Need to catch up? Check out the previous This Is Us recap.
How’s this for an unexpected twist: One of the most moving episodes of This Is Us‘ second season features virtually no members of the Pearson family.
This week’s episode focuses on Randall and Beth’s foster daughter Deja, before, during and after her stay at their home. Somehow, the girl’s story is even sadder than we might’ve imagined — and the way it unfolds, with parallel moments in the Pearson family’s life juxtaposed with hers, is incredibly powerful.
And then that ending! Read on for the highlights of “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life.”
‘PLAYTIME IS OVER’ | The episode opens with Deja’s mother, Shauna, about to give birth to her. In a move that will become a recurring motif through the hour, we see snapshots of similar times in the Pearson family saga: This time, it’s Rebecca in labor, Randall’s mother in labor, Beth in labor. Shauna’s grandmother (played by Pam Grier!) is there with her, and she coaches her through the pain by saying that she did the same for Shauna’s mother, and it “feels like déjà vu.”
But Shauna doesn’t want to hold the infant after she’s born, which causes Grandma to get real: “I know you’re only 16, but playtime is over,” she gently warns. And when Shauna finally holds her child, the love is evident on her face.
Shauna and Deja live with Grandma, who dotes on the child and takes Shauna to task for leaving her 3-year-old alone at night. The younger woman protests that she was just a few blocks away at a guy’s house, but Grandma doesn’t want to hear it. “I can’t carry this for you forever,” she says after they argue… and because this is This Is Us, she’s dead by the next scene. (To be fair, some time has passed.) “What are we gonna do now?” Shauna asks her kid, crying. Given how the rest of the episode goes, I don’t think it’s a rhetorical question. Little Shauna, perhaps aware that she’s going to have to be the grown-up from here on in, reads Goodnight, Moon aloud as Shauna cries. (Side note: That montage of everyone — including Jack and his little brother — reading Goodnight, Moon might just have killed me. Cause of death? Tender ache.)
ON THE MOVE | Deja’s role as responsible caretaker continues into her teens. She’s the one who knows where her mom’s work uniform is, the one who pays the bills, the one who plans a special dinner to celebrate Shauna’s birthday. But when she’s home alone, cooking Grandma’s Jambalaya, she cuts her palm badly while opening a can of tomatoes. And when Shauna doesn’t pick up her phone, a panicked Deja has the wherewithal to wrap her hand in a kitchen towel and get herself to the emergency room.
That’s where she first encounters Linda the social worker, who’s called to look into Deja’s case. Shauna eventually shows up, smelling of alcohol and explaining that she and a few co-workers went out after her shift to celebrate (though she hadn’t mentioned it to Deja) and that her phone had died. Deja’s injury is pretty painful to witness, but it’s way worse to see how alone she is in so much of her life, especially when compared to how the Pearsons always have at least one other person around to help them out/annoy them/keep them company.
While Shauna is in treatment, Deja is placed with the Millers, a family who has another foster daughter named Raven. Raven and Deja bond, but it’s a bad situation otherwise: Mr. Miller is violent and abusive, and when the girls are caught shoplifting makeup from the corner store, their foster pop beats the hell out of Raven. Deja confesses the abuse to Linda, and the girls are quickly moved to a shelter. When Raven is sullen, Deja asks if she’s mad, and her friend responds that the Millers wasn’t the worst situation. “At least he only hit me,” she says (oh god), pointing out that they’re going to get separated, and that the cascade of placements is about to begin. “It’s like a storm once it gets started,” she warns as they lie in the dark.
HISTORY REPEATING | When Shauna gets clean, Deja gets to go home. But the first night she’s back, her mom invites a “friend” from rehab over for dinner. His name is Lonzo, and Deja is instantly skeptical of the lovey-dovey way he and Shauna interact. “Do you have a job?” she asks flatly. His answer is, as you might expect, hella shady. And things only go downhill from there. There’s arguing. Lots of booze. More arguing. And then he brings a gun into the house, and it’s the one (I infer) that’s eventually found in Shauna’s car, which sends her to jail and Deja to Randall and Beth’s house the first time.
Deja’s stint there is condensed, and when Shauna picks her up and drives her home — picking up from what we saw in Episode 10 — she promises the teen that Lonzo is gone, and it’s just the two of them. “I’m going to get it right this time, Deja,” she says. And I believe that she means it… in that moment. But it’s not long before Deja is back at the Pearsons’ to ask for money, which Shauna spends on Lonzo’s bail (!). Deja is incredulous, and takes it upon herself to try to pawn her clothes in order to gather the money needed to evade eviction.
But the landlord kicks them out, and after the Pearsons find the pair sleeping in Shauna’s car, they bring them back to the house. Tess and Annie run to hug their foster sister the moment they see her, and the smile that lights up Deja’s face at their warm reception is the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen all week. Shauna and Deja eat dinner, play a game and watch a Police Academy movie with the family, with Shauna evaluating her daughter the whole time.
“I’ve never seen her acting like that, like she was tonight,” Shauna says to Beth as they’re making up the couch, where she’ll sleep. “Like what?” Beth asks. “Like a kid,” Shauna says, sad and guilty. “I failed her.”
Upstairs, Deja is surprised to see that Randall kept her science-project plants alive (aw, guys!). Then she sits on the bed and they talk about how she hadn’t really believed him when he said he saw himself in her. But then she started thinking about how everyone in the world sleeps. I know, I’m not relaying it well here, but it’s quite touching, mainly in the way she’s incredibly open and vulnerable around the same man whose touch used to make her flinch. “And I guess, if you think about it hard, that other stuff everyone’s got, too. Things that hurt them. Things that make them feel better,” she says. “I’m really tired.” Randall is on the verge of sobbing — we’re talking full pooling — but he sits next to her and puts an arm around her and says, “I know, sweetheart.” And she just leans into him like he’s the only thing holding her up.
When Randall comes downstairs, Shauna has her bags packed and is standing by the door, Beth nearby. “I’ve gotta go,” she says off his questioning look. “And I can’t take her with me.”
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!