THE VERY SPECIAL RANDALL EPISODE (THIS IS US RECAP)
I was all set to bid goodbye to This Is Us for an entire year. The signs were there. We were bombarded with promos mentioning the word “finale” over and over, like a Buddhist mantra of resignation. We had already seen Kevin and Kate go through major breakdowns and breakthroughs. Most telling of all, the show had saved everyone’s favorite kid for last. What else was there to say, really, about the Pearsons and their constant need to make grandiose sentimental statements about things that most people deal with quietly and in private? Snuggled in my couch, I was ready to spare my final ounces of patience and endurance until the fall of 2018.
And yet those bastards had to give us the biggest surprise twist of all. For it wasn’t a finale at all. It was a winter finale. Is that a thing? I don’t think it’s a thing! Have I been spoiled by streaming services for way too long? In a tailspin of anguish, I wondered what I had really signed up for. At the time, this seemed harmless, a little internet adventure where I could spew all my devilish thoughts on to the page. Now, though, it seems like a vortex of sap that is keeping me trapped in its sticky-sweet rendition of the human condition.
Will I soldier on? It is my holy duty. At the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for my loved ones. It so happens that my loved ones don’t need to be exposed to this without a filter. They need me as a buffer, a conduit through which they can safely navigate the trickily waters of the #1 drama in television.
It was a fitting conclusion for an episode that centers on that very question: What is the best for our loved ones? And are we providing it? A difficult question. A Pandora’s Box of a question, even in the best of circumstances. The unfortunate situation, though, is that This Is Us raises it and adds some racial/class tension into the mix. Look, I’m an immigrant Peruvian woman who has some insight into how minority status can deeply affect someone in this country and I still don’t feel fully equipped to talk about this head on, with regards to the black community in the United States. Yet, the writers room in This Is Us does. My quick Google search indicates that the 10-person team is composed of 3 black writers and they must be working their BUTTS OFF. They’re probably the reason Beth is the fictional heir to Michelle. However, since we also have to appeal to your semi-racist aunt in Kansas, a few things fall through the cracks. Let’s see how this Very Special Episode goes.
We return again to that fateful weekend where Teen Kevin gets a booboo and Teen Kate doubles down on her irrational hatred of Mommy Pearson. Teen Randall, of course, is being twice as good as the rest of them. He is applying to Harvard, but his bright wandering eyes are also curious about Howard, the prestigious historically black university that has graduated the likes of Toni Morrison, Thurgood Marshall, and, my personal favorite, Kamala Harris. Dude would be in GREAT company, if you ask me. What has Harvard done for us lately? Created Facebook, as far as I’m concerned, and we can argue all day about how that’s the harbinger of These End of Times.
Yet, I get the appeal. I’m a sucker for some good old-fashioned namedropping and validation from old white men. It’s part of my internalized misogyny. Daddy Pearson does too. He’s full-on Springsteen as he expresses how proud he is of his Harvard-bound son. Teen Randall, however, speaks up to say he actually wants to check out Howard as well. We all know by now that Jack is perfect, minus that whole alcohol problem, and doesn’t put up much of a fight. Off they go, the working-class Real American and his black son into the nation’s capital.
As proof that I’m not all horrible, I’ll admit to really enjoying Teen Randall’s beaming face as he stepped onto campus. I’m a sucker for universities. You’re talking to a lady who spent a good 10 years of her life pursuing higher education, the 5 years after wishing she worked at a college, and is currently holding on to her university job for dear life. The only time I wish I had a desire for children is when I think of how much fun it would be to drop them off on their first day of college. Which probably means I shouldn’t have them since I only daydream about saying goodbye to them. In any case, Teen Randall is bursting with excitement as his childhood friend Keith shows him the ropes. Teen Randall is feeling himself, his people, this whole new world that may open up for him. The guys are cool. The girls are cute. The Fugees are blasting in the background so you know the parties are lit. Teen Randall’s’ levels of happiness are comparable to that of Chance the Rapper at a benefit concert for CPS hosted by Barack Obama, with backup vocals from Solange. That’s how much joy is coursing through his body right now.
Jack interrupts Teen Randall’s dalliance with the brotherhood for the same reason all dads do: to get ahead of traffic. For a split second, Teen Randall hesitates to introduce him as his father. Jack can tell and he brings up the subject in the car. Teen Randall reassures him that his hesitation is not of a racial variety, but simply an age-related one. Your parents are deemed Old Farts as soon as you hit your teens and Teen Randall did not want to seem uncool in front of his new friends. However, this is the perfect opportunity to give Daddy Pearson and the viewers at home a very sincere lesson on how racism works. Teen Randall tells him that the hesitation Daddy Pearson felt is one he’s been plagued with his entire life. The only way he can describe it is feeling off-balance.
Jack keeps saying he gets it, and I was about to throw my Rice Krispy treats at the screen because it sounded like such a pat thing to say about an experience Jack hasn’t had. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how the show approached this. Daddy Pearson takes Teen Randall on a little detour to show him the Vietnam Memorial. Though they have teased us with the Full Metal Jacket period of his life, we have yet to delve deep into Daddy Pearson’s martial backstory. We get a little taste here. Jack tells Randall he too felt off-balance when he returned and reassures him that he won’t always feel that way. Now, comparing war service to racial anxiety is apples and oranges, but I don’t particularly mind this attempt to bridge the gap. If only because they’ve both been shown to have a profound negative impact on your sense of self and your own mental health, which I know is me stating the obvious, but it serves as a good reminder that trauma can come upon impact or can seep into your life slowly.
