The final part of the final "Big Three" trilogy follows Randall as he chases runaway daughter Deja and learns it's okay to let go a little.
We knew Randall was going to take center stage in this final chapter of the annual "Big Three" trilogy on "This Is Us," but we were pleasantly surprised with the ride the hour took us on.
Already a loose cannon and giving in to his controlling tendencies, we expected to cringe a lot as Randall and Deja came to loggerheads over her relationship with Malik. What we didn't know is that the O.G. "Randall whisperer" would be there to help him navigate through his complicated feelings about this and a lot of things.
We've lauded Beth for years now for how well she and Randall communicate. She knows his tendencies and through love and understanding, she helps him process things as he must without going too far into his need to fix everything right here and right now.
Through the same two flashback sequences, we get a sense of just how long Randall has been taking that leadership role in this family, and all of the burden that goes with it. Whether it's creating a family moment he was longing for at the pool as a kid, avoiding jail or taking care of Rebecca's illness, Randall has always taken charge.
It's who he is, it's why he's effective at what he does, but it can also be a heavy burden to carry, and one Rebecca poignantly notes he needn't have carried so young. She took some responsibility for that after Jack's death, when she leaned on him more than she probably should have.
But she also knew that she and Randall had always shared a special bond, reading together and connecting as we've seen through the course of the show in ways she didn't even with her other two children, Kevin and Kate. Randall and Rebecca was such a thing, his siblings teased him relentlessly and for years over it.
But that same connection is why Rebecca can say things to him and be heard even today, which proved incredibly beneficial when he went on the warpath after Deja wound up missing again. She was heading off to try and fix things with Malik after he broke up with her -- and she found out Randall had told him to do just that.
This could have gone very, very ugly in a hurry, but it was Rebecca's soft guidance and love that helped Randall find another way to communicate and connect with Deja ... and even give her a little room to figure some things out for herself.
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.
Throughout these last few episodes, we've been aware that a senator from Pennsylvania has been trying to set up a meeting with Randall. What we learned tonight is that he's considering a run for that seat, with the support of the DNC. What we also learned is just how far back those massive ambitions go. In the mid-flashback, the young adult Pearsons were trying to escape the closed pool, but this week those efforts failed as an officer showed up. Randall, because he fixes things, told the officer that an arrest would kill their mother and break the family he'd been trying to hold together since Jack's death. But he also told him he may be president some day, so he can't get arrested. It's a throwaway line, but one delivered with deadly seriousness. We knew Randall was ambitious and driven, but we didn't know was in his mind, in the back or the front, though it does make a sort of sense. When he shared with Rebecca the plan, he said he couldn't even imagine where it could lead, but she could imagine all too well. Rebecca knows what Randall is capable of, and setting his humility aside -- which he did later by the pool -- he knows it, too.
1 tissue (incredible ambition and drive throughout an entire lifetime)
"Give Me the Phone"
When Randall tried to call Malik on the road, Rebecca knew he was too hot for that to be useful. She even challenged him that if Malik had answered the phone, would whatever he had to say have helped or hurt the situation. After contemplating himself -- which shows growth and understanding of his own tendencies and flaws -- Randall gave up the phone. Only Rebecca and Beth have this ability to calmly get him to pause and reflect, as well as the wisdom and foresight to know when it's the right thing to do. Even Rebecca inviting herself on this trek to Malik's place in Boston to snatch Deja back from the clutches of bad decision showed her foresight. She knew Randall's state of mind and she knew that despite his anger and hurt, in part toward her, she could use this time to help him with his problem and maybe help him understand her decision to choose Kate as her executor instead of him.
The relationship between Randall and Rebecca has dominated the series, but it's in the sweet way they support and love one another that it really matters. After escaping jail in the mid-flashback, Randall called to tell Rebecca they were fine, but he had another thought in mind. Rebecca and Randall used to hit a restaurant after the library when he was younger, loving especially their smiley cookies. As a surprise, he'd brought a bag of them with him to Thanksgiving. But this was the night Miguel announced he was leaving and Rebecca was beside herself, and so Randall -- fixer that he is who loves his mother -- immediately realized a better use for the cookies. He guided his mother to where they were in the bag to help her feel better in that moment, reminiscing on simpler times of happiness. Of course it worked, because even then and always Randall has been thoughtful. But it's also indicative that Rebecca was right, because here's a young man in his early 20s focused on being that support and rock for his mother. It was sweet, but was it too much to put on him, or even have him try and put on himself?
2 tissues (son of the year)
"We Can Go to the Diner"
After the teasing at the pool, it was sweet when Kate suggested they go to the diner in the mid-flashback. Last week, we saw that she felt her life was listless and with no direction. We've seen in previous episodes that she and Rebecca were not in a good place at this chapter in their lives. And even though they're not talking about it, we know all that ugliness with her ex, Mark, is still in there, too. So it was sweet that she knew this rare opportunity for the "Big Three" to be together was something to be cherished and nurtured as long as possible. There was no cruelty, no vicious jabs. Underneath all their damage, there is true love between these siblings, and in the wee hours of the morning, it's all we saw. It was pure and it was beautiful.
