No. 3 is up in the ol’ This Is Us Big Three Trilogy, and if you figured it was going to be a doozy given the emotional confrontations, whether external or internal, that the other Pearsons faced in their episodes, well, I have five words for you: Randall-and-Rebecca road trip.
While watching “Every Version of You,” I kept thinking about season one’s “Pilgrim Rick,” the first Thanksgiving episode, in which Randall learns his mother has been lying to him for his entire life about knowing his birth father. The two episodes feel like a pair. If “Pilgrim Rick” is pretty much about disemboweling the Randall-Rebecca Very Special Relationship right there on the dining-room table, “Every Version of You” feels as if they’re finally sewing it back up. Yes, Rebecca has apologized multiple times and Randall has forgiven her, but something about this road trip feels cathartic and healing. They need this. Maybe we all need to have gross dive-bar wine with our moms.
So how do these two end up on a road trip post-Thanksgiving? Deja flies the coop. Immediately after the big meeting with Rebecca and Miguel, Randall is trying to wrap his head around everything, including that Rebecca is handing over the reins to Kate, not to him. You know that’s hitting this guy hard. So what he doesn’t need at that moment is Deja storming downstairs telling Randall and Beth that she knows Randall told Malik to break up with her, which he just did, and that she hates him. Randall tries to explain again that dropping out of high school to move in with your single-dad boyfriend is a terrible idea, but Deja doesn’t want to hear it. And when he tells her he can make these kinds of decisions for her because he’s her dad, she says something I imagine most of us were waiting for her to use to hurt Randall: She isn’t his daughter. “Tess and Annie are your daughters. I’m just some girl you took from her mom,” she yells at him. That one stings. The next morning, they learn Deja took off for Boston in the middle of the night.
Randall is ready to drive up there so quickly he basically has a trail of cartoon dust behind him. Rebecca tries to get her son to take a breath, and he makes a little dig about asking Kate to handle it since apparently she handles family problems now. It is so mean! Rebecca decides she isn’t letting Randall go by himself — she’s tagging along.
The first half of this trip sees Rebecca trying to temper Randall a little bit. This guy is about to pop off. No one blames him — his teen is running amok — but Rebecca is right in that anything he says to either Deja or Malik at the moment would probably only make things worse. She makes him stop for a sandwich so she can take her meds and reminisce about what they used to do together when Randall was little — lots of reading and eating smiley-face cookies — and it’s just plain nice. Rebecca even wants a picture of them hanging out. When the waitress asks if they’re celebrating something, Rebecca says no, “just a day with my son.” See? Nice!
When Beth calls and says she heard from Deja and she’s fine in Boston, Randall wants to go, go, go again, but Rebecca tells him once more to slow down. Give Deja the night. And this boy listens to his mom. They end up at a dive bar, and Rebecca fangirls about Randall’s write-up in a local Philly magazine; she started reading Homegoing because he said he was in the article. They drink bad wine and play darts, and, yes, Rebecca wants more pictures with her son. Interspersed throughout this whole trip are glimpses of Rebecca and Randall doing similar things when Randall was little. She looks at him in the car and remembers looking in the rearview mirror at his little face in the back seat. When they brush their teeth side by side at the motel where they’re crashing for the night, she remembers them doing the same thing when Randall was a kid. When Randall has to open Rebecca’s meds for her, he’s the one who remembers his mom doing the same for him when he was little. It’s all very “time is a circle, the world spins madly on” kind of stuff. When Rebecca looks at Randall, she sees all of him.
When getting ready to go to sleep — don’t worry, they have separate beds, Kevin, godddd — Rebecca overhears Randall on a call with Jae-won. Randall probably hasn’t felt this close to Rebecca in a while, and he seems almost excited to let her know what’s going on — he’s on a DNC shortlist to run for a Senate position when the current senior senator retires. He’s not sure he even wants to do it, especially with, as he puts it, “such uncertainty in the family.”
