This is finally putting Beth Pearson at the center of the stage



Photo: Ron Batzdorff (NBC)

What is revolutionary about This is us These are not the stories he tells, but the way he tells them. There are other movies and TV shows and plays that explore the problems of family conflict with even more nuance and complexity. But This is us has created a visual language and a vast narrative tapestry in which these conversations can unfold with a unique emotional resonance. A montage of three women dancing becomes a poetic exploration of lost and found dreams. Two teenagers meeting at the mixer of a freshman emit a whiff of excitement similar to watching the Avengers assemble for the first time. In some ways, "Our Little Island Girl" (the first episode to look at Beth Pearson's story!) Tries to prevent Beth's entire teenage life from blending into one episode. Sometimes, he sometimes feels a bit like a CliffsNotes story for a character who deserves more than his own romance story. Yet, if a show is built to bring emotional depth to a CliffsNotes story, This is us.

Although that may bite a little more than he can chew, This is us gives this Beth-centric episode the pomp and circumstance it deserves, especially with respect to its guests. The great Carl Lumbly plays Beth's father, Abe, born in Jamaica. The legendary Phylicia Rashad plays the role of Beth's mother, Carol – a woman who demands the excellence of all those around her, including herself. She will not let a little thing like a bruised hip slow her down in her high school principal job. It is this wound that sends Beth and Zoe on a road to DC, and Beth on a road behind the scenes.

We are learning a full A lot of new information in this episode, including the fact that Beth, who is normally confident and who speaks frankly, becomes a doormat around her mother. But the most telling fact is that Beth (or Bethany, as she was called throughout her childhood) was a serious ballet dancer aiming to join a company and dance professionally. This is quite revealing information, as revealing as to learn that Kevin has already been a star football player on the road to a university career. Like Kevin, Beth had her career ambitions quite brutally ripped from her. The change occurred not because of a single injury, but because of the slowness with which she realized that despite her skills and work ethic, she simply did not have the natural talent to to climb to the top of the pack. Carol, extremely practical, tirelessly shot Beth out of the dance and put her on a college path. Sitting bow to her mother's wishes, Beth put the dance behind her and never turned around.

Again, that's a lot to take during an episode, and while it certainly helps explain why Beth works as a ballet instructor in the flashforward scenario, it's really strange that the dance background of Beth has not been mentioned before (especially Her own interest in dancing). But "Our little girl from the island" mostly draws with the film because the episode is infused with a palpable love of ballet. Screenwriter Eboni Freeman has a background in dance, as does director / choreographer Anne Fletcher (Intensify the proposal). And Susan Kelechi Watson has her own dance training, which she will show in this beautiful final montage. The specificity and emotional likeness of all elements of the ballet allow the episode to feel nuanced and lived despite the speed with which it jumps through the adolescence of Beth.

Photo: Ron Batzdorff (NBC)

It's also interesting to note that this episode is full of parallels between the Clark family and Pearson's family, which allows us to situate ourselves more easily in the dynamics of this brand new set of characters. The two marriages are about two very different people who balance, and how this balance is unbalanced when the husband dies young. Abe and Jack are dreamers with open hearts, while Carol and Rebecca are their more practical counterpoints. One of the biggest differences between families, however, is that Jack was the dominant force in his nuclear family, while Carol was the dominant force in his family. That means the Pearsons were great dreamers with just a touch of practice, while the Clarks were fierce pragmatists with just a touch of fantasy.

Given how much This is us For big dreams, it would be easy for the series to demonize Carol's too pragmatic approach, but the writer Eboni Freeman seeks to understand it. Carol was raised at a time when getting the same educational opportunities as her brothers was a huge battle that her mother had to fight for her. Carol's mother believed that concentration on her purpose was necessarily a survival tool and Carol raised her own children in the same state of mind – without really realizing that the world around them had changed a bit.

Rashad does a fantastic job in pointing out that Carol's rigor and high standards come from a place of love. It is clear that she seeks to raise her children and students, not to bring them down. However, Carol's parenting style does not always leave much room for emotional management and mental well-being. As Beth says, "Keep going as you always do, is not it, mom? Even in pain. That's what Clark women do, right? No chance for weakness. "Our little girl on the island" does not explicitly focus much of her breed talk, but that's of course another major difference between the Pearsons and the Clarks. Carol's endless demand for excellence is rooted in the desire to prepare her children for a world in which the odds are superfluous. When it comes to being a black ballet dancer, young Beth has very few role models to follow.

Photo: Ron Batzdorff (NBC)

One of the most interesting parallels that the episode traces is the opposite opposite way of Rebecca and Carol to the death of their husband. Rebecca let her grief lock her up while Carol decided to bury her completely. Both reactions are flawed but understandable and have both had a negative impact on their children. Yet the imperfect ways in which Rebecca and Carol treated their grief have also brought their children to where they are today. If Carol had not removed Beth from ballet and Randall had not refused Howard to go to a Pittsburgh school closer to Rebecca, the two would never have met at Carnegie Mellon.

The meeting of Randall and Beth has a sense of destiny, but "Our little girl on the island" also states that we are not destined to follow pre-established paths. We can also shape and reshape our future. Beth's journey home reminds her of the dream spirit that had come so naturally to her father and now comes naturally to her husband. After making peace with her mother, she decides to take advantage of her unemployment to resume her artistic sense and pursue a career as a dance teacher.

In some ways, "Our little girl from the island" feels like This is us Clean the turntables to finally (finally !!) put Beth on an equilibrium foot with the rest of the cast – the one she should be on for a long time. The episode offers Beth a new direction in the present and officially launches the love story of Beth and Randall in the past. Hopefully this will lead to more stories where Beth and her teenage counterpart (a wonderful Rachel Hilson) will again take center stage.


Observations lost

  • The episode tries to make their absence a plot topic, but it's a bit odd that Beth's brothers and sisters (Renee, Lisa, and Isaiah) are complete non-entities. I guess the show would not commit to giving them concrete stories to allow maximum freedom in future scenarios.
  • I really loved the scene where Zoe explained to Beth how she grew up in the Clark family and how, despite the high standards and emotional repression, she had always felt safe there.
  • All in all, my greatest hope for the flashforward timeline is that Tess, Annie and Deja have all maintained positive relationships with Beth. This is us did a fair amount of storytelling on difficult mother-daughter pairs, but it would be nice if the series depicted at least a a largely positive relationship between a mother and her adult daughter.
  • Beth notices that Randall reminds him so much of his father: "It's scary", which is reflected when "When have we already listened to people?
  • A + use of "I say a little prayer."

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