One of the things I most admire about This Is Us is its ability to display balanced characters and topics. It’s never “either/or” when it comes to broaching difficult subjects, but showcasing both sides through full 3-dimensional characters. “The Most Disappointed Man” episode was a significant one for many reasons, tackling youth incarceration, adoption and the justice department.
Susan Kelechi Watson, who portrays Beth Pearson on the show talked with us at Shadow and Act about the moment that resonated with her the most, the trajectory of Beth’s relationship with Deja, her unmatched chemistry with Sterling K Brown and the significance of the Pearson family on a major network television show.
This Is Us has shown us before that they don’t shy away from “going there” and this most recent episode didn’t either. The flashback scenes following Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) quest to officially adopt Randall (Sterling K. Brown) truly hit home as the judge questions their ability to effectively raise a black child as white parents. As such, I asked Watson if we could expect more difficult topics such as that.
“The short answer is yes. I think this show is entirely about going there in a non-cynical way,” Watson said. “It goes there in a way not to necessarily laugh at it or brush it under any rug. It (broaches topics) not with sappiness, necessarily, but in an open-hearted, kind of vulnerable way.”
There was one scene in the episode where Randall was talking with Deja’s birth mother and an exchange filled with assumptions on each side of the table was displayed in the rawest and sincere way.
“There is really something about seeing both sides of the story and (in this case) both black people from different backgrounds and a different set of circumstances,” said Watson. Just as Deja’s birth mom assumed that Randall must have a white wife because of his appearance and the way he presented himself, Randall assumed the worst about Deja’s birth mom and why she didn’t meet with her daughter. As Watson put it, “she was just doing what she thought was the best for her daughter.”
And let’s not forget about that “I wake up next to a headscarf and coconut oil” line! That was definitely the highlight for Watson as well, who “jumped up” right along with us as soon as Randall uttered the line.
Another one of the most compelling storylines of the episode — and of the entire season so far, to be honest — is Deja’s introduction into the Pearson family.
As for Beth, Watson shared that Beth is “trying to develop that trust (with Deja) and trying to give her a good home.”
“Beth is trying to give her a place that feels safe — where she doesn’t have to flinch, she doesn’t have to jump, she doesn’t have to be on guard… so if the place that (the Pearsons) call home can become home for Deja, that’s what Beth wants for her.”
I think this truly speaks to the love Beth has inside and her firm yet calming spirit. She often serves as this person to Randall during his breakdowns, so it makes sense that she could eventually become that space for Deja. After all, she opened up to Beth in a special way before Randall.
Speaking of Randall, I couldn’t help but rave to Watson about her chemistry with Brown, which is off-the-charts! #Bandall! So, I had to ask: What can we expect of Beth and Randall’s relationship as the series progresses?
“I think it’ll get stronger and I think it’ll be challenged,” said Watson. “Dan Fogelman, our showrunner and the show’s creator always said that he has no interest in breaking up Beth and Randall.”
*wipes brow in relief*
As I told Watson, the Pearson family is very very very black and I appreciated this blackness displayed on such a huge platform. As Watson put it, the Pearsons’ life and story is “a truth that extends beyond barriers.”
“Everyone needs to see versions of themselves and everyone needs to see positive versions of themselves,” mused Watson. “It has always frustrated me that African-American life was never been normalized. We’ve had those examples throughout television history, it’s not like there was no Jeffersons or there was no Cosby Show or there was no Different World, but somehow the thought is that (this lifestyle) is some kind of anomaly. This is normal! We just need other people to catch up.”
This Is Us comes on Tuesday nights at 9/8c on NBC.