Be it adoption or alcoholism, NBC’s This Is Us is famous for its heart-wrenching story lines. But Tuesday night’s episode will be particularly, well, on pointe.
Titled “Our Little Island Girl,” the episode is a stand-alone story that finally gives us insight into Susan Kelechi Watson’s pragmatic Beth Pearson. It’s here we learn that Beth’s dad, like her husband Randall’s, died when she was in high school — a connection that, according series writer Kay Oyegun, who spoke to journalists at the show’s Television Critics Association press screening earlier this month, was decided upon way back in the show’s first season when Beth commiserated with Randall’s biological father, William (Ron Cephas Jones) over the fact that cancer sucks.
“Our Little Island Girl” is also where we’ll learn that the loss of her dad (played by Carl Lumbly who, like Watson, is born to Jamaican parents) contributed to Beth killing off other things that had defined her: She cuts short her passion for ballet to pivot to a more financially stable career in urban planning, while also symbolically letting that part of her life die by deciding to no longer go by her given name of Bethany. As fans of This Is Us have already seen in a flash-forward, Beth eventually returns to her original calling. In tonight’s episode, we see just how Beth gets her groove back in a hot dance number, thanks to a script written by former dancer Eboni Freeman and directed by Step Up’s Anne Fletcher.
The scene doesn’t employ any body doubles, either — that’s Watson up there in all her glory. “For me, maybe the greatest form of expression … is the physical [and] what can happen with the body” Watson, who studied dance at Howard University before deciding to concentrate on acting, said during the TCA screening. “I was so excited by the opportunity to go back and do that again because I’ve been dancing all my life.”
True to This Is Us form, this episode also required casting actresses who could play younger version of Beth. The show’s ace makeup team even replicated Watson’s moles when designing for actresses Akira Akbar and Rachel Naomi Hilson. Hilson studied the show and learned to emulate Watson’s mannerisms. As bizarre as that is, Watson says that this “informed me” and that it was helpful “to actually step outside of Beth and watch her so that I could be a bit objective because I’m so close to her.”