The season's penultimate episode navigates the entirety of their relationship, setting the stage for the explosive final moments.
Susan Kelechi Watson made her case for Emmy gold with a towering performance in the penultimate episode of "This Is Us" for the season and she and Sterling K. Brown closed the door and unpacked 20 years of Beth and Randall's marriage in an hour.
The writers very smartly dropped in a parallel to a key moment in Jack and Rebecca's marriage exposed last season that showed their seeming idyllic perfection was couched in the harsh realities of every marriage. No love is perfect, no relationship is without its challenges and work.
And now, in the present era, we see Randall and Beth hitting almost the exact same wall as Jack and Rebecca did, albeit for different reasons. And neither of them acquitted themselves well through this fight, with Beth matching Randall's hateful words last week with a whopper of her own.
And all that's to say the actual fight in the modern era only took up about five minutes of our screen time. It was a devastating five minutes, to be sure, but made so much more so by showing the relevant beats of their entire relationship from that meet-cute we'd already glimpsed at college all the way up through the challenging time both William and Kevin were staying with them.
"This Is Us" has proven itself a master at constructing a story across time, and nowhere is it more appropriate than in this episode. A fight in a marriage is almost never just that fight. It is the culmination of that marriage to this point, the compromises, the choices, the hidden resentments, the minor irritants that suddenly seem anything but minor.
And because it is all framed in genuine love, the emotions are so much more heightened. Why do we feel the need to cut the ones we love the deepest? Is it because we feel such depths of joy and happiness with them that we feel we must equal the intensity of those emotions on the opposite end of the spectrum?
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
Beth has been dealing with the same frustrations with Randall almost since day one. He is an overwhelming and domineer personality -- all of the Big Three are. His wants and needs just scream out louder than hers at almost every turn. He overthinks everything, and yet he always says the right thing and reels Beth back in. So does that mean she's been unhappy all these years? Perhaps. But has she been unhappy with Randall? It's not quite that simple.
1 tissue (we're just getting into this, but we hate to see them hurting)
"I'm Gonna Marry Her"
From the beginning, Randall is someone who knows what he wants, and when he sees it he is going to do everything in his power to get it. He will do so with grand gestures a la his father, Jack, and he will do so with his full commitment. It's how he tackled his schoolwork to get into the college of his choice, and it's how he attacked pursuing Beth once he'd set his sights on her. He even went so far as to ask around about her, sussing out her previous interest in dance.
He brought it up on their first date, but he also brought up his recently dead dad and his adoption. It was a lot. It will always be a lot, because that's who Randall is. He's a lot, but he's always well-intentioned. He just sometimes loses sight, leading to those anxiety attacks we thankfully haven't seen in a while. When you burn so loud and big and bright, there have to be burnouts.
Even when Beth rejected him after their first date, Randall didn't even slow down. He went back to his dorm and told his roommate he was going to marry her. He saw everything he wanted right there and the no didn't even phase him. Now, on the one hand that might sound kind of creepy. But we didn't get to see those steps, and we don't see young Randall as that type. He's way too shy and awkward.
Plus, Beth's rejection of Randall was as much a rejection of his certainty in life in the face of her own floundering. After having dance pulled abruptly from her, Beth was very much afloat and lost. Everything had been moving toward this singular goal and then her father died, rocking her world, and her mother took dance from her, destroying it. Seeing Randall with such a clear vision only put a mirror up to her own lack of direction. But there was something about him.
2 tissues (they complement each other well even at this early stage)
And this is Beth's biggest fear, and it's a very real one. Not so much because Randall is a domineering figure who will force her to lay down and let him roll right over her, but because he is a driven person with a clear idea of who he wants to be. And when a new idea comes along, he's as clear and driven in that idea.
Beth is not. We saw it over and over again in the episode; her uncertainty about going back to work after Tess was born a good example. And always it comes with that fear that Randall is going to steamroll her. And the problem is that he just might, albeit not intentionally.
Beth's passion was dance and when that was taken from her, she didn't know what she wanted to do. And if you're uncertain or lacking in confidence about yourself or your direction, it's so easy to let a more dominant personality fill the gaps in your own sense of being. You might feel fulfilled for a little while, but it's not with your dreams.
