It’s Deja’s turn to get the This Is Us treatment. Like William, Dr. K, and Joe the Fireman before her, we’re pressing pause on our regularly scheduled Pearson family drama to do a deep dive into Deja’s life. It’s a surprising choice for the penultimate episode of the season, but a beautiful story nonetheless. This Is Us is about moments that make up a life and lives that connect, so maybe one day when This Is Us has ended, we’ll look back and be like, “Oh, that’s why they showed us Deja’s story then!” and it’ll all make sense. Or maybe we’ll be like, “No, seriously, did Jack really have to die?” I don’t know the future.
Focusing on Deja does two things: Obviously, it shades in Deja’s character, which is important, especially if she is becoming a permanent fixture on the show, as the end of the episode seems to imply (although, this is This Is Us, so who knows). But it also reinforces what the show is all about and perhaps offers up its own thought as to its popularity. I mean, other than the scientifically proven Milo Butt Theory.
At the end of “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life,” as Deja settles back into her old room at Randall and Beth’s, and happily suffers through more of Randall’s corny jokes, she finally opens up.
When she first arrived at their house, Randall told Deja that she reminded him of her. Deja thought he was crazy. They are so different. But now she thinks about how every person sleeps at night — no matter how much money they have, where they live, or what they look like. Isn’t that incredible to think about? And, if you think even harder, there are other things that are part of the universal human experience. We all have things that cause us pain. We all have things that comfort us. This is why, as we watch Deja’s story unfold, we flash to clips of the Pearsons (and William) at all different stages in life, experiencing similar moments and emotions. When we see Deja’s mom, Shauna, just 16 years old, giving birth to Deja, we also see Rebecca giving birth, William there for Randall’s birth, Randall and Beth having Tess. All very different, but also the same. When Deja is finally reunited with her mom after being sent into foster care the first time, she opens the door and they hug. This is cut with Adult Kate opening her door to find her mom standing there, ready to give her a hug after Kate’s miscarriage. (Mom hugs: They are powerful things.) Everyone reading Goodnight Moon is pretty great, too. It is this idea of living different lives, but being able to relate to certain experiences that makes This Is Us as emotionally impactful as it is. No one’s family is the Pearsons, exactly, but we all recognize certain moments in their story. It’s what keeps us coming back each week to be emotionally destroyed. Fun!
So, how did Deja end up back at Beth and Randall’s house? Let’s start from the beginning.
Shauna is in no way ready to be a parent to Deja. Not even after a stern talking-to from her grandma (played by Pam Grier), who is Shauna and Deja’s main caretaker. Shauna is never willing to put Deja first. As Grandma reminds her, she can’t carry Shauna forever. Shauna finally learns that lesson after Grandma dies suddenly. As a devastated Shauna holds Deja, she asks, “What are we going to do?” Which, you know, is a lot to ask a little kid and obviously not a great sign as to what the dynamic in their household is going to be.
But we already knew it was Deja taking care of her mother and not the other way around. Although that seems unfair, Deja and Shauna seem happy. Watching them laugh together, all while knowing how things end up, makes these scenes brutal. Which is your basic This Is Us recipe, I guess.
Around the age when we first met Deja, she is home alone cooking a special birthday meal for her mother, and she ends up slicing her hand. Shauna doesn’t answer her phone, so Deja heads to the hospital on her own. A child arriving at the hospital injured and alone sets off some alarms. Enter Linda. Glorious, underpaid, overworked social worker Linda!
Because of how bad the circumstances look, Deja is taken away from her mother, at least temporarily. But sadly, as we come to find later, the pain of losing Deja drives Shauna to drugs, and Shauna ends up in and out of rehab for a year, extending Deja’s time in the system.
Linda finds a home for Deja with the Millers, who already have one foster child, Raven. Things are not great here and the happy, laughing Deja we previously saw begins to retreat into the cautious, silent Deja we met at Beth and Randall’s. One day, Raven convinces Deja to steal some makeup from the corner store. When Mr. Miller finds out what they did, he beats Raven. It’s horrible and Deja is shaken. It isn’t the first or last time he is abusive. During a visitation, Deja blurts out to Linda exactly what’s going on and Deja and Raven are immediately removed.
Deja believes she’s done Raven a favor, but Raven gives Deja a lesson in the life of a foster-care kid. It’s gutting to hear Raven remark that she’s lost count of how many beds she’s slept in throughout her short lifetime. That all Mr. Miller did was hit them, it could be worse — at least there they would’ve been together. She also tells Deja not to be dumb: When Deja finds a bed in a home that is remotely safe, she should do whatever she can to not mess it up.
Deja soon learns what Raven means about sleeping in too many beds, as she is shuffled to different foster homes until she is eventually brought back to Shauna, out of rehab and somewhat stable. But Shauna also has a new boyfriend. He tries to win over Deja, but she is skeptical and eventually proved right, as he reverts back to his old ways, drinking, and not working. It is his gun that the cops find in Shauna’s car, leading to her arrest and leading Deja to Beth and Randall’s house the first time.
Now we know Deja’s frame of mind when she first walked into the Pearson house. This was just another bed for Deja to add to her list. We see flashes of her time there, familiar scenes, including Beth doing Deja’s hair and talking about how hard it is to say good-bye. It was more than just a bed.
This time, we also get to see what happens to Deja after she leaves. Again, Deja and Shauna don’t have much, but they seem happy. Shauna is working hard and they sit together to pay the bills. (The little home bank Deja makes her mom is so sweet it hurts.) But it is clear it is getting harder to make ends meet — which is why Deja ends up at Beth and Randall’s front door asking for money so she can get the heat turned back on.
While the Big Three took on Vegas, we were privy to Randall and Beth’s side of this story, but now we watch from Deja’s perspective. We see her disappointment and anger in discovering that Shauna used their money to pay her boyfriend’s bail. We see her inability to sell off her great-grandma’s brooch, the last tie to her. (Like Kevin’s attachment to Jack’s necklace, sob.) We see Deja resign herself to the fact that she and her mom will have to live in their car.
That is, until, she wakes up to the two precious faces of Randall and Beth. Wouldn’t you like to wake up to those faces?
Randall and Beth bring Shauna and Deja home, for, at the very least, one home-cooked meal, one rousing game of Uno, and a night of sleep in a bed. Shauna tells Beth that she’s never seen Deja act the way she has tonight — like a kid. Shauna knows that’s her fault and that she’s failed her daughter over and over. (Joy Brunson is pretty spectacular, isn’t she?)
When Randall comes down the stairs after his chat with Deja, he finds Shauna with her bags packed. She tells him that she needs to leave and Deja can’t go with her. Randall and Beth stand there in shocked silence, knowing this will break Deja’s heart.
Will Randall really let Shauna leave without at least one Randall Speech before she goes?