This Is Us rounded out a series of Big Three-centric episodes by focusing on Randall on the Tuesday, November 28, episode. “Number Three” found Randall deciding whether to willingly let Deja return home with her mother, and in flashbacks, opening up to Jack about feeling off balance as a black child in a predominantly white environment.
Let’s revisit the hour’s most noteworthy moments.
As we saw glimpses of in the past two weeks’ episodes, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) took Randall to visit a college in Washington, D.C., the same day Kevin suffered his initial knee injury and Kate was at odds with Rebecca (Mandy Moore) over her future. Though Randall was filling out a Harvard application, he wanted to visit Howard University, a historically black university.
Randall and Jack met up with Randall’s friend Keith once they arrived on campus. Keith offered to give Randall a behind-the-curtain tour of the school, leaving Jack to roam the grounds solo. Randall finally asked Keith and his friends the question that had obviously been on his mind all day: Were there no white kids at Howard? The students said there were some, but going to the predominantly black school made them feel like they weren’t alone.
On the drive home, Randall told his father how much he liked Howard and asked if he liked it too. Jack said he did, but Harvard was Ivy League. Jack admitted he didn’t really care if the school Randall went to was Ivy League. He knew Randall would make the right decision because he always did.
Then Jack asked Randall why he hesitated when he introduced him to Keith’s friends. Jack wasn’t mad about it and understood how difficult it must’ve been for Randall when he met new people who didn’t know about his family situation. Randall confessed that his whole life he’d felt off balance — like everything was going to be a little more complicated for him.
Jack knew just what his son was talking about. He took Randall to a war monument and told him about being drafted. He explained that he didn’t often talk about his time in Vietnam because it was too hard. His larger point: He felt off balance when he returned from the war. But he found his balance … and lost it again and found it again. That was how life worked. Jack encouraged Randall to be spectacular — to own it and run with it.
Present-day Randall (Sterling K. Brown) was helping Deja with her science project when Deja’s mom, Shauna, came to get her daughter (the charges against her had been dropped), yelling at Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) in the process. Deja told her mother they needed to go through the proper channels with the social worker, so Shauna left.
The next day, Deja’s social worker laid out the situation for Randall and Beth. She’d visited Shauna’s home and was going to recommend that Deja live with her mother. Randall and Beth were understandably upset and threatened to involve their lawyer because they didn’t believe Shauna was fit to parent Deja.
A flashback showed a talk Randall had with William (Ron Cephas Jones) following last year’s Thanksgiving. Randall was still mad after finding out Rebecca and William had known each other for years and demanded answers. William shared a story about the second time he saw Rebecca — when Randall was 9.
William had followed Rebecca back to the Pearson home after he spooked her with his enthusiasm about meeting Randall. He imagined spending Randall’s big moments — birthdays, Christmases, graduation — with the family, but then he saw The Big Three’s bicycles lined up in the yard, with personalized license plates that read “Number One,” “Number Two” and “Number Three.” When William realized he didn’t know which bike was Randall’s or which nickname belonged to his son, he knew his chance was over — he wasn’t a part of Randall’s life, and he couldn’t justify inserting himself into his world against Randall’s mother’s wishes when William had already missed out on so much.
Back in the present, Randall drove by Shauna’s apartment and saw her excitedly showing off new clothes she’d bought for Deja. He later met up with Beth at Deja’s school to watch the 12-year-old’s science project presentation. Randall told Beth how seeing Deja’s mom showed him that Deja had a whole world before she came to live with them. One eloquent metaphor about Pac-Man later, Beth agreed they couldn’t keep Deja from her mom.
Deja shared a sad goodbye with Tess, Annie, Beth and Randall and clarified that just because she wanted to go home didn’t mean she didn’t like living with the Pearsons.
Beth and Randall weren’t ready to give up on helping foster kids, though. They knew another child out there needed their help. That’s when an adorable little boy popped up on screen, talking to his social worker about finding the right home for him.
Kevin (Justin Hartley) appeared on Randall’s doorstep after Deja left. He started drinking immediately and bolted shortly after hearing about Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) miscarriage. Kevin was driving erratically, and back at Randall and Beth’s, no one could find Tess. The pair’s oldest daughter was sad about Deja leaving, so she’d stowed away in Kevin’s car. Just as Kevin realized she was in the back seat, a policeman pulled him over and arrested him for DUI.
Like Jack told Randall after Kevin’s injury, “It’s been that way since you guys were babies. You know, one of you falls down, the other one’s standing up.”
This Is Us returns to NBC Tuesday, January 2, at 9 p.m. ET.