Beth was expressing her fears of losing herself in Randall because she did not have a clear sense of herself. But rather than see that -- because who ever sees themselves as anything less than a complete person -- she saw Randall as someone who might steamroll her dreams. And she's not wrong, but she's also not right in thinking it's a deliberate act. He's just moving ahead in the absence of forward motion from her.
3 tissues (Beth's deep-rooted insecurities and backseat roll starts to make sense)
Truer words were never spoken, and yet they both failed one another so much in this regard. Randall was not there in the way Beth needed to help her find who she wanted to be and where her joy could exist outside of his own. He struggles to see outside his own grand visions.
And Beth was too happy to help him fill the gaps in her life only to find resentment growing around the parts of him that were inside of who she wanted to be. In fact, so much of his hopes and dreams permeated her she couldn't even figure out what was wrong all the time, she just knew she was dissatisfied and Randall was at the heart of it.
Yet, they are so much amazing together and have always been. They don't linger on these resentments and both are genuinely happy together. Their wedding vows, made up on the fly at the last minute, were things of absolute beauty. They were heartfelt and you could feel the sincerity of every word.
The real question is can they continue to be "better together" with Beth finally ready to focus on and pursue her own happiness. Of course they can, but they need to completely redefine the dynamic of their relationship. Both will have to compromise the way they've always interacted and they will have to prioritize her wants and needs as highly as his. Beth needs to do this and Randall needs to hear her.
4 tissues (when you realize this is actually a pretty serious issue)
It was a quiet statement but a devastating one, as Beth absolutely rocked Randall to his core when he had to admit there has never been a time she didn't have his back. But let's step back to the grocery story when she wanted a night away and felt she had to lie to get one.
After talking it out, Randall was on board with giving her that night. She ultimately talked herself out of it. Beth chose Randall over herself, over her needs and over her wants. We weren't inside her mind at that moment, and Randall was ultimately not nasty at all about her deception, so why did she compromise what she wanted?
Because she probably felt selfish in that moment or that it was unfair to Randall or even that she was being ridiculous, overreacting and maybe didn't really need that day to herself. Things weren't so bad because Randall is charming and makes her laugh and she does love him. So what was she running away from?
She wasn't running from anything. She was losing herself even more in the chaos of the house with Kevin and William there, and when your grasp on who you are is already tenuous it can get scary fast. Randall doing what he does gave her the illusion that maybe it was all in hear head, because he was filling those gaps in her sense of self with "Living Single" anecdotes and charm. And she felt more complete, but again it was a temporary illusion.
5 tissues (this is going to be good for them, right?)
Randall confronted her about the fact she was projecting all of her frustration on him for the fact it took her two decades to finally figure out what she wanted, but it's not entirely his fault. The problem is that she's taking no ownership of it, finding it easier to blame his domineering personality, and he's taking no ownership of his roll in being so dominant she didn't have room to breathe, much less find herself.
And then she hit him where it hurts, asking him, "When would I have done that, huh? Between which of your anxiety attacks?"
Attacking someone's mental illness is a low blow by any standard, but at least Beth should now fully understand and believe that when Randall told her to "grow up" in that message, he was just trying to hurt her out of anger. Because that's what she just did to him.
And she did it because he'd backed her against the wall with a truth that made her uncomfortable; that she does have some culpability in how long it's taken her to find a direction and it's totally unfair to lay it all at his feet. He could have given her the space to grow, sure, but she could have demanded it.
It just seems for a long time she didn't even necessarily know she needed it. Dance was out of Beth's life before Randall even met her, and she held resentment and bitterness toward her mother for years over it. And she held bitterness and resentment toward Randall, in a way, as well.
In her defense, Randall has been shitty and dismissive of her dream, not taking it as seriosly as his own. She's right about that. He's never had competition on the dream front in any real way, so in order to mend this he needs to value her dreams and realize her ambitions and happiness matter as much as his.
They both have to work through this, but can quickly realize this is a change in their existing dynamic and not the destruction of everything. If anything, it can offer clarity all the way back to the beginning of their relationship. It's never too late to pursue your dreams and find your happiness. Beth deserves that chance, and we absolutely believe Randall will be there for her.
She's going to learn when to stand up and fight for what she wants out of life and he's going to learn when to sit down and have her back, just as she's always had his.
7 tissues (this one hurt to watch ... is everyone okay?)
Next week, it's the season finale of "This Is Us" at 9 p.m. ET on NBC and we're scared.