Thursday, February 21, 2019

This Is Us. 3.13: “Our Little Island Girl”

“Sister-cousin, I know you inside and out and there is something bigger going on with you and you need to find a way to talk about it.”
- Zoe

We’ve been waiting for a Beth-centric episode and it is finally here! When last we saw Beth, she was heading to DC to help out her mom who bruised her hip after being knocked into by some unruly high school kids at the school where she’s a principal. Beth picks up Zoe and they head and along the way, Beth admits she hasn’t told her mom about being laid off yet. Given that it’s been months, that’s kind of surprising and Zoe calls her out on it. She says that Beth clams up around her mother because her mom is terrifying. When we meet Mrs. Clark in the present, she insists she doesn’t need help and thinks they are foolish for worrying. She doesn’t want to slow down or even consider retiring. And while they are eating, Mrs. Clark starts in on Zoe for not having a path and career like Beth, prompting Beth to blurt out that she got laid off. Her mother jumps in and says they’ll look at new firms and spruce up her resume in the morning. But we can all tell that Beth isn’t interested in doing that and as we look back at her childhood, we learn why.

We first find young Beth around eight or nine years old (and my God if she doesn’t look a lot like Tess from season 1). Good job casting folks at “This Is Us”. Then again, they always do a really awesome job of casting people to play different characters at different ages. Beth gets accepted to a prestigious ballet academy but her mother is skeptical both at the time commitment and the cost. But Beth’s dad is all gung ho to see his baby girl dance. As he keeps saying, she danced before she walked so it’s got to be in her blood. The owner of the company explains that the goal of all the classes is to participate in a senior showcase and hopefully get recruited by one of the major ballet companies worldwide. With this dream in mind, Beth manages to get her parents to agree. She works hard but she isn’t exactly the best in class. She’s not horrible but she’s got to push harder than some of the other girls.

When Beth gets to be a teenager, her teacher tells her that she’s not built like typical dancers and if she wants the solo in the showcase she’s going to have to push herself even harder. She also sees that he brings in another Black dancer (who Beth feels has it easier because routines just come that much faster to her). When she gets home that night, her parents drop the bomb on her that her dad has developed lung cancer (despite not spoking as Zoe points out). Beth thinks it is her fault that her dad got sick because he had to work extra hard to make enough money to support her training. Her mother brushes that off as ridiculous and she’s no nonsense that he is going to get chemo treatment because that’s what the doctor said. Inevitably, the cancer claims him and Beth is understandably upset. Though, I think she was more upset by how her mother just kept going as if they didn’t need time to grieve. When Beth doesn’t get the solo like she’d hoped, her mother points out that she can’t continue to pay for the classes so Beth’s path is going to need to change and she’ll need to go to college. Eventually, we see Beth at a freshman mixer where she bumps into none other than Randall Pearson!

In the present, Zoe wakes Beth up in the middle of the night and they end up getting high off some weed Zoe hid behind a picture. They have some real talk where Beth comments about how they don’t’ acknowledge how much Zoe has accomplished. Zoe admits that while everyone else saw Beth’s mom as harsh and strict, Zoe saw her as someone who wouldn’t hurt her the way her own father had. Zoe also points out that Beth clearly has something big she’s trying to deal with and she needs to get it out before it just explodes. So, Beth eventually confronts her mother. She points out that her mom didn’t have to rip dance away right after her father died. Her mom in turn explains that her mother fought for her to have every opportunity her brothers did and that Beth’s mom wanted to give her kids that same chance and push them to do well. But she acknowledges she shouldn’t have pushed Beth away from dance like she did. By the end of the episode, Beth realizes what’s been missing in her life and she seizes on it. She shares it with Randall who in typical Pearson fashion is supportive. She wants to get back into dancing. She wants to teach and if the glimpses of the future are any indication, she’s going to be doing it for a long time. It still makes me worry that Beth and Randall aren’t in a good place in the future. I just hope we get to see more of that sooner rather than later. I want to know what lays ahead for the Pearson clan!

I thought this was a good episode overall and finally gave us some insight into who Beth is and how she ended up the way she is. I really liked getting that glimpse into her past and as usual, the acting was top notch. I got a little emotional when Beth and her mom finally had their talk to sort out the drama that had been lingering between them. I also liked to see that Beth’s mom at least acquiesced to using a walker at the school. This was a necessary step along the path of the larger Pearson clan and I look forward to seeing more of Beth’s family. Maybe we’ll get to meet her brother and sisters next time.

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