Over in the present day, Deja has gone from a child who mumbles two-words per day to a full-blown scholar. Case in point: She is hard at work on a science project that involves blasting Beyoncé to plants to prove they grow faster under the influence of Queen Bey. Here’s a question: WHY CAN’T WE GET A SCIENCE SHOW WITH DEJA AND RANDALL INSTEAD OF THIS BULLSHIT? I was already more emotionally invested in this plant experiment than anything Kevin ever goes through.
However, this planted-studded, Beyoncé inspired domestic bliss was not meant to last. Deja’s mom shows up to the house demanding to see her daughter. Turns out her charges were dropped. Beth is trying to get her to back off like a momma bear and Randall comes out to back her up, cause let’s face it between Beth and Randall, I trust Beth to be my muscle man more than Randall. However, it is soft-spoken Deja who calms her mom down. She insists they need to do this the right way, via the social worker. We’re left wondering if Deja wants to stay or go. On the one hand, she deeply loves her very flawed mom. On the other, she’s got a Beyoncé plant to take care of. It’s a tough choice.
That 70s-Mom-Turned-Social Worker later tells Randall and Beth that she is going to recommend Deja return to her mom. There’s food and the place is clean. Fair. Better living conditions than most adults I know. Randall protests, in a continuing mansplaining epidemic that he’s had as of late. Beth is a bit more diplomatic, pointing out how much Deja has improved since she’s been under their care. They decide to lawyer up and perhaps they should have left it at that. Instead, Randall goes on full on creep mode and decides to follow Deja’s mom. As he does this, the show does the whole Inception trick. First, it takes us back to the last Thanksgiving, where Randall found out about Mommy Pearson’s great betrayal AKA not telling him she knew who his biological father was. Then we get another flashback within the flashback. William tells Randall about the other time he and Mommy Pearson saw each other. William saw her coming out of a store and decided to follow her. Like creepy father, like creepy son. William wanted to knock on the Pearsons’ door so badly and create this whole fantasy world where he’s included in the family get-togethers, even though it would involve the blandest of chicken breasts and some sort of Jell-O mold. These are the sacrifices you make for the children you love! However, a man who survived prison got scared by the presence of a little bike that clearly showed him he was not part of his son’s life.
This little “Every Step You Take” experiment, turned out for the best though. Randall finally comes to his senses and tells Beth they can’t keep Deja away from her mom. Randall recognized that there was this other world waiting for Deja, a home. Much like he may have felt when he set foot on Howard’s Campus. A place she can be herself.
Then he rambled on about Pacman and how it’s a metaphor for life because we’re all being chased by ghosts and sometimes you get to binge on cherries but for the most part you’re in an endless loop of psychological haunting. This is not me joking around. This is for real, folks. It is not a drill, this was a legit thing someone wrote for a character to say out loud. Which is why Beth’s response is perfection:
“That’s bleak as hell, babe.”
It’s time to say goodbye to Deja. It is done as one of those hipster indie songs your college boyfriend played while he tried to get into your pants plays in the background. That’s your cue to cry. Beth gives Deja the words to lift her up and carry her through the next 50 years of her life. But Deja leaves her most heartfelt adieu for Randall. She tells him she likes living with them. Randall gives her a very consensual hug after Deja tells him she’s ok with it. (A LESSON FOR SO MANY MEN.) He’s crying, you’re crying, but I’m not crying because I am dead inside.
AND THEN THEY SHOW THE MONTAGE OF EVERYONE FUCKING CRYING. KEVIN, KATE, THAT ONE EXTRA WE SAW A FEW EPISODES AGO. JUST IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T CRIED YET. THAT’S ALL THIS SHOW WANTS YOU TO DO. #RESIST.
We’re finally back to we left off, with Kevin showing up on Randall’s doorstep. After talking about Kate, Kevin proceeds to chug vodka before noon. Randall’s little girls show up to torture Kevin with their cuteness and, honestly, who can deal with that while on a bender? Not I. While Randall and Beth talk about whether they want to keep fostering, Kevin gets in a car though half of his body has been replaced by Smirnoff. We know this is going to take a turn (pun!) for the worst, when Randall’s eldest daughter pops out of the backseat. For one moment, I had the horrible image of This Is Us going for full on schlock and killing off the little girl in some fiery crash. Thankfully, all that happened was Kevin getting arrested for a DUI.
I’m here for Beth kicking his ass. An epic scene we will witness in 2018.
Reason to Lust After Milo
Jack as Woke Dad will forever crush me, even if it is an anachronistic detail in the series.
Attempts at Emotional Manipulation
- Jack and Randall’s heart-to-heart as the outline of the nation’s capital glistens
- Deja’s presentation on the Beyoncé plant
- Deja’s goodbye
- That soft-hued montage of William’s parallel fantasy life
- That cringe-worthy montage of everyone’s tears
Deep Quote of the Week
“You’re gonna find your balance, Randall. And then you’re gonna to lose it, and then you’re going to find it again. That's the ride. And you're gonna make a lot of choices...the choices you make are going to be spectacular, because you are spectacular.” – Daddy Pearson. As a gift, I will not tear this apart. Happy Holidays.