(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Tuesday’s “This Is Us.”)
After hearing the life story of his birth mother, Laurel Dubois, on tonight’s episode of “This Is Us,” Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) had a cathartic experience screaming in the middle of a lake in New Orleans — something fans had just learned Laurel herself did when she was overcome with emotion. And during Randall’s very loud night swimming session, he came face to face with his biological mother in a scene Brown thinks wasn’t just in Randall’s mind — or absinthe-induced, even though Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) kept joking about the alcohol all day — but an actual spiritual moment.
“I choose to see it as a miracle,” Brown told TheWrap. “In a line that got cut, Hai [played by Vien Hong] asks Randall if he’s a spiritual person. And Randall says, ‘If I can’t see it, taste it, touch it, feel it or hear it, it probably doesn’t exist.’ So I think this is a true moment of transcendence in which he allows something beyond his physical senses to penetrate. I feel like this encounter with his mother, I take it more literally and as sort of the presence of the possibility that something exists beyond that which is tangible.”
Randall’s encounter with Laurel comes in both her younger (played by Jennifer C. Holmes) and older (Angela Gibbs) forms, as the two have a loving conversation they were never able to share in real life.
“In my mind, and this doesn’t have to make sense to anybody else, he got a chance to hear from his mother the words ‘I love you,’ and he got the chance to say them back to her,” Brown said. “And that’s why he’s so light. That’s why at the end of the episode he’s willing and wanting to let go of all of the bad stuff between him and his brother, Kevin [played by Justin Hartley], because he knows there’s something more. I think that’s the first time in our context of our show where Randall’s had a truly spiritual moment.”
Now when it came to the logistics of shooting the lake scene, that wasn’t exactly a spiritual moment for Brown, who worked closely with the episode’s director and co-writer, Kay Oyegun, to nail those shots.
“While we were doing the lake scene, basically I had to shoot it twice because I shot it with Jennifer and I shot it with Angela and they weren’t quite sure whose footage they were going to use and they wanted to have the option to use both,” Brown said. “I think they put them together in a really lovely way. But we would just shoot the scene and I’d be screaming my head off. I was like, ‘How many times am I going to do this, Kay?’ And she was like, ‘Almost done, Brown. Almost done.’ After a couple of them she would just come look at me and go, ‘Poor Randall.’ I was like, ‘You wrote this s–t! Why are you looking at me?!’ (laughs)“
To get to that cathartic miracle in the lake, Randall had to sit through Hai’s story of Laurel’s life — one he wasn’t immediately interested in, since all he cared about was finding out what happened after his biological father, William, thought she died of a heroin overdose post-childbirth in their Pittsburgh apartment.
But once Hai tells Randall that she was brought back to life by paramedics after William had left with baby Randall — and that she was then brought to a hospital, arrested for drug possession and unable to contact William before being sentenced to five years in prison in California — Randall started to listen.
“The difference is, up until that point he only really thought about his mother in terms of how her life impacted his, right?” Brown said. “She is a side character in his story, the way a lot of people tend to think we are the center of our own stories. That it was only until he realized, ‘Oh, prison, there were repercussions for her actions.’ And they were, by virtue of her Blackness, possibly, greater repercussions than if she would have been not Black. Not only did she go to jail, she went to jail for five years on the other side of the country.”
He continued: “And so it was in that moment that he realized, ‘OK, maybe I just sit down and listen to her story. And her story is important, because she lived. Not just because of how it necessarily intertwines or interacts with mine, but here’s an opportunity to learn about someone who plays a part in my existence and I need to know that. Not just because of how they impact me, but because I should want to know that.'”
“Once he was able to sit back and listen without being so anxious about the whole thing, he got exactly what he needed,” Brown explained. “Because part of Randall’s story is that, ‘Only two people who didn’t care about me, who didn’t see any value in me, could have just given me up and been absent from my life.’ And now he knows that that’s not true. That this sort of story he created in his mind is much more multidimensional and he’s actually the product of love, by two loving people with circumstances that conspired against them in a terrible way.”
So now you might be wondering if Randall plans to tell his mother, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), about everything he just learned about Laurel — or if he thinks that might be too much for her, given she’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
“I don’t know. That’s my honest answer,” Brown said, laughing. “But we have Rebecca’s declining cognition and I think there’s questions that Randall asks himself in terms of, what is really important that his mother know about their relationship at this point in time? Is there anything that she has to answer for or resolve? I think at this point in time, the answer is no. He carried so much hurt and so much anger and frustration at the idea that she denied him access to a relationship [with William] that could have been of benefit in his life. I think he’s put it to bed, right?”
He added: “I think if he finds a way in which he can share it with her and in which she can see it as not an indictment on anything to do about her as a parent, that he will. I think if he feels she may feel any sort of culpability, then he’ll keep it to himself. And that’ll be OK, because right now what’s most important is that she enjoy the quality of her life, the time that she has at the highest quality for as long as she can. I don’t think he’s interested in confronting her with something that may make her unhappy. Honestly, I think she’s cool with that. That’s my two cents. Now, you’ll see an episode later where Randall goes to town on Rebecca, like, ‘How dare you!’ (laughs) But that’s what I think right now.”
“This Is Us” airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.