The season five premiere of This is Us was loaded and confrontational; it was exactly what the world needed to see from a television series that addresses everyday family struggles. The two-hour special, “Forty: Part One/Forty: Part Two,” takes us through multiple Pearson storylines––this time while acknowledging all the chaos of 2020. With references to the Coronavirus outbreak, difficult discussions about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as Randall’s experience being a black man raised in a white a family; This is Us is deliberately sending us a message to wake up. Although the premiere is focused on The Big Three’s 40th birthday and their aversion towards more surprises as they navigate through their new reality, the episode’s flashbacks of William and Laurel take us to a simpler time with just the same whirlwind of emotions and a gigantic plot twist. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The beginning of the episode jumps to the early months of quarantine where The Pearsons attend Zoom calls, practice social distancing and wear masks. The pandemic in the episode’s plot is used for both comedy (when Beth whispers, “Hank’s got the Corona,”) as well as for character development (when Kevin decides to quarantine with Madison during her pregnancy and strengthen their burgeoning relationship). The episode does a great job of summing 2020 up when Beth makes a statement about all the protests, “the ‘rona,” as well as the Karens.
- Racism and BLM
Just when Randall thinks his long-winded rivalry with Kevin is his biggest issue as they share an insincere conversation over text, Randall gets a notification of a developing story–– the murder of George Floyd. Paralzyed with sadness and disbelief, Randall and Beth share a conversation in bed about how they feel powerless. “Eight minutes. They kneeled on that man for eight minutes,” Randall says, lifelessly. She replies, admitting that she can’t even watch the video. The next day as Randall is having a virtual session with his white therapist, he realizes that he is unable to talk to her about racial issues and later makes the decision to start seeing a black therapist. We discover that this is not the first time Randall feels suppressed. In an emotional conversation with Malik, Randall confesses for the first time that growing up in a white family, whenever racial violence occurred, he always had to bury it within himself. An emotional scene flashes back to when he was a little kid watching the coverage of Johnny Gammage’s murder all by himself, a black man who was pulled over and killed for having an expired registration. He admits that it was a lot for a black kid his age to process. It was extremely powerful to see Randall and Malik share their first moment of vulnerability together on screen, especially since both actors spoke up about their pain regarding racially motivated violence on social media.
Randall is fed up and exhausted, and this only intensifies in the second half of the premiere when Kate apologizes to Randall for everything that has been going on. He asks her why she is apologizing if she doesn’t even know what for, and tells her that she’s never done so in the past even though George Floyd was far from being the first black person to be killed on camera. “Things like this have been happening to black people for years, yet nobody ever talked about it. Not once. Not once in 40 years,” he finally admits to his sister. He adds that he’s had to keep so many things to himself because he didn’t want his white family to worry about saying the wrong things. Hearing Randall break his silence for the first time is a lot for Kate to process, and although admitting that he hates seeing her upset, he says, “If I made things better for you, then where does that leave me?” This is when I realized that we are all Kates–– each one of us. We try to make up for never addressing racism by apologizing for it whenever the media tells us to. At the end of the episode, Randall reflects on the fact that what they have to deal with everyday is tragic. “I’m not falling apart. I’m not having a breakdown. I’m just really, really sad,” Randall tells Beth. “This pain is not forever,” she replies.
A huge revelation is shown on The Big Three’s 40th birthday using flashbacks of William and Laurel; Randall was not actually born on the same day as Jack, Kevin and Kate. The flashbacks give us an insight into the events leading up to Randall being left at a fire station and into the arms of Jack and Rebecca on that fateful day, 40 years ago. We see the early romance of William and Laurel, her battle against a heroin addiction and her dreams of giving Randall a better life after discovering that she is pregnant. She tells William that she’s going to apply for a sales position at work and move her family into a new apartment. After discovering that she was turned down for the position, Laurel falls back into her heroin addiction and on the day of Randall’s birth, William decides to give her something to treat the pain. He discovers the next day that the medication caused Laurel to overdose and calls 9-1-1. After the paramedics were unable to revive her, William flees the scene upon the mention of Child Protection Services. He gets on a bus and reassures the newborn Randall in his arms that “Daddy’s got everything under control. It’s going to be ok.” As William whispers these words of reassurance, we see a flashback from the same point in time where Jack is driving Rebecca to the hospital–– the same day they adopt Randall. In a corresponding flashback, a healthy Laurel asks William, “If I can’t be the mother he deserves, promise you will make him a family?” At this moment, we are finally taken to the infamous scene where William leaves Randall at the fire station.
Mourning the death of Laurel and realizing that he failed as a father, William finds his way to the nearest hospital where Randall is taken, becomes a Pearson and completes the missing link to The Big Three. For the first time in five seasons, we discover that William and Jack actually cross paths twice that day in the hospital; once when William enters and another when they both go into the chapel to pray. William asks God to take care of Randall, and Jack asks for all of his triplets to be born healthy, although, we discover in season one that they lose a child at birth. At the end of the day, it was a tragedy that birthed unity.
The final moments of the episode take us back to the police reviving Laurel in a flashback. Immediately after Willam flees the scene, they find her pulse. Randall’s biological mother actually survived. Randall’s life has really been defined by both of his mothers: Rebecca, who lied to him about his biological parents for his whole life and Laurel, the mother who he thought he lost at birth and was barely a footnote in his story. All that is about to change.
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