THIS IS US 2x10 Recap: "Number Three" - Randall & Deja, Kevin Hits Rock Bottom | What Happened?!?
This Is Us Season 2 Episode 10: Randall Finally Gets Some Closure
Identity is a recurring theme onThis Is Us, trailing the lives of three very different people who just so happen to belong to the same family. We watched as the last two episodes ripped open siblings Kevin and Kate, exposing who they really are beneath the emotional armor they’ve worn for so long: vulnerable, scared, and alone. But when it comes to delving into their adopted brother Randall’s identity, the answer has always been “it’s complicated.” Growing up the only brown face in a white home, the only black child in an all-white school, and with a background his parents often have trouble explaining, Randall’s been chasing his own identity the entire series. Even after finally meeting his biological father William, his unexpected death left even more questions. But in tonight’s episode, Randall comes closer to peace.
Unlike Kevin and Kate’s episodes, Randall’s does not begin on the night of Kevin’s unfortunate college interview. Instead, it kicks off in the present, right before bedtime in his own home with wife Beth, two beautiful daughters Tess and Annie, and foster daughter Deja. But this seemingly perfect vision is disrupted with a visit from Shauna, Deja’s mom, who swings by and demands to take her daughter. It’s a shock for both Randall and the audience, as the last time we saw her, she was seated behind bulletproof glass with a bruised face, delivering what seemed to Randall like empty threats about getting out of jail and taking Deja from him. Well, she’s out now, and those words are no longer just threats. Shauna creates such a commotion outside the Pearson home that not only do Randall and Beth’s white neighbors come over to make sure everything is okay, but Deja herself comes downstairs. But instead of running into her mother’s arms as expected, she calmly gives her a hug and explains she she has to go through the social worker in order to take her home. You know this is not how it works, she says. And with that short burst of reality from her own daughter, Shauna departs—but not before promising she'll return. Beth, still upset about the intrusion, responds with the steadiest of gazes, “We’ll be here.”
It’s so easy to see Shauna as the bad person after watching this confrontation. She’s the outsider, the person we’ve only met on one other occasion, and under terrible circumstances. We’re supposed to think she's the villain and Randall and Beth are the victims. But what becomes increasingly clear to Randall throughout the episode is that the fight he's waging has little to do with Deja or Shauna everything to do with protecting someone he's come to love as his own—even though that person is not his own flesh and blood. We saw this before with Rebecca and Jack adopting him, and now it's repeating here. For Randall, Deja has always been a promise of belonging for him, the joy of having a similarly displaced child like he one was live under his roof. A chance to rewrite some of his own challenges through her.
But unlike Deja, Randall’s identity wasn't something to return to, but something to attain. We see this as we journey to his teens, when he's forced to come into his own with a little help from the college experience. Jack is so excited to take Randall on a campus tour of Harvard, but is noticeably taken aback when Randall says he wants to visit Howard University, a historically black school, instead. It doesn’t really seem like Jack, and later Rebecca, are taking Randall's supposedly newfound interest seriously, though Rebecca says she’s glad he’s figuring himself out and what works for him. But once Randall and Jack set foot on the Washington D.C. campus, Jack realizes how much this means to Randall as his son pushes him aside to attend an informal campus tour with his friend Keith—without Jack.
It was such a wise decision for the writers to focus this section of the flashback on the kinship Randall quickly establishes with Keith and his friends (and not the hours Jack spends alone on the all-black campus), because it centers Randall’s story instead of using it as a peripheral narrative that only affects white characters. We don’t know how Jack uses those hours that day, and we’re not really supposed to care. This makes a powerful point later during their ride home, when Jack tells Randall he noticed he hesitated before introducing him to his friends, and Randall tells Jack that's how he feels every day. “Not from you guys, but from everyone else," Randall says. "It’s been like that since I was little."
We know that Randall has harbored this sense of not belonging for some time. William did too, even when it came to introducing himself to his son. In another flashback in this episode, we see a new, candid conversation between William and Randall before William's death. He tells his son he visited the Pearson home when Randall was a child, intent on inserting himself into his son's life. This was spurred by a visit from Rebecca, who wanted answers from William about Randall's background to satisfy her son's curiosity. William admits he got excited when he learned his son was interested in him, and when he turned his back on Rebecca to gather some material, she panicked and left. But instead of letting her go, William followed her home with the intention of knocking on the Pearson door and presenting himself to his son for the first time. But he got discouraged at the doorstep, thinking it might be too late and Randall had already come into his own, without him. So he made the decision to step out of his son's life for good. Little did he know how this decision would affect Randall. “Who am I?” William asked himself on that doorstep. For nine-year-old Randall, he could've been everything.
Jack knows he can’t give teenage Randall all the answers he seeks, partly because he doesn’t have them but also because he understands it’s time for Randall to start confronting who he wants to be, not what others tell him he is. After Randall says he fears he'll always feel off-balance—“like everything's just gonna be a little bit more complicated for me"—Jack decides to takes him to the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. There, he tells his son about his own experience coming back from the war and feeling unbalanced. He tells him:
Admittedly, the two scenarios—war and bicultural identity—have little to do with one another, but presented this way, in another of Jack’s famous pep talks, the comparison makes so much sense. It bridges a gap between two flawed characters who may never feel quite right at home, but must remember to savor the journey anyway.
This brings us back to present day, with the battle for Deja looming over Randall and Beth. It seems being at home during the day has given Randall more time to reflect on his life, his past, and his family, including Deja. This leads him to drive by Shauna’s apartment, where he sees her showing off fresh new clothes she bought for Deja to her friends. She seems happy, anticipating the arrival of her daughter back at home. Watching this moment hits Randall hard. After hearing William's story of feeling ostracized from his own son and then watching this scene, it's no surprise Randall ultimately tells Beth they should not proceed with a legal case against Shauna. He comes to the realization that his desire to keep Deka was no more than his own agenda. Her mother, like his own father, wants her in her life. He and Beth have the power to make that happen and still right the wrong from his own past. Beth is disappointed but says she came to the same conclusion on her own.
Deja saying goodbye to the Pearsons is a particularly heartbreaking scene. She saves Randall for last, telling him, “I don’t want you to think that just because I want to go home, I don’t like living with you.” The mention of home is so gutting, because that is's what Randall and Beth had intended to build with her. But when Randall tears up, it seems derived as much from sadness at her departure as happiness that she gets to experience a moment with her mother that he never got with his biological dad. It’s bittersweet, because Randall is 37 years old and obviously still affected by this, but there’s a sense of closure that liberates him in a way we haven’t seen before.
Just when you think this episode has emotionally exhausted you (yes, it’s just that good), in comes Kevin, whose story remains very unresolved and very problematic. After his quick pit stop to Randall’s house, he finds time to pour himself some vodka, dodge a question from Randall about his condition (“you look terrible,” and he does) and jump back in his car to hit the highway. He’s drunk, presumably hasn’t slept at all, and could be very close to a breakdown. Needless to say, it’s a heart-pounding scene, made even more precarious when Tess pops up in the backseat as Kevin is swerving from lane to lane. Luckily, the police pull him over before he can do any real damage. But that will likely come in the next episode, which we d0n't get to see until January 2 as the show takes its winter hiatus. Randall and Beth will most likely interrogate Kevin about endangering their child, and he'll will be forced to face his demons head-on in front of the people from whom he can no longer hide—his family.
Video: This Is Us 2x10 Promo "Number Three" (HD) Fall Finale
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