Soooo interesting that the This is Us showrunners decided to lavish the next-to-last episode of the season on Deja’s story. They really do mix it up; some episodes advance the stories of many characters, and some give depth and background to just one or two characters. This hour was devoted to Deja, with–literally–flashes of story about other characters. As a writer myself, I love “braiding,” or basically layering strands of story and then tying them all together. This episode was a masterwork of braiding, weaving threads of birth–Deja’s, Randall’s, Kevin’s, and Tess’s; reading aloud “Good Night Moon” (Oh, how I loved that montage!), and even violence, showing quick vignettes of Deja’s foster sister getting hit, Little Jack and his brother Nicky getting beat up, and Jack punching someone in the face. Who WAS that, by the way?
Everyone relates to the show for a different reason–adoption, weight issues, grief, parenting–and for me that special connection has always been about adoption. As an adoptee and an adoptive mama, I relate so much to Randall. I was adopted at 2 weeks of age, so never in foster care, but one orphan recognizes the heart of another, always. I was feeling all the feelings for Deja–and her mama, too.
The end of the last episode had Randall and Beth finding Deja and her mom homeless and living in their car. This episode picks the story by going backward in time to Deja’s beginnings:
1. In flashback, we are in the delivery room with 16-year-old Shawna as she gives birth to Deja. We receive some insight into her name as Shawna’s grandma likens Deja’s birth to Shawna’s–a “Deja vu.” Obviously, Shawna is not ready to be a mother and needs tons of help from her Grandma, played by the wonderful Pam Grier. Still, it’s going to be extremely challenging for young Shawna to make it. The great-grandmother (Gigi) realizes this anew when she comes home to find little, tiny Deja all alone while Shawna is off somewhere with a guy. (Ugh!)
2. Allow me to indulge in the sheer BEAUTY of the “Goodnight Moon” montage. We listen to Deja’s Gigi reading “In the great green room…” and then Jack reading it to his little brother, and Rebecca reading to the Big Three, and Randall reading to his girls. This showed the transcendent power of books to nurture our children, across the years and across the social and racial divides. So much separates us, but books can bring us together.
3. Time spins back to the recent past, with Deja and her mother making it but barely. Deja cuts her hand on a can opener while attempting to prepare Gigi’s jambalaya for Shawna’s special birthday dinner, and must get herself to the hospital while once again Shawna is AWOL. Clearly, Deja is the responsible one, not her mother. Enter Linda, the longsuffering social worker who should get a giant raise. She places Deja in a foster home while Shawna seeks treatment (Linda smelled alcohol on her breath.)
4. Now we know why Deja flinched at Randall. Though many foster homes are wonderful, the one in which Deja is placed is bad news. Caught shoplifting with her sassy foster sister, Deja is beaten by her abusive foster dad. Thankfully she has the courage to tell Linda, and the girls are moved to a shelter. Deja, at least, gets to go back to her mom, who has a new boyfriend.
5. The new boyfriend is damaged by his own past and it quickly becomes apparent that he is trouble. Shawna gets arrested for having her boyfriend’s gun in her vehicle, a fact Deja learns at her dance practice when the cops show up with the news.
6. Deja is placed in foster care again, this time with Beth and Randall, a period we know all about from past episodes, up to Deja returning to her mother and then ending up living in a car. When she asked for that money a few episodes back, for the heat bill, Shawna ended up spending it on bail money to free Alonzo’s sorry hind end. Because she reasoned, “it was my fault he was in there so…” I am no expert on domestic violence, but this poor woman is not thinking straight. She needs help.
7. It’s back to current time, with Randall and Beth bringing Deja and her mom home with them. Everyone is elaborately casual–”Oh, we’ll figure it all out after a good night sleep and food,” says Randall, in a breezy fashion. But the look he exchanges with Beth is anything but breezy. This is BIG.
8. Beth makes up the couch for Shawna while Deja returns to her fabulous old room (which I love. Hello aqua and red!). Wasn’t it just the sweetest when she found out Randall had kept her plants alive for her? He’s such a good man, with a mighty father’s heart. You know he watered those plants with so much love and longing and grief. And now he has this girl back, but for how long?
9. “I’m just so tired,” Deja says. “I know,” Randall replies. He puts his arm around her and she rests her weary head on his shoulder. All is right with the world for the moment.
10. Shawna witnesses Deja’s giggles and comfort with the Pearson’s as they all play cards and watch a movie. Her mother’s heart can see plain as day that Deja deserves this kind of love and care. My heart broke for her at that moment. She obviously loves her girl but she doesn’t have the tools or wherewithal to be a good mother–yet. “I have failed Deja over and over,” she tells Beth. And Beth listens with so much compassion that I kind of fell in love with Beth again. She IS all heart!
11. Without saying goodbye to Deja, Shawna leaves Randall and Beth’s home with her stuff. Here’s hoping she can get her act together and be a better mama in the future. I wonder, will Randall and Beth adopt Deja or just care for her permanently? (My husband thought that maybe Randall and Beth would set Deja and her mom up in their apartment, a theory I thought was plausible. What do you think?)
12. NEXT WEEK: “Jack comes back as a ghost at Kate’s wedding!” I blurted this excitedly to my husband, who was making chips and cheese in the kitchen. Unlike me, he doesn’t remain glued like a marine gastropod to his seat until the last twinkle of This is Us has faded to black. “What?” he said, confused, maybe even a little alarmed at my intense devotion to a TV show. Ha! Well, I for one cannot WAIT! Bring on the ghost of Jack Pearson!
However, t’will be sad indeed because even though we will see Jack and Rebecca together again in current day, it will be the last episode of the season. How will we cope?
So, what did you think about the episode being totally focused on Deja? What moment touched you the most? How excited are you for next week? Also, how much are you dreading it???
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