Randall had no idea just how much Rebecca adores him, and all of her children, so he was surprised when she tried to order a glass of his favorite win. It didn't work in this bar setting, but it was touching as she pulled out a fluff piece article about Councilman Pearson, followed by the very book he said was his favorite current read in said article. It's such a subtle thing, but so sweet that she was connecting with him, without telling him, by reading this book, by trying to order his favorite win. They may not live under the same roof anymore, but he'll always be her little boy. This paralleled beautifully with the keepsake memory boxes she has in a closet for all three of her children we saw at the end of the episode. We knew she was proud of her kids, but who knew she made such a regular effort to be involved in their lives, even in such tiny ways from afar.
3 tissues (a mother's love)
"I'm Just Some Girl You Took From Her Mom"
There is nothing like the barbs of an insult slung from your teenage children. They have mastered the art of knowing how to hurt you and cutting you right there. And so, while furious at Randall for interfering in her relationship, Deja hit him where it hurt by saying he wasn't her father, and even suggesting that he stole her away from her mother. She knows full well it's so much more complicated than that, but she also knows his complicated relationship with fatherhood in general, considering the loss of Jack at a young age and his late connection with William, only to lose him shortly after. In a way, it's a testament to how much she knows and loves Randall that she knows how to hurt him. But it still hurts to hear such things, because that nagging little voice that knows better finds itself asking, does she really feel this way? At least on some level she must or she wouldn't have said it, right?
Randall played it off like he was fine when Rebecca chose Kate to handle her affairs if she ever got to the point where she couldn't do for herself and Miguel couldn't do for her, either. But he was clearly hurt by it, and just as Deja did, he had to lash out at her over it. It was a deep cut because he knows full well the connection he and Rebecca feel. But Rebecca has the wisdom of her years at this stage of the game, so her response is to get in the car with Randall. She knows this hurt will linger if it's not addressed, but she also knows she can't come at it full on in that moment, because his focus was elsewhere and he was both hurt by her and hurt by Deja, lashing out in anger. The cool, calming love of someone who knows him so well is just what's needed. She also knows he won't deny her, so she plays her cards perfectly in this response.
3 tissues (anger is just another form of pain)
"You Are My Hero, Randall"
After convincing him not to race headlong to Boston and give Deja at least this one night to maybe figure things out on her own, the two wind up hitting that bar where she orders his drink and getting a room for the night. The next morning, after Randall had spilled his political ambitions, Rebecca forced a conversation. He'd told her the night before that he didn't want to make any major decisions with so much going on in the family, referring to Beth's dance job and Deja. But Rebecca knew that her condition was a huge factor, even after she'd told her kids to not let it slow them down. And so, she let him sit on that for the night, offering no retort, only to talk to him the next day. She then talked about how much he'd carried on his back all his life, and that it was too much to lay her burdens on him then, and she couldn't do it now. If she'd chosen him, he'd have moved heaven and earth to save him -- we saw that attempt once already -- and she can't be the one holding him back from achieving everything he wants. She knows full well what he's capable of, what this political opportunity could lead to. She wants it all for him, so the best thing for her to do is to stand aside and let him soar.
It was a potentially disastrous moment when they finally arrived in Boston. Deja had already called and asked Randall to pick her up. Rebecca's note to give her and Malik some breathing room to figure things out did just that. Malik was still breaking up with Deja, but not because Randall told him to do so. Instead, he said he realized it was unfair to her and even to him. This would create a domestic situation neither was ready for, distracting him inevitably from school. And with Deja dropping out to move in with him, it would have impacted her even more. But rather than gloat, Randall was compassionate to Malik, as the young man admitted how much it hurt to let her go. Randall advised him that if it's meant to be, these things can circle back and still happen. It may not be right right now because of where they're at in their lives, but that doesn't mean it won't be right in the future. Flash-forwards have not yet revealed who (if anyone) Deja is with, so Malik may yet come back into the picture. Somebody has to get her pregnant in that future!
4 tissues (compassion can emerge after space to breathe)
"You're the Only One I Ever Had"
Coming full circle to the opening insult, Deja took a moment to apologize to Randall for her comment. She told him she hadn't meant it, which was obvious, but then told him that he was her dad, he was the only one she'd ever had. Randall and Deja have a relationship and closeness similar in some ways to his with Rebecca, with the roles reversed. It's telling that both Randall and Deja were adopted into their families, which is probably why he feels such a meaningful connection to and affection for her. He knows many of the demons that haunt the corners of her mind because they're inside his head, too. In the future, we see that their bond remains strong, and credit can be given to Rebecca for helping them through a potentially disastrous patch had Randall continued to push. Instead, he was totally silent toward Deja in that final scene, continuing to let her have her space to process and be.
5 tissues (your parents can be the guidebook to your parenting)
"This Is Us" continues every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.