Need to catch up? Check out the previous This Is Us recap here.
Beth Pearson is ready to (teach) dance like nobody’s watching — and it’s a gorgeous thing to watch her get her groove back in this week’s This Is Us.
Tuesday’s episode delves deep into Beth’s past, showing us how her childhood love of/affinity for ballet got wrapped up in and tamped down by her grief over her father’s death. (Click here to get the inside scoop on tonight’s episode from star Susan Kelechi Watson and the show’s producers.) The hour also gave us a little better idea of how Randall’s wife wound up standing on the balcony at that dance school in the flash-forward.
Read on for the highlights of “Our Little Island Girl.”
MEET BETH’S MOM | At the start of the hour, we see the incident Beth mentioned to Randall on her way out the door last week: Her mom, Carol (hi, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad!), a high school principal, gets knocked into a stair railing by a student in a hurry, hurting her hip. So Beth and Zoe drive down to Washington, D.C., where Carol lives, to check on her.
In between road-trip jam sessions (side note: TLC’s “What About Your Friends” remains a bop, right?), the women agree that it’s time to tell Carol she needs to retire, but Zoe teases her cousin that “you always clam up” rather than confronting her mom. Case in point: Beth hasn’t told Carol that she lost her job.
When they arrive at Carol’s place, the older woman says she only bruised her hip in the fall. She won’t use her walker, and she didn’t trust the emergency-room doctor. “She’s still scary as hell,” Zoe whispers. (Ha!)
A CHANCE TO DANCE | The show spreads out the flashbacks to Beth’s childhood, but I’m going to string them all together here. Beth’s dad Abe (hi, Alias‘ Carl Lumbly!) is warm, her mom is a little stern, and Beth is a ballet-obsessed kiddo who finds out she was accepted at the local ballet academy. Her dad is very proud, but her mom is less enthusiastic.
Carol’s skepticism is still in full force as Beth and her folks tour the school. Mom grills the head instructor Vincent (hi, ER‘s Goran Visnjic!) about how many of his students make it professionally. The number is, of course, super low. And then Carol kicks Vincent out of his own office (I love this woman) so she and her family can discuss. Beth’s mom thinks tuition is too high. Beth’s dad says he can work overtime to make up the difference. “When have we ever listened to the odds?” he reminds his wife. Carol eventually agrees to enroll Beth there, but warns her that she’ll have to work to be the best. No pressure, kid!
Over four years at the school, Beth is very good, but not the absolute top of her class. Vincent encourages her to try other styles of dance, but she stubbornly insists she can master ballet. And then one day, she comes home to find her family gathered: Abe has lung cancer. When Beth cries, Carol tells her, “We have to be strong.”
CHANGE OF PLANS | As Abe deteriorates, Beth pushes herself to be the best at the school and auditions for a solo in Swan Lake. When she doubts herself, Abe reminds her of a family trip to Kingston, Jamaica, when she was 18 months old. Burning Spear was playing, and even though Beth hadn’t walked before that point, she stood and danced over to him. He urges her never to forget that she’s “our little island girl, who danced before she walked.”
As we know from the snippets of Beth’s story we’ve gotten since the show began, Abe dies. And to add insult to heart-crushing injury, she didn’t get the solo. Carol reassures her that “you did your best,” but also thinks it’s time for Beth to start thinking about college. “Now we have to choose a different path for you,” she says, adding that Beth isn’t going to make it as a professional, and so Carol isn’t willing to pay for dance classes anymore.
In a final flashback, we watch Carol drop new college student Beth off at a freshman mixer. She writes “Bethany” on a nametag but then chucks it to write a new one that just says, “Beth.” Then she bumps into a guy… and it’s young Randall! She walks away, but he stands there, dumbfounded. Dude is SMITTEN.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID | In the present, over curry chicken dinner at Carol’s, Zoe disapproves of Beth’s namby-pamby way of backing into the retirement conversation. So she just blurts out that it might be time to quit. “What do you know about a job?” Carol asks her niece, using Beth as an example of upright and gainful employment… but Beth admits she got laid off.
That night, Zoe and Beth find a joint stashed long-ago behind a framed photo hanging on the wall. They giggle as they smoke it in the laundry room, and we learn that Carol’s dig at Zoe’s documentarian gig didn’t bother her much: Compared to where she came from, she tells Beth, she always felt safe with Carol and Abe. But she acknowledges that Beth’s mom was tougher on her own children, and she encourages Beth to talk to Carol about it “before you explode.” After she leaves, Beth chats with her father’s old chair and tells him that Randall reminds her so much of him. “I can’t be me without you,” she says sadly. “How could I be?”
When Carol begins formulating a list of firms Beth might work for, Beth shuns her help. And because all of those roiling emotions have to go somewhere, Beth launches into a speech about how her mother’s rigidity stripped Beth of her freedom as a child — and that’s why her siblings don’t visit, “because of how you are.” Ouch. Carol says it’s all worth it, if her kids’ lives are good now. “I am not good,” Beth says, adding that she envies Randall for pursuing his dream.
A NEW START | The next morning at breakfast, Carol acknowledges that she worries too much, and that Abe didn’t worry enough — together, they were “the perfect balance.” She apologizes, but Beth stops her, saying, “I’m strong because of you.” They hug.
At home, Beth announces to Randall that she’s ready to tell him what she wants to do next. Then we see her dancing by herself at a dance studio. A woman there tells her she’s way too advanced for the beginner class, but Beth has something entirely different in mind: She wants to teach.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Hit the comments and let us know!