‘This Is Us’: Beth Learns to Dance Again in ‘Our Little Island Girl’ (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 3, Episode 13, of This Is Us, “Our Little Island Girl”]
As indicated in the previous episode, the telling of Beth’s story was sparked with her trip to Washington, D.C., following her mother Carol’s (Phylicia Rashad) recent hip injury. What unfolds is a potentially life-altering realization from Randall Pearson’s (Sterling K. Brown) better half. Below, we recap the full account, but beware of major spoilers ahead.
As with any similar situation, you know something pretty epic is about to happen when Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer” begins playing, and that’s exactly how we first meet Carol. Roaming down the high school hallways to the tune, we learn through her exchanges with students that Carol is the principal of the establishment. During a rowdy moment on the stairs, a student bumps into the older Carol, who realizes she’s been injured.
In the car on their way to aid her, Beth and Zoe (Melanie Liburd) orchestrate their conversation with Carol about possibly retiring. When Zoe asks if Beth will lay down the law with her, it implies that Beth has a weakness when it comes to her mother. Zoe prods even further when Beth shrugs her off, asking how Carol felt about her recent lay-off. Beth copping to not having told Carol only proves her cousin’s point about clamming up.
Meanwhile, viewers are thankfully treated to their first glimpse at Beth’s beginnings with a first flashback. Sitting at the table, Beth (Akira Akbar) proves to be a dreamer as she sketches a pair of ballet slippers — a far cry from her practical adult self. While her mother chides her, father Abe (Carl Lumbly) walks in with a carefree air about him and dispels any tension that may fill the room.
When the phone rings, young Beth answers to learn she’s been accepted into the Whitmore Ballet Academy, unbeknownst to her parents, who were unaware of her unofficial audition at school. While Carol is peeved, Abe is happy about his daughter’s opportunity as he remembers Beth’s toddler days. “She’s our little island girl, she danced before she walked,” he says in his Jamaican accent.
Back in the present, Carol catches Beth and Zoe at the door, and before they have a chance to say anything she tells them that she won’t hear whatever they came to say knowing she’s not going to like it.
On the day that Abe, Carol and Beth visit the dance academy, they also meet Vincent (Timeless‘ Goran Visnjic), who reveals the commitment Beth would have to make if she joins the school. After some back-and-forth with Vincent about Beth’s opportunities at the academy, he tells the family that Beth has an opportunity to make history as an African-American dancer. Before fully deciding, the skeptical Carol is swayed by Abe’s convincing and vow to work overtime, as well as Beth’s promise to be the best.
Remnants of that time in Beth’s life remain on the walls of her family home, and it stirs something in her. As Zoe and Beth sit with Carol in the present, she is resistant to their retirement discussion, and she lashes out at Zoe in the process about not having a “real” job, while Beth does. Unable to hear her mother berate Zoe, Beth shares that she’s been laid-off from her job finally, and Carol’s in shock.
Meanwhile, in the past, Beth shows promise in her early years at the academy, but as a teenager (Rachel Hilson) she struggles. When she sits down with Vincent to discuss her course, he tells her she’ll have to improve if she wants to be a professional ballerina, and with dreams of being one, she promises to give it her all. (And in this moment I have to give props to the show for going so far as to replicate Susan Kelechi Watson’s eye freckle on Rachel Hilson in this scene — a minute but unifying detail.)
Upon returning home after making Vincent her promise to work hard, Beth learns from her parents that Abe is sick with lung cancer. The moment turns even more heartbreaking when Beth begins to cry and is told to stop by her mother, claiming they must be strong for Abe who will undergo chemotherapy.
That harshness is reflected in the present when Carol expresses her anger over not being told about Beth’s current employment situation. Carol wishes to micro-manage her daughter when she says she’ll help Beth find a job the next day.
Back in the past, Beth tells her mother that she’s going to quit dance, claiming she’s the reason for her dad’s illness since he worked so hard for her to attend the academy. Carol won’t see to it though, telling Beth she needs to follow the path she started so many years ago.
On another night, Beth shares her concerns with an oxygen-dependent Abe about the class’s newest dancer, who is also African-American — she doesn’t feel as though she can compete against her. But Abe tells her to not forget who she is — the island girl who danced before she walked. Their sweet conversation ends in a lack of words said as Beth goes to say something and rethinks the decision.
In the middle of the night, Zoe comes to Beth’s room and the now-grown women share a joint and some memories in the laundry room. Beth praises Zoe for how well she turned out despite her dark past with being abused, while Zoe tells her cousin she needs to address whatever is going on with herself. And it’s true; Beth always thinks of others, but never addresses her own needs.
On their way back to bed, Beth spots her dad’s chair and recalls the moment when she didn’t say what she wanted to. This time she says more than she could have as a teenager. “I’m gonna forget, I’m gonna forget that part of me,” she begins saying to her father. “Dad, I want you to know that I’ll be happy. I’ll find love, great love with a man who reminds me so much of you it’s scary. But I can’t be me without you, how could I be?”
The next scene sees teen Beth return to dance following Abe’s death, and she learns that she did not earn a solo in the senior showcase. Following this development, her mother suggests college as her new path because she says she doesn’t see dance in Beth’s future and will no longer pay for class.
Beth finally addresses her mother in the present about that decision, telling her mother that she didn’t have to take dance away from her. She tells Carol there is no air around her and that’s why no one comes to visit her. Needless to say, that conversation doesn’t end well, as Carol walks away.
Meanwhile, fans are given a super-special treat when they see Beth and Randall’s (Niles Fitch) first encounter at a freshman college mixer. After bumping into each other, Randall’s so clearly smitten that it’s clear not much has changed in the years since they met.
Before heading back to Randall and the girls, Beth speaks with Carol again, and her mother shares that Abe was the air she needed in order to stay balanced, and that without him, she isn’t sure she made the right choices, including having Beth quit dance. Beth reassures her mother that it’s okay because she wouldn’t have her family if she didn’t follow that path.
Regardless of any remaining tensions, the mother and daughter part ways in peace, while Beth reveals her next plans to Randall. Without the audience being aware of what the plans are, Randall goes to drop Beth off, and she asks if she’s crazy, “when have we listened to people,” he asks her in response — an echo of her father’s voice in Randall’s.
The encouragement gets her out of the car and into the building which is a dance studio. Beth warms up in one of the empty rooms before an instructor walks in and praises her, but instead of taking up an offer of attending class, Beth tells the woman she’s interested in teaching.
Of course, fans who have kept tabs on Season 3 know that it will all work out, because in the infamous flash-forward, Beth is overseeing a ballet studio. Will it be her and Randall’s downfall, or were all of those worrisome hints of their relationship’s demise just a fake-out? Fans will have to keep an eye out, but until then, here are a few points to keep in mind:
- Showing us Beth and Randall’s first meeting introduces the opportunity for a timeline of the pair’s college days. Considering how much we’ve learned about Beth and Randall in the present and in their childhoods, it would be fun to see some moments between the pair before they became the dynamic duo we know today.
- Now that Phylicia Rashad has made her This Is Us debut, we’d love to see her return — perhaps a Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and Carol may be fun?
- Maybe Beth’s new dance studio ambitions could be part of Randall’s work in Philadelphia, and it would mesh Beth’s desire to help the less fortunate while also pursuing her dream.
This Is Us, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC