After Justin Hartley slayed the Kevin-centric episode of This is Us and Chrissy Metz did the same for LL Cool K, I had pretty high expectations for this week’s Randall-centric episode titled Number Three. The show did not disappoint.
In flashback, Jack takes Randall to visit historically Black Howard University in D.C. The trip comes as a surprise to the Pearson clan since Randall’s grades would make him a shoe-in for an Ivy League school. Jack, like most Dads, has his heart set on saying he has a son at Harvard. However, Randall, in his quest for identity is excited about existing in a place where he isn’t the only Black person. Rebecca, in an adorable moment, tells her son she is proud of his search for identity but grows emotional at the thought of him going away to college. As Kate pointed out last week, it is clear Rebecca has a soft spot for Randall but honestly, who wouldn’t?
As a proud alumnus of Howard University School of Law, they got young Randall’s awe and excitement upon visiting the Mecca so very right. I was not surprised to learn Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays Beth is also a graduate of HU. When he arrives, Randall goes off with his childhood friend and current HU student Keith to take an unofficial tour leaving Jack to explore the campus on his own. Randall finds he isn’t the only student coming from a majority white environment and immediately finds a sense of belonging amongst his potential classmates. The show opted to play Nas and Lauryn Hill’s If I Ruled The World during this scene which I thought was a perfect choice to capture how it feels to discover the possibility of a place where you are no longer considered “other.”
I thought this episode’s writer, Shukree Tighlman, did an awesome job of creating dialogue that was relatable and authentic. When Jack finally catches up with him, Randall hesitates to introduce his father to his new friends. Jack expresses concern about it on the way back to Pittsburgh. Randall reassures him that the hesitation wasn’t because he was white but because he was “old.” However, Randall reveals that the discomfort Jack felt is the way he feels all the time. Jack decides to take Randall on a quick detour to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and confides in his son that he felt out of place when he returned from war. He tells Randall he will find his balance, lose it and ultimately find it again — which is life. It was a beautiful moment for the two but bittersweet knowing it was one of their last.
Meanwhile, in present day, grown-up Randall faces losing Deja when the charges are dropped against Deja’s mother and she is released from jail. Deja’s mom shows up to Randall and Beth’s house at night ready to collect her daughter, growing confrontational with Beth (who was, not-surprisingly, ready for the challenge), and screaming on the lawn for her daughter to come out of the house. Deja comes outside and calms her mother down. Deja encourages her mother to be patient with the process and wait to hear from her social worker, Linda.
Smooth R&B (as I and editor Connie hae now decided their BGN ship name will be) are understandably upset and grow even more upset when, the next day, they learn Linda’s recommendation is to return Deja to her mother. Randall once again goes in on Linda (what is it with these two?) and tells her that he and Beth are prepared to fight the decision. He has a change of heart after dropping Deja off at school, however, when he remembers a conversation he had with William shortly after learning Rebecca had known about his biological father most of his life. William told Randall about the second time Rebecca saw him when Randall was about nine years old. When Rebecca has second thoughts about visiting and leaves abruptly, William followed her back to her home prepared to confront her and Jack about becoming part of his son’s life. In a beautiful, tear-inducing montage, he imagines what it would have been like if he had been allowed to be part of his son’s life. Young William has second thoughts, however, when he sees three bicycles on the lawn and realizes his son has a life he knows nothing about. “Who was I?” he repeats to disrupt his son’s beautiful life. This thought resonates with Randall as he drives by Deja’s mother’s apartment and watches her laugh with a friend over a bag of new clothes.
When he meets Beth later at Deja’s school to watch her presentation on photosynthesis (a presentation Randall helped Deja prepare for), he tells her he thinks they should let Deja go. Beth agrees reluctantly. During Deja’s presentation, she proudly tells her classmates her foster Dad helped her with it and Randall watches on with a mixture of happiness and sadness knowing they will have to say goodbye.
When it’s time for Deja to return to her mother, she embraces Beth and then Randall, reassuring him that just because she wants to go, doesn’t mean she didn’t like living with him and Beth. SKB kills his performance, as per usual, and gives ugly, red-eyed crying face as he says goodbye to Deja (which gives me ugly, red-eyed crying face, which in turn gives my husband ugly, red-eyed crying face… it all escalates very quickly around these parts). Softened by the moment, Deja’s mom thanks R&B for taking care of her daughter. At that moment, I couldn’t help but see the wisdom in William’s words: who was Randall to disrupt that? Especially if Deja’s mother is on track to getting it right. By the way, if this is truly the last we see of Deja, let’s get a slow clap for Lyric Ross. She did an amazing job in her first role.
In the final scene, all three episodes come together as Kevin arrives at R&B’s house just after Randall learns Kate lost the baby. Kevin continues to drink and while Randall goes to call Kate, he has an awkward encounter with his nieces who are excited to see him but oblivious to his questionable mental state (as is, it seems, everyone else, still). Kevin abruptly ends the conversation, grabbing a bottle of alcohol and hitting the road. As he speeds down the highway drunk, his oldest niece, Tess, pops up from the backseat saying she wanted to spend time with him and had to get out of the house (likely still emotional from Deja’s departure). This moment jolted me out of my seat with my hand to my heart screaming, “Lordt, don’t let them kill the baby!” They didn’t (I clearly have Dystopian Show Induced PTSD). Whew. But Kevin was arrested for a DUI. In his defense, he didn’t know his niece was in the car, but he could have killed any number of humans — or even himself — with his reckless behavior so he is once again the show’s resident asshole… criminal asshole. Upon learning of his arrest and how he endangered their daughter, R&B are infuriated. It is clear this will have lasting consequences when This is Us returns this winter.
Overall, this episode was a beautiful way to round out the trilogy. While each piece was artful and revealing, I have to give the strongest present-day performance to Justin Hartley as Kevin and the strongest flashback performance to Niles Fitch, who plays teenage Randall. Niles portrayed teen Randall’s angst, excitement, and complexity beautifully. I found myself tearing up just watching him find his happy. For the next half of the season, I am looking forward to R&B finding another child, Kate finding peace with herself and her future with Toby, and Kevin finding his balance. He is still drowning and no one around him seems to notice.