‘This Is Us’: Randall Lets Everything Go in ‘Birth Mother’ (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 6 of This Is Us, “Birth Mother.”]
Season 5 of This Is Us began with a mystery that viewers have been waiting to uncover: the truth about Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) birth mother. In the aptly titled episode, “Birth Mother,” they finally receive answers and a possible turning point for one of the show’s more upsetting plotlines.
Unlike typical installments of This Is Us, this episode doesn’t involve the entire Pearson crew; the story focuses almost solely on Randall’s birth mother, Laurel (Jennifer C. Holmes), and her connection with the man we know as Hai (Vien Hong). Laurel’s story is a moving one and although viewers and Randall know she’s dead before Hai even begins to tell it, that doesn’t detract from the heartbreak seen on screen.
The episode opens with Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall driving to meet Hai in New Orleans. They reminisce earlier trips there, recalling a particularly romantic visit for their fifth anniversary. When they arrive at a small farm house at the edge of a lake, Hai comes out to greet them, thanking them for quarantining before driving down.
When Beth notes how beautiful the land is, Hai informs the couple that it actually belongs to Randall, as Laurel owned the spot. Taken off guard, the pair follow him into the home for one big story-telling session. Hai starts at the beginning, telling Randall that Laurel belonged to the affluent Dubois family as a child.
In a flashback, we see Laurel interact with her parents and an older brother who helps her sneak out so she can visit her Aunt May, who tends to her garden at the house that Randall now sits in. We see a young Laurel and May swim in the lake, but the outing spells trouble for Laurel, who gets caught sneaking back into her house by her father.
He forbids Laurel from seeing his sister May. Laurel can’t understand the hatred he feels for May and asks her brother Jackson about it, but he doesn’t have an answer.
It’s clear that Laurel’s close with Jackson, and when he goes off to fight in Vietnam, she misses him terribly. That pain is only magnified when she receives news that Jackson has died in combat.
Seeking comfort from her aunt, May tells her to let the pain go by stepping into the lake and releasing that baggage. So that’s what Laurel does.
This is when the flashbacks take a break for Randall to comment on his awe over Hai’s knowledge of his mother’s story. Hai reveals that Laurel was the love of his life, before the story returns to the past.
When Laurel goes into the water, she screams, and it’s Hai (Kane Lieu), fishing on the lake, who hears her and mistakes her for a drowning victim. He attempts to save her but she fights him off, saying she isn’t drowning. As a refugee from Vietnam, Hai doesn’t fully under English/what Laurel is saying. The next time they meet is at the farmer’s market, where Laurel helps May sell vegetables and fruit.
Walking past Hai’s fish stall, Laurel greets him and he offers to cook fish for her, leading to their first date as they feast beside an outdoor fire. While their romance blossoms, Laurel’s father believes he has found a match for his daughter in a man named Marshall (Anthony Hill). When he informs Laurel that he expects her to accept the prospective proposal, she panics and ask Hai to run away with her. Sadly, he can’t go, as he provides for his family’s well being, and so Laurel, who has been doing drugs, runs off and eventually meets William (Jermel Nakia), with whom she gets pregnant.
Once again, Randall interrupts Hai’s storytelling, asking for him to get to the point, or rather, truth about Laurel’s presumed death. Hai tells Randall that following the birth and getting back into drugs for the pain, Laurel overdosed, woke up in the hospital, and was arrested shortly after. With no prior offenses on her record, she was told by a lawyer to plead guilty for good measure, but the move backfires and lands Laurel in prison for five years. Due to overcrowding in Philadelphia, Laurel is sent to prison in California.
Released from prison in 1985, Laurel told Hai there wasn’t a night that went by where she didn’t dream about her son. With only enough money for a one-way ticket, Laurel goes home to May, punishing herself for not being able to take care of her child. In solidarity, May reveals her own story to Laurel, telling her niece about an affair with a married man which led to a pregnancy. May lost both the man and her child, which also led to alienation from her family and brother. In an effort to release the sorrow she feels, Laurel visits the lake again, letting it all go in the water with a scream.
Later on she sees Hai once again at the market, but only this time they wave at each other. This is when Beth decides it’s her turn to interrupt the storytelling, asking why Hai would only greet this love of his life with a wave. Hai tells Beth and Randall that he was married by the time Laurel returned, and was expecting a child. But years later, once his wife had died and his children had left home, Hai went to see Laurel who was sick with cancer.
She tells him that she’s not planning to continue treatment and implies her time is limited, but Hai reveals to the couple that Laurel had two more years in her, during which they spent all of their time together. “Every day was perfect, if only we had more of them,” Hai reminisces. He remembers a time towards the end of Laurel’s life where she says she wishes she had gotten to tell her son something. But Hai doesn’t reveal more.
He then hands Randall and Beth the keys to Laurel’s house, saying he was waiting a long time to share this story with Laurel’s son. After hugs, they depart, and Randall and Beth go back to their hotel. While journaling, Randall decides to step out while Beth sleeps, returning to his mother’s home. Taking a page from Laurel’s book, he strips and walks into the lake out back where he hears her laughter and eventually finds himself face-to-face with Laurel himself.
She tells him to let go of the pain and tells him what she always wished she could, which is “I love you” in Vietnamese, Randall says he loves her too and after a good hardy scream, Randall finally lets go. Later, Beth notices the change in him as they drive home, and it’s undeniable as a smile paints his face. He says that hearing his parents’ stories revealed how two imperfect people loved each other and others, which leads him to feel inspired about a reconciliation with brother Kevin (Justin Hartley).
In true This Is Us fashion though, the episode can’t just end smoothly, because Kevin’s driving in a car when Randall rings him. The frustration is clear in Kevin’s voice as he reveals Madison’s (Caitlin Thompson) in labor and he’s still in Vancouver. After wishing aloud that he never came to work on his film, he hangs up on Randall. Talk about a cliffhanger.
This Is Us, Season 5, Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC