This Is Us Season Two, Episode 10
Posted by Shannon
Just as he was the last piece of the familial puzzle for Jack and Rebecca, Randall’s entry into the fall finale trilogy pulls together each of the strings from the last two weeks. And it’s fitting, too, that Randall have the last word on Thanksgiving – his favorite holiday, and the one that brought such tumult into his life last year. This year’s Thanksgiving isn’t the peaceful repetition of tradition that I’m sure he’d have wanted; there’s no Pilgrim Rick, no Police Academy IV. But there is a good decision to be made, and family to look out for as best he can. Maybe next year, the Pearsons can revisit their happier Thanksgiving traditions in peace. For now, though, it remains a messy, complicated, and bittersweet holiday for our dear Number Three.
Kevin has always been the sports guy of the family. Kate the voice, tentative though she may be. And Randall has ALWAYS been the smart one. Third on his feet but first to speak, Randall’s academic track has never once been questioned. So it’s natural for him to be looking at Ivy Leagues during his college applications. As Kate says, any one of those places would be lucky to have him. And while Princeton and Harvard have earned spots on his list, it’s Howard, a preeminent HBCU, that’s got Randall’s heart. Randall practically begs Jack to take him on a tour that very weekend, and with his old friend Keith in attendance already, Randall has an in there. While Jack is fixating a little on the Ivys (“My kid! Harvard!”) he’s willing to take Randall for a visit, even if it means missing one of Kevin’s Friday night games. Randall’s apologetic to his brother for missing the game, but he also cannot get into the car fast enough.
Once they arrive, he’s flat-out giddy. As a teenager, Randall is often subdued, quieter, not one for the center of attention. But from the first moment he walks onto the Howard campus, his face lights up. Randall is completely overcome at the sight of an entire quad full of people who look like HIM. He practically bounds over to meet Keith, and even seeing Jack’s cautious face doesn’t keep his spirits down for long. Jack’s a bit off kilter for the whole college visit; he’s dismayed to realize that Randall doesn’t plan on going to the formal tour, and would rather his father go on that alone. There’s a storm of emotions running rampant for Jack here; I’m sure part of him was sad to not get to share the experience fully with his son; I’m also sure part of him felt uncomfortable at being the only white parent in sight. But he doesn’t put a damper on Randall’s experience, and after making Keith promise to give a proper tour (“Point out all the buildings!”), the two split off.
Randall is beside himself at the sight of the library, lingers in front of the photos of other Black students from Howard’s history, and sits in Keith’s dorm room grinning from ear to ear. The whole experience is transformative for him, and Keith’s friends mirror that back; they were the only Black kids at their high schools, too, just as Randall is. But here, at least, they’re not alone. “Like Malcolm at Mecca,” each of them have found a home at Howard, and Randall wants that home, too. For now, though, it comes to an end. As Jack approaches Randall to let him know it’s time to head home, a quiet tension falls over the group. Only Keith knows that this man is Randall’s father, and it’s up to Randall to make the correction. He does, after a beat, and once in the car Randall can barely stop talking to take a breath.
Jack knows there’s something going on here the at he doesn’t fully understand. And while he would never say that he doesn’t think this is the place for Randall, he does make another gentle push for the Ivy Leagues (“Harvard is Harvard.”). It’s not just that Jack felt left out in ways he didn’t fully understand; it’s that Randall hesitated to claim him as his father. And Randall being Randall, he both sees the reality behind his father’s emotional reaction and knows exactly what to say to lighten the mood. (“I hesitated. But not because you’re white. Because you’re old.”) This kid’s self awareness, and his awareness of his loved ones’ feelings, is stunning. But it HAS to be, because every day, he’s faced with the same tensions Jack felt at Howard. It’s not something Randall can just leave behind. And every day, he has to keep it in check, or lose time to his anxiety and panic attacks.
That feeling of being unbalanced and unwelcome is all too common for Randall. But it’s familiar for Jack, too. After listening to his son open up about how separate he feels from those around him, Jack takes him to pay respects for a time that left him feeling much the same way – the Vietnam War. Together, they stand at the Wall, looking at the family name. Jack was drafted at 25; presumably, so was his brother. He barely ever talks about it, and Randall certainly knows what it means for his father to share this experience with him. And if you’ve watched even a moment of Ken Burns’ Vietnam series, you also shuddered at Jack admitting that Rebecca “doesn’t know what I really did. What I really saw.” The Vietnam War was a horror, and Randall listens to his father remember feeling off balance and out of place, noticing his mournful, haunted looks. And he listens as Jack relates that experience to what his son struggles with everyday. But Jack also knows that such unease comes and goes; it changes like the tide, and all anyone can rely on is their own instinct, their own ability to decide what to do with their life. And Jack’s right to tell Randall that his choices, while they won’t be perfect, will always be good. Because they’ll be his.
At least Randall got in a few good dad jokes before needing to change gears and focus on some of those decisions Jack knew would be coming. While Tess and Annie play Pacman on their iPad, Deja is up in her room working on her photosynthesis presentation. Randall’s SO excited to share the Pearson family traditions with her (“Do you like Police Academy IV?”) and their relationship on the whole has really settled. Deja’s taking his advice on her science project, calls him out for “corny” jokes while giggling in spite of herself, and is clearly touched when Randall says he’s proud of her. But the peaceful vibe of the night is disturbed when Randall hears yelling outside.
It’s Shauna, Deja’s mom. The charges have been dropped, and since Linda isn’t calling right back, she’s decided to come straight over and pick Deja up that very moment. Beth heads her off, and in a blink the scene escalates, complete with neighbors coming out to check on them. Only Deja can calm her mother down, and so she does – she’s happy to see Shauna, but it’s clear Deja knows that no good can come this kind of reunion. (“You know it doesn’t work like this.”) She’s completely steady, and while it broke my heart to see her having to act as the adult, it was also pretty clear that she wasn’t upset over it; Deja is strong in her stance, corrects her mom when she tries to blame Randall and Beth for her haircut, and defends Linda, all without losing her cool for even a moment. All four of the Pearsons are worked up, with Tess and Annie watching frightened from the doorway, but Deja is completely in control.
Linda comes by as soon as she can, apologizing for Shauna’s behavior and for her own tardy reply. (A husband with the flu will do that.) But, completing her checklist and seeing Shauna’s apartment clean, with a stocked fridge, she’s now ready to recommend that Shauna’s custody be returned. Randall and Beth are both quietly simmering the entire time. They hear her out, mostly, but it’s just a matter of time until Randall lets lose. Once again, he questions Linda’s decision making abilities, and once again, he comes after her personally. But this time, Linda isn’t shaken. She knows what’s going on, much moreso than Beth and Randall do. Beth’s right to say that Deja’s hair loss and clear signs of trauma hint at deeper issues. And they have a point that Deja should not have to “talk her down like she’s the child.” But the reality is those aren’t strong enough reasons for the court to keep Shauna’s daughter from her, and Linda knows it. Randall and Beth got attached, lost sight of their role as foster parents. (“I need to remind you both that this is exactly what you signed up for.”) And losing their sight like that leads them down a dangerous road; Randall and Beth have called their lawyer, and armed with the knowledge that Shauna’s trespassing has likely violated her parole, they’re ready to press charges.
This whole thing is a phenomenally bad idea. And from the moment Deja asks when Linda is checking up on her mom, I think Randall knows it. Still, he goes through the motions, calling Beth about the lawyer, assuring Tess and Annie that it’ll all be ok, that all anyone wants is “what’s best for Deja,” and promising that he and Beth will both be at her science presentation that afternoon. He needs a shove, though, to make the right call and let go. His mind wanders to last year’s Thanksgiving, and suddenly we’re back with William, shortly after Randall discovered that he and Rebecca had been in touch.
I have MISSED Ron Cephas Jones. But more than that, the show has missed him. William is the show’s moral center, even moreso, I’d argue, than Jack himself, and while I’m happy for any and all William time I can get, it’s never enough. For this particular flashback, William tells Randall the truth about his time with Rebecca, about their two meetings, the fact that she disappeared in the middle of their second conversation after “I got a little too excited.” From the second William spoke about being clean, having a good job, and his desperation to be a part of his son’s life, I knew the call was made. Randall wanted to foster to honor both his fathers. Surely, pulling a daughter away from her mother doesn’t honor either of them. Once I was safe in that knowledge, I just settled in for what was sure to be another stunning Ron Cephas Jones monologue. And he NEVER disappoints.
Inspired, Randall does the same thing William did all those years ago; he drives over to Shauna’s apartment, and watches her life go by. Shauna’s outside, chatting with neighbors, showing off new clothes she bought for Deja. Randall knows he can’t interfere in their life, not now, not ever. And he certainly can’t be the reason Shauna goes back to jail. Secure in his decision, he heads back to Deja’s school for her presentation. Beth, already there, admits to having her own doubts, and quickly enough, the two realize what’s really been going on. It’s what Linda knew right off the bat – they’re just gonna miss her. But Deja “had this whole world spinning before us,” and while they’ve added beautiful things to her life, she has to move on.
I’m a gamer. I have been for most of my adult life. I love them, and I’ll always defend their ability to tell a story, or display a metaphor, in a way that NO other medium can manage. But even I was wary of Randall’s Pacman metaphor at the beginning. I shouldn’t have been; I should have known better. That homie IS like Sisyphus. And what a gorgeous thing for Randall to teach his daughters, to hand down something he’s loved his whole life – something as simple and specific as Pacman. The ghosts keep coming, no matter what. As Jack said, that’s the ride. But the cherries are there too. Randall and Beth have a few long, terrible days ahead of them – but for now, they got to stand in the back of Deja’s classroom and watch her give a stellar science presentation. And Randall even gets his “foster dad” shout out.
Here, the fall finale trilogy starts to fold back together. When Kevin calls his brother, asking to come over, Randall is in his foyer, waiting for Shauna to come pick up Deja. Linda and Shauna arrive right on time, and while Randall hopes to stay in touch, offering help with homework or babysitting, Shauna is more realistic, insisting that “I think we’re good from here.” Randall and Shauna have had a tense relationship, but Shauna knows that he’s taken good care of her daughter, and she offers a kind word before Deja comes out to say goodbye. And man, are all those goodbyes brutal. Deja hugs Tess and Annie, and, just like the night she first arrived, gets a drawing from both. Beth’s next, reminding her to take care of her beautiful hair and her beautiful heart. Randall’s the last one left.
It’s a little bit of TV magic for Deja to have gone from zero to sixty with both Pearsons; once she trusts them, she does it completely. But with Randall, I think it’s because deep down, the two are SO alike. Randall points it out himself with Shauna (“Math and Science are kinda my thing. I think they’re kinda Deja’s thing too.”), but more than that, they’re the same kind of teenager. Just as Randall, back in the car with Jack, was laser focused on his father’s emotional well being, Deja’s first worry is that Randall will think she didn’t like living with him. They’ve both felt split inside, and that never really goes away. Randall KNOWS what it takes for Deja to present as so strong and capable all the time. He’s done it his whole life. So of course, he won’t let her worry about that with him. He won’t let Deja leave on a heartbreaking note. Instead, he calls it back to their first, most important inside joke: “Big house, fancy car.”
With Kevin on his way, Rebecca calls Randall to tell him about Kate’s miscarriage. She’s planning on staying in LA for Thanksgiving, leaving the Pearson men on the East coast. Kevin has just driven from Pittsburgh, ready to admit his addiction and all of its costs. But as soon as he gets to Randall’s house and hears about his sister, his resolve vanishes and he makes a beeline to Randall’s freezer for a bottle of vodka. He has least has the presence of mind to apologize about Deja, but joining Randall for a call to Kate is a step too far. Kevin has swept into a house full of mourning and sadness, and none of it was expected. It’s way, way too much for him to take, and that’s before Tess and Annie come in to say hello, anxious to talk to an adult about their own emotional turmoil. Kevin cannot offer that right now; he HAS to get out, and he has to get out fast. He throws the vodka back in the freezer, absentmindedly asking one of the girls to “tell your dad I had to go,” and heads back out the door.
For a second, I genuinely wondered if Kevin would be the Pearson lost in a car accident after all; his insane drunk driving along the highway was horrifying. But Kevin’s not the blind spot. Tess is. Mid-ride, she pops her head up from the backseat, begging her uncle to slow down, finally showing her own breaking point about the ups and downs in her life this last year. Tess and Annie have been through hell too, and they’ve held it together exceptionally well against every wave that’s come at at them; but it’s finally caught up to Tess. And it’s landed her in Kevin’s backseat, crying, away from home, watching her uncle get arrested for DUI. Beth, truly, is gonna kill him.
Colors of the Painting
- While Kevin (and inadvertently Tess), was making a break for it, Beth and Randall discussed bringing in another foster child. It’s the right move, they know, and Randall half-jokingly pushes for a boy this time – and as luck would have it, there is a SERIOUSLY ADORABLE little foster kid at the very end of the episode. Child. I cannot wait to meet you.
- Randall lovingly teasing Rebecca for not knowing about Howard was one of my very favorite moments of the episode.
- Speaking of quiet maternal moments, Beth wiping her eyes just when Deja looks away destroys me. An Emmy for Susan Kelechi Watson. Post haste.
- “All Things Must Pass” playing on the radio while Jack drives Randall home from DC was a teensy bit on the nose, but I will never complain where George Harrison is concerned.
- “Thanksgiving dad is a hot dad.”
- Seriously, though.
And that’s our fall finale! We’ll be back when This Is Us returns in 2018. Until then, discuss your thoughts about “Number Three” in the comments!