Last night, Randall and Beth had no rhythm and were mired in blues.
Their 20-year relationship had been deteriorating for months. Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) had told Randall (Sterling K. Brown) she no longer supported his run for city councilman. He continued anyway, then he won. Beth decided to become a dance teacher, after being laid off from her high paying job. In the midst, they have two daughters, a pre-teen, a teenager who recently came out of the closet as well as a foster daughter struggling to find her way. Add on the new financial pressures, the marriage is collapsing under the strain.
It turns out, as Beth said, “We’ve been having the same fight since we met.” The same fight is that Randall always gets his way. He overwhelms her with big ideas (“Let’s move in my birth father whom I met today!” “Let’s adopt a child!” “Let’s move in my wealthy TV star alcoholic brother who then drives drunk with one our kids in the car!” “I want to run for city councilman in my late father’s district that’s two hours away!”) Beth bends and capitulates to Randall every single time. She feels like there is no space for her inside the marriage.
Last night’s episode showed how small incidents in a marriage turn into big resentments. Beth is rightfully angry about how Randall sweet talks his way into whatever he wants to do. Like when he convinces her she doesn’t need a break from care taking their extended family. She is also complicit because she continuously caves in. On their disastrous first date in college, Beth said she didn’t want to be swallowed up inside a relationship. Guess what. Sometimes what we fear the most comes true.
Beth is not having it anymore. It’s Randall’s turn to bend, or the marriage will break.
Caving in time is over.
Next week we’ll see what decisions the Pearsons make in the Season Finale. I’ll be watching. Thank you @ Kay Oyegun for writing an insightful hour of television.
Up next: The short film “The Big Chop” (YouTube). Saturday, March 30th.
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This Is Us: Season 3, Episode 13: “Our Little Island Girl”
After 49 episodes and 3 ½ seasons of This is Us, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) gets a long overdue backstory (and the entire hour of the show). Beth’s story is told, in classic This is Us fashion, via flashback and present day. In the flashback scenes, we learn that Beth’s mother Carol (the one and only Phylicia Rashad) literally snatches teenage Beth’s dream of being a professional ballerina right out of her hands. Carol forces her to take a traditional, corporate route so that Beth can live a “safe” life.
Via flashback, we see that Child Beth (Akira Akbar), “the child who could dance before she could walk,” dreams only of dance. Beth applies to a prestigious ballet school behind her parents’ back. She gets accepted much to their surprise. Her Jamaican father, Abe (Carl Lumbly), is 100% behind “our little island girl’s” dreams and is willing to work overtime to pay for her training. Mom is not having it. Dance is not practical. Carol is a pragmatic woman and does not believe Beth can ever be a principal ballerina. Abe is convinced, so Carol goes along with what he wants.
Fast forward to teenage Beth (Rachel Hilson). Her dance teacher Vincent Kelly (Goran Visnjic) tells her she no longer has a dancer’s body and that she must work ten times harder. Then Mr. Kelly brings in a new dancer. She is also black and built like a teenage brickhouse. (This girl did not have a ballerina body. I think Mr. Kelly just gave up on Beth.)
Concurrently, Beth is told her father is dying of lung cancer. Beth blames herself for her father’s illness because he worked so hard to pay for her dance training. He dies while she is competition for the lead in Swan Lake. After Abe’s death, Beth discovers she did not get the lead. That’s when Carol swoops in and says, “You are never going to be a professional dancer. I’m not going to pay for dance academy anymore. By the way, here’s a list of colleges. Pick one.”
Back in the present day, Beth and her cousin Zoe (Melanie Liburd) travel to Washington, DC to convince Carol to retire from her high school principal duties after she is injured. Mom shoots down retirement quick, fast, and in a hurry.
While visiting her mother, Beth has a moment with her father’s memory. She’s afraid she has forgotten the dreamer and dancer side of herself. “I can’t be me without you. How could I be?” she tells his empty chair. Abe was her dreamer, her faith, her promise, her believer. Without her dad, Beth has abdicated the role of Dreamer to her husband Randall, who is a man of faith, passion, and big dreams.
Beth finally confronts her mother at 3:00 a.m. Carol can’t sleep. All she wants to do is help a laid-off Beth find a new job. Beth says neither she nor her siblings can breathe around her. There’s no air. Carol says, “I promised my mother I’d push my kids as hard as she pushed me. At least I know you all are okay.” “No. I am not okay, “Beth says. “You took away my dream.” And we find out no one was allowed to grieve Abe’s death. The family just moved on like it never happened.
The next morning, Carol tells Beth that her own father didn’t think girls should be educated. Her mom felt different and pushed Carol toward excellence. Carol pushed so hard that once while she was in college, Abe literally fed her because she wouldn’t stop studying. Abe was Carol’s emotional counterbalance. Without him, her air was gone too. She admits she took dance away from Beth too quickly.
At the end, Beth decides she wants to be a dance teacher. Carol goes back to work using a walker (surprise).
Everything in Carol Clarke’s being is Strong Black Woman. Emotionally stoic. Distant. Forever suffering. The family rock. The disciplinarian. Handling her business. Always in control.
Big Mama and Carol focused only on their children’s education and professional development because they felt that was the only choice they had. Being a person of African descent in the United States can be dangerous. Being “strong” is necessary because you never know when you’ll be attacked, shot, raped, or killed because of your race. But being “strong” is not the same as being “safe.”
Beth breaks free of the Strong Black Woman persona by pursuing her professional dance dreams. She’s still a wife and mother. She’s also creative and needs to express that side of her.
Hallelujah is all I have to say. Beth has broken a multi-generational belief and set herself free. A huge thumbs up for a quality hour of black women on television and to episode writer Eboni Freeman.
This is Us airs Tuesdays at 9:00 pm EST. New episodes return March 5th.