In a rare single-focus episode, we get the full life story of Déjà from her birth to being discovered sleeping in her mother's car and beyond.
From the moment Déjà walked in through the front door of Randall and Beth's house on "This Is Us," there was something magical about this quiet young girl. With very few soft-spoken words, Lyric Ross' performance imbued her with such a depth of character and passion that we couldn't get her out of our minds, even after she was taken away from the Pearsons and put back with her mother, Shauna, played with equal passion but much greater volume by Joy Brunson.
These two powerful women took center stage this week as the curtain was peeled back to reveal every pivotal moment of Déjà's life up until the scene in last week's episode when we saw Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) discover her sleeping in her mother's car.
As these writers brilliantly did with the character of William, Randall's biological father, this episode filled in the gaps of both Déjà and Shauna, fleshing them out into three-dimensional, flawed characters. Even Shauna, who has been little more than a panicky unfit mother to this point, became someone that we could at least believe as real, if not completely sympathize with.
We're going to forego the usual ranking of tissue moments this week, because really this story just moves from one heartbreak to the next. The story of Shauna and Déjà is a story of sadness and it remains to be seen if a happy ending awaits either of them. So we're just going to move chronologically through them, as we moved through Déjà's life.
"Playtime Is Over"
Right away, it was clear that Shauna was in over her head from the moment Déjà was born. At sixteen-years old, to call her a reluctant teen mother would be a gracious understatement. She actively didn't want the child she had and tried to avoid bonding with Déjà. Alas, it did happen and so there was love between a mother and a daughter. But it takes more than love. As the years progressed, Shauna's selfishness and terrible decision-making when it comes to men continued to sidetrack her from taking care of her daughter, culminating in her confession that she'd rather be in college than at home with a child.
2 tissues (get it together, girl!)
"I'm Okay, Baby"
Neither Déjà nor Shauna had any idea how monumental this loss would hit them. With those words, Gigi (Shauna's grandmother) collapsed with a bag of groceries, leaving an unprepared mother and a young child to fend for themselves. It was here that Shauna first began to adopt the phrase, "What would I do without you?" We can't honor it with a spot on the list, though, because it exemplifies everything that is wrong with their relationship. Before long, it's Déjà who is keeping track of the bills and making sure Shauna is on top of things.
"He Hits Us"
After being taken away from Shauna for the first time, Déjà found herself in a foster home with a new "sister," Raven. Their new foster father was a drunk who beat them, but Raven tried to tell her this was better than it could be. Linda made her complicated debut as Déjà's case worker, and it was during one of her visits that Déjà found her voice and exposed Mr. Miller for beating the kids. "It's like a storm when it starts," Raven told her of the series of beds they would now have to endure separately, jumping from foster home to foster home.
3 tissues (these kids have suffered enough already)
"The Next Time You Find a Bed That Feels Even a Little Safe"
Raven's advice rings in Déjà's ears, and that bed is the one in the Pearson household. Despite her hesitations and reservations after getting placed with them, she can sense that there is a love and warmth in this house. That's why she stayed in touch with Randall. As we saw with Alonzo, her mother's habit of making bad decisions with men meant Déjà experienced a slew of them through her years. It's no wonder it took her so long to warm up to "corny" Randall.
1 tissue (for advice well taken from a lost friend)
"I'm Gonna Get It Right This Time, Déjà"
Easily the most complicated moment for us as viewers, and Déjà as Shauna's daughter. We all know she's not going to get it right, but we know she loves her daughter and she wants to do right by her. But she can't curb her worst impulses, perhaps exemplified best by getting evicted over paying Alonzo's bail. Déjà worked her ass off to try and keep them together, but Shauna is her own worst enemy when it comes to her daughter. It all comes back to, "What would I do without you?"
"I Never Seen Her Acting Like That"
After they were found sleeping in Shauna's car, Randall and Beth brought them both home. There, Shauna was able to see a side of Déjà she'd never seen before, the side of her that is still a kid. Shauna never allowed her that freedom because from a young age, it was Déjà who had to be the responsible one. "What would I do without you?" is the phrase that followed her around and haunted both women without them even knowing it.
3 tissues (for being robbed of her childhood)
"I Failed Déjà"
It was in that moment that Shauna realized what she had put on her daughter all these years, casting off her favorite phrase for the shackles it was on Déjà's childhood. It's no wonder Déjà asked if she could sleep in her old room, rather than on the couch downstairs with her mother. She'd found that bed that felt safe. She'd found a place where she had no greater worries than being a kid. She'd found her home.
4 tissues (that's gotta be a gut-punch realization)
"I'm Really Tired"
As with anyone who's been working non-stop, you never realize just how exhausted you are until you can shrug off all those burdens and responsibilities. Déjà had that moment, sitting on Randall's bed and realizing that for the first time since leaving his house, she didn't need to worry about anything. Not the gas bill, not the rent, not where dinner was coming from. "I know, sweetheart," Randall said, resting her head on his chest.
3 tissues (poor thing)
"I Gotta Go"
Shauna uttered this line while gathering her bags as Randall came downstairs, finishing with, "And I can't take her with me." Beth stood dumbfounded behind her, Randall the same on the stairs, the entire viewing audience at home. What is the plan here? Is Shauna going to steal off in the night because that's what she thinks is best for Déjà? How could abandoning your daughter with no explanation be what's best? Sure, this is a very messy and very complicated situation, but you need to face it and work through it. Alas, this is Shauna's worst instincts coming to the fore again. We're a little surprised Beth had let her get that far already, but it's clear neither she nor Randall know what the right move is in this situation. Does someone need to call Linda?
0 tissues (because we're confused and conflicted)
Hopefully we get some answers on next week's big season finale of "This Is Us," Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.