Obviously, this isn’t going to sit well with Rebecca, who literally just gave all her children a talk about taking risks and not making their lives smaller because of her disease. I guess he couldn’t hear it over his single tear; such is the life Randall leads. The next morning, she wants a sit-down with him by the motel’s closed-down pool. She talks about how wild and wonderful it’s been to watch him grow up, and how even before Jack died, they had a special relationship, and how he has always taken care of her, no matter what. This is why she could never ask him to be the executor of her care. She knows he would drop everything to help her and be consumed by it. “You are my hero, Randall,” she tells him — he’s got DOUBLE tears going here in case you need to know how meaningful this moment is — and, more important, adds that she “will not be the person to hold [him] back anymore.” I mean, I wouldn’t say that to Kate, but okay.
It’s all so lovely and a great closing chapter on this relationship that has had a heavy presence on This Is Us. The scene ends with Randall confiding to his mother that he knows he’ll win if he runs for Senate. He knows it in his bones. And then from there … you guys, if This Is Us ends with Randall Pearson becoming president of the United States, as this episode implies more than once, my head may explode. I can take almost every This Is Us twist, but that? I don’t know if I can handle that. I thought this was just supposed to be an emotional family drama with Milo Ventimiglia’s butt in it!! I didn’t know it would be the prequel to a West Wing reboot!!
On to Boston they go! Randall has already gotten word from Deja, and it’s not good. I mean, it’s not good for her — it’s great for Randall. She and Malik ended things, and she wants to come home. Randall can’t even speak when he pulls up outside Malik’s apartment building and walks over to get Deja. Malik wants Randall to know he didn’t end things because Randall told him to, but he did end things for the exact reasons Randall explained to him, so you do you, Malik. Randall tells him that he’s a good kid and that things like this can come back around if they’re meant to be, especially on this show, so who knows?
Randall still cannot bring himself to speak to Deja, though. Sitting in the back of the car, she apologizes for what she said because, of course, Randall is her dad. “You’re the only one I ever had,” she says. Rebecca sits there watching her son looking back at his daughter, and she is moved by it all. And by “all,” I mean life and the passage of time. It is a very deep road trip!
The end of the episode gives us a little tag to each of the Big Three’s stories: Kevin made it home with the twins and is proud of himself. After making that call to Phillip, Kate comes back to Toby’s apartment and tells him she’s not ready to move to San Francisco, “not with where [they] are right now.” And Randall calls Jae-won to tell him he wants to move forward with the Senate stuff. They are each following their mom’s orders and “forging ahead” in ways big and small.
This Is the Rest
• It’s hard not to think about the other road trip Randall took with a parent: In “Memphis,” William shares his life with him and then dies before they make it home. Randall has gotten some special one-on-ones with his people!
• Back at the closed-down pool, Randall and Kevin are still trying to convince Kate to climb the fence when a cop car pulls up. He wants to bring them in for trespassing and underage drinking (could you just be cool, Kev?), but Randall pulls the cop aside and tells them about how they’re all struggling since their dad died two years ago and he’s trying to hold them all together, but if they get arrested, it’ll break his mom. Also he doesn’t want to get arrested because he wants to become president one day (!!!). The cop lets them go!! Randall really is a hero.
• I love seeing the older teen Big Three having fun at the diner. This version of the Big Three has had to be sad and angry so much, it’s nice to see them enjoy being together.
• Back at the first day at the pool, Little Randall passes the test to be allowed to swim in the deep end, though his parents really don’t pay attention to him at all. Still, he’s the one who ends up getting all the Pearsons in the pool together to play.
• Nope, still not tired of hearing Jack and Rebecca yell “Swim goggles!” like that.
• Rebecca has a memento box stored away for each of her kids — it’s why she takes all those photos of her and Randall — and we see her put in Randall’s article, which she had him sign just in case. She’s preparing for what comes next.
• Did anyone else cry all four times they’ve heard Mandy Moore do that “You will not make your life smaller because of me” speech? No? Me neither. We’re all doing JUST FINE HERE.