Susan Kelechi Watson and Rashad give towering performances as a daughter and mother coming to terms with everything that's stood between them.
Fans had been waiting not-so-patiently to dig deeper into who this powerful and strong woman Randall found is and boy did they get that in spades. They even got the couple's meet-cute moment, which only leaves us hoping they'll follow up on their college story in future installments.
Susan Kelechi Watson's Beth had been the most under-explored character on the show -- we knew more about Miguel before this episode -- but in peeling back the layers of her childhood with Zoe and her parents, so much of who she is and how she came to be this person was laid bare.
There has been a deep-rooted pain behind her grounded nature, as if she strained so hard at times to see these grand dreams that Randall lives in. And now we know that she used to be that dreamer, too. Her ambitions were to be the first African-America principal ballerina of The Royal Ballet.
There was such a parallel, only with far more drastic extremes, between Beth's relationship with her husband and the relationship her mother and father shared. Her father Abe was a dreamer, though by the time we meet him his dream is to see his children achieve all of theirs. His wife, on the other hand, is practical to a fault.
There was a delicate balance in the writing for this character and how Rashad played it. Too deep into the stern side of the character, and Mama C comes off as uncaring or even unloving. She was anything but. She loved her children so fiercely, but she was consumed with this practical side that bordered on cruel.
It was presented perfectly and performed so brilliantly there was never any doubt what kind of a woman Mama C was and how much she genuinely did care and love her children. She just didn't know another way than to bully them onto the path that she would ultimately decide was right for them.
This was one of the most beautiful episodes of the season, perfectly designed in never straying from Beth's point of view unless it was to show us a glimpse of her elder doppelganger. These are two incredibly strong women who learn that sometimes it's okay to be vulnerable, to be real and to be uncomfortable if it means sharing your truth.
"It Really Is Fine with You"
After the girls arrived at Mama C's house, she almost immediately attacked Zoe's chosen profession as a documentary director. Mama C simply can't process that a dream can be a reality. She is every parent who pushes their kids out of the arts and into something more practical. The only acceptable dreams are athletics, somehow.
What Beth couldn't believe was how Zoe can just brush those kinds of comments off, blowing up and then shaking them off like it's nothing. And it's all a matter of perspective. Zoe was coming from a much worse situation where she was abused before moving in with the Clarkes.
At that point in her life, there was nothing Mama C could throw at her that would scare her more than what she'd already endured, and perhaps that's why she came out of there with a lighter and more carefree attitude than Beth and her siblings. She wasn't burdened with that weight of expectation or, as Beth put it, that inability to even breathe around their mother.
"Wipe Those Tears"
What would you do if you found out your parent was dying of lung cancer? Well, in Mama C's world, you get up and clear the dishes and move on with your life. After all, she was being practical and no-nonsense turned up to eleven. What's the point of tears and sadness when it's not going to fix anything.
Mama C is all about the path and staying the course. They had put together a plan for Abe's treatment and so what more was there to do about it. Anything even she was feeling had to be set aside because emotions aren't productive and they don't serve the path or your future. So set them aside.
This was the regime under which her children suffered in silence. And this was the world that Zoe verbally lashed out against because she wasn't raised under that regime and she could see how wrong it was to deny anyone the time to process their emotions.
"Danced Before She Walked"
Abe is looking to give William and Jack a run for their money as a sweet and loving father lost too soon. He doted on his children so sincerely and so beautifully, and none momreso than his youngest daughter. It was so sweet and so plausible that he would tell this story over and over again because for him, it exemplified all that makes her special
"Our little island girl who danced before she walked, that's who you are," he told her. "Never forget it." Only after his passing that's exactly what happened. It was filmed in a beautiful sequence around his favorite chair, shifting between the past and present and filled with so much love, the emotion poured through the screens.
This is the light that Beth lost, and a lot of that loss can be placed at her mother's feet. She didn't let her children process his cancer diagnosis and by the time he passed, Beth was at dance class immediately. We never find whether that was her or her mother's idea, but it shows how much her mother was already influencing her.
Gone was that carefree girl doodling on her homework. Was she even still dreaming a dream of dance, or was it about the work and not failing on this path she'd chosen? She'd begun to forget the purest expression of her father's love.
"You Didn't Have to Take it From Me"
As soon as Beth did not get a solo at the senior review, Mama C put a new plan into motion. In her mind, this was proof that dance wasn't for her and so it wasn't practical to even continue. She had been reluctant and resistant from the beginning because of the numbers and the odds -- again a very practical woman -- but it was Abe who helped her see that sometimes you take a chance to pursue a dream.
But now Abe was gone and there was no one to help her see another way. And so she could only see one path for Beth now. As far as she was concerned, failing to get the solo was just proof that failure was all dance had in store for Beth and so it had become a colossal waste of money and time. So she pulled the plug.
Look how much power and influence her mother had on her that it took until now for Beth to finally confront her mother about how abruptly she ripped her dreams out from under her. With Abe gone, it may have been the most practical solution considering the financial burden, but once again, Mama C did not allow time to process or grieve anything.
She just moved on and expected everyone around her to follow suit. It's weakness to show emotion, to cry to do anything but just forge ahead and show that nothing will stop you. Hell, she refused to use the walker or get off her feet as doctors had ordered because she didn't want to be weak. And this was in her own home where she lived alone.
What was so perfect about how that confrontational moment between mother and daughter played out was that it ended with Mama C simply walking out of the room. She'd been challenged to her core, and yet it was coming from her daughter and it was coming through words of love, even as they hurt.
Mama C could have simply bristled and put her defenses up but instead she allowed herself to sit with all of those feelings and all of those emotions and then she did something even harder. She owned up to her faults and she apologized to her daughter for taking dance away so abruptly.
It wasn't done out of malice or cruelty and Beth knows that. It was done out of love, but expressed in a misguided way, and yet Beth has come to know that, too. It was when her mother opened up about how much Abe balanced her out that Bet was perhaps able to see her fully for the first time. Just as Beth is so much a product of her mother, so is her mother a product of hers.
That strength carries down the generations, but no one taught them how to temper it with compassion and how to live with uncertainty in the pursuit of something greater. Abe was able to give some of that to Mama C but he died before she could internalize any of his lessons. Beth seems poised to take a different lesson.
"I Want to Teach"
And that brings us to the climactic close of the episode, with Beth walking blindly into a dance studio as Randall -- ever supportive and ever loving -- waited outside. Rather than talk to anyone, she found an empty room and simply began to dance.
It was raw and certainly out of practice but it was an expression of self she'd denied for so long. How long had it been since she truly danced like this? Something that was going to be her whole life and she simply put it on a shelf and never went back to it. She let her mother make that decision for her.
And while Beth was adamant to state she had no regrets about the path she took and all the wonderful things it brought into her life, this moment where she revealed that she wanted to teach dance brought everything back full circle. Here again was that dreamer with her head in the clouds, thinking about something grander than herself.
The dream may have changed slightly, but what's important is that the dream lives on and the dreamer has the courage and the strength to do something about it. Hopefully it's a lesson her children can learn, too, as no matter what life throws your way, there never comes a day when you should abandon dreams altogether. And it's never too late to step out and try to achieve them.
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