family has to realize when to let go of Bruce and let him be his own person. All families struggle with this when their child or sibling grows up. They always imagine that person in a way where their success is almost guaranteed.
I love that Bruce continually stepped out of his family’s shadow and did things for himself even when they were unpopular. The definitive moment of the episode where Bruce finally has the strength to discuss how he had to leave his best friend behind during a firefight was beautifully constructed and highly emotional. It’s some of the best ratings of the series all season. If they can keep this quality up for season two, I would definitely be interested in continuing to watch. I hope it turns a corner.
A story like this can be primarily compelling because soldiers are always coming back from war. Not a lot of their stories have been told on-screen for television. Television, like the news, is used to inform. This reboot of The Wonder Years hasn’t done an excellent job of that until now. These are the stories audiences need if they’re going to connect to the new characters. The brief connection to the original series gives this new iteration more heart overall. I think that’s what this show needs to keep going, but I’m open to being wrong. I’m finally glad to award an episode a well-deserved higher rating.