Welcome back from 2008, This Is Us fam! I miss it already. It was a simpler time, when Randall could have emotional chats with nice Home Depot clerks, and Sad Rebecca could go trolling for some Jack replacements on Facebook. Things seemed hopeful back then. Now, the Adult Big Three are back in the present and everything seems sad. Okay, so Kate’s whole thing about pretending to not want a big wedding until Toby makes a Grand Gesture to change her mind because the girl loves weddings is supposed to make us happy, but at the end of the day, she’s still marrying Toby so …
Too harsh on a guy who just spent $200 in hoodies to spell out “Will You Marry Me?”? Sorry, not sorry. You’re winning me over on Miguel, This Is Us, and Toby’s re-proposal is endearing on its own, but don’t press your luck.
Meanwhile, Randall and Deja’s story line doesn’t end in some big heartbreaking way, but it’s depressing because This Is Us is (thankfully) showing us that there is no easy answer when it comes to the foster-care system and adoption. In “The Most Disappointed Man,” Randall comes to realize that hard truth after dealing with Deja’s imprisoned mother. Of course, as with most things on this show, that realization is informed by the past — by both his parents and William. So, let’s start there and work our way back to the present. Randall loves a good plan, and so do I.
Finally, This Is Us dives into Randall’s adoption. Up until now, we’ve only seen that Jack and Rebecca walked out of the hospital with an abandoned baby, Rebecca had a hard conversation with William, and that’s it. But in this episode, we watch as Jack and Rebecca deal with home visit after home visit from a social worker for an entire year until they can go in front of a judge and make things official. Although they get a stellar recommendation, once they get in front of Judge Bradley (welcome to the family, Delroy Lindo!), he has questions. He postpones their hearing until he can speak with the social worker, crushing Jack and Rebecca’s dreams of finally, legally being able to call Randall their son.
But Judge Bradley has never met the Pearsons before. Rules of the courtroom, be damned! They spot Bradley after the hearing and ask to speak with him. Once in his chambers, he explains his problem: He doesn’t think Randall belongs with them. Allowing a black baby to grow up in a white family will leave him unprepared for the obstacles he’ll face as a black man in this world. Although it seems very un-judge-like, he pretty much tells them that he’ll never change his mind on this. His speech about his own experiences growing up is an affecting one, and Jack and Rebecca have no real response in the moment. But, as we know, the Pearsons are as tenacious as they are beautiful, and so, not knowing what else to do, Rebecca writes Judge Bradley a letter about Randall already being her son and never giving up on this being her family, official court papers or not. In the end, it’s enough for Judge Bradley to recuse himself from the case and send Jack and Rebecca off to another judge, who finds no reason not to grant them the adoption. The Pearsons are officially the Pearsons we know and love!
But this isn’t the only story pertinent to Randall’s decisions in the present day. There’s William to think about as well. As fate and the writers of This Is Us would have it, at the same time the Pearsons were fighting to make Randall theirs, William was in the very same courthouse awaiting sentencing for possession. Poor William. His judge, Judge Crowder (Sam Anderson), is surprised to see this man with no prior record standing before him. Well, if Crowder feels that way, consider William the most disappointed man in the entire world. A year ago, he had a mother, a great love, and a son. Now all three of them are gone. So he does drugs.
This honesty moves Judge Crowder. He is tired of the system failing people, and he’s tired of handing out sentences knowing how the story will end. He wants to help William write a different ending to his story. He asks William to promise to picture Crowder’s face anytime he is about to make a bad choice. And for a long time, that works. However, years later, learning about his incurable cancer and impending death is too big to nip William’s desire to numb the pain. That’s right, we see Old William in his little apartment, getting ready to fall off the wagon … until there’s a knock at the door. We know this knock. You guys, it’s Randall. Banging on William’s door. From the pilot.
Oh, This Is Us, how tricky you are. The moment adds a new dimension to William and Randall’s relationship: Randall saved William that day in so many ways, but most immediately with that knock. Here’s to This Is Us for finding creative ways to bring Ron Cephas Jones back, because LORD, that man didn’t even have any new lines in this episode and he was still able to emotionally unravel me.
As Randall deals with Deja and her mother in the present day, he is thinking about Jack, Rebecca, and William. Randall and Beth are trying to do what’s best for Deja. When she goes to visit her mom for the first time in prison, and Shauna (Joy Brunson) opts out of seeing her daughter, Randall and Beth are livid. Beth doesn’t care what’s mandatory or not — she isn’t going to stand by and let Shauna hurt Deja anymore. Not while it’s Beth’s job to protect Deja.
Randall goes to the prison to talk with Shauna face-to-face. The conversation between the two is excellent, and not just because Randall calls Beth “a black queen.” It reveals just how complicated their situation is. Shauna didn’t opt out of seeing her daughter because she doesn’t care; it was because she was jumped and didn’t want Deja to see her bruised face. She may be on one side of the glass and Randall on the other, but she didn’t have opportunities like Randall did. She didn’t have choices. Randall may be able to offer Deja fancy things and a better school, but she’ll always be her mother, and she believes that Deja is the best thing she’s done with her life. It’s easy to understand Randall and Beth’s desire to protect Deja from getting hurt again, but Shauna isn’t a villain in this story.
That’s why, in the end, Randall gives Shauna their phone number and let’s her call Deja (who has never seemed happier, by the way). Randall thinks about his parents, who fought to protect him and spent their entire lives wondering if they were doing right by their son. He thinks about William, and how lost and alone he was for all those years without Randall. So, yes, it’s complicated. But what else is new?
This Is the Rest
• Listen, the use of the “we need to talk about Kevin” joke is old and overused and probably not that funny to begin with, but it seriously applies here! We really do need to talk about Kevin! Kevin is spiraling (and sweating) at an alarming rate. His drug use is up, he gets freaked out by Kate’s pregnancy news, he buys three engagement rings, and he has weird montage dreams about being a terrible parent. The real kicker is that he stands in the very same spot where he declared his love for Sophie to tell her that he is an empty shell and he can’t do this. Help him, Big Three! You’re his only hope!
•It’s the return of Urn Jack! (Are you singing it like “Return of the Mack”? Me too.) When Toby starts questioning whether Kate really wants a quickie City Hall wedding to save money, save him from telling his very Catholic mom about a baby out of wedlock, and so that Kate doesn’t have to deal with getting married without her father, Toby turns to Urn Jack for some advice. Urn Jack is so wise.
• “You deserve to walk down the aisle with your two stupidly handsome brothers and feel them love the crap out of you.” At least This Is Us is preparing us for the moment that will undoubtedly make people weep on their sofas.
• Judges Bradley and Crowder know each other — and both wonder if they’re doing the right thing. What a different show this would’ve been had they known who was in their courtrooms!
• Jack’s. Photo. Shoot. Outfit.