We’ve arrived at “Number Three,” the last installment of the Pearson siblings’ trilogy and the final episode of This Is Us to air in 2017. The show turns its attention away from the more intense experiences of Kate and Kevin by bringing Randall into focus, wrapping up — at least for now — the arc of his and Beth’s first foster child experience while also shedding new light on Randall’s coming-of-age experiences.
“Number Three” opens in a similar manner as the previous two episodes, with an adult Pearson moving about their home while Sunday Night Football plays on the TV in the background. This time it’s Randall excitedly gearing up for Thanksgiving and helping Deja out with a science presentation on photosynthesis. Since we last checked in on the pair, their relationship appears to have improved considerably: Deja is much more natural with her new “foster dad,” even if she dislikes the term, and is both welcoming and appreciative of his involvement in her schoolwork.
Their strengthened bond is ill timed, however: Deja’s mother, Shauna, suddenly shows up at the house with news that she’s been released from prison and the charges have been dropped. “I told you it wasn’t my gun,” she insists when Randall meets her and Beth outside, mid argument. They fight until Deja arrives, beaming at the sight of her mother. The two hug. But Deja senses her mother’s a little off and asks for her patience — as if she’s taking on the parental role. “We gotta do it through the social worker,” Deja cautions. “We just need to wait a little longer.” Calmed by her daughter, Shauna drives away.
When Randall and Beth catch up with Linda, the social worker, they’re given clarity: The gun found in Shauna’s car was linked to a robbery case and her charges were dropped in exchange for cooperation in that larger investigation. Yet while Linda agrees that Shauna’s behavior was inappropriate at the Pearson house, she says Deja’s mother seems to have her life together and she’s going to recommend at an upcoming hearing that Shauna regain custody. Randall is appalled and hurt by the news, calling out Shauna’s behavior (showing up at their house unannounced) as proof that she’s unfit to care for Deja. Together with Beth — who notes, accurately, just how damaged Deja was when she first moved in — he vows to fight Linda’s decision. Linda tells him that this is exactly what he signed up for with foster care — painful, messy, temporary situations.
When Randall drives Deja to school the next day, promising to attend her presentation but neglecting to pass on Linda’s custody recommendation, he says that “everything’s going to be okay.” Beth later notes they’re in for another intense Thanksgiving, which causes Randall to flash back to what happened about a year ago: learning that Rebecca knew who his birth father was and kept it from him his entire life.
After that revelation, we learn, William told Randall about the time he almost entered his life. In a flashback, William recounts what happened after a panicked Rebecca abruptly left his apartment when Randall was 9 years old — a scene previously explored last season. We learn William then followed her by cab all the way to her home, spending the only cash ($20) he had on him. “All I had to do was walk up to that door and knock,” he explained to Randall, as a fantasy sequence plays out of his younger self being reluctantly greeted by Jack and Rebecca, meeting his young son, and sticking around for birthdays and Christmases. But then William stopped himself: “I saw something on the front lawn — I didn’t know what bike belonged to you, I didn’t know whether yours was ‘Number 1,’ ‘Number 2,’ or ‘Number 3,’” he told Randall. This was, per William, “a life I had nothing to do with” — so he left the family alone, realizing how complicated and intrusive entering their lives really would be.
It’s a theme — feeling and being out of place — that ripples through the episode. Teen Randall is filling out his Harvard application while maintaining an interest in Howard University, an HBCU. He asks his father to visit the latter in D.C. on Friday, which Jack agrees to after some pressing. (He hesitates at first to miss Kevin’s football game.) Once they arrive, Randall eschews the formal campus tour for a more “behind-the-curtain” experience with his friend Keith, a student at the college, and his buddies.
Randall is introduced to a whole new world — lives and communities he’s never before encountered, which bring him so much joy he can’t seem to stop smiling. When he asks Keith’s friends whether there are any white people around, one guy cracks, “The soccer team.” And later, the group bonds over the fact that they all went to predominantly white high schools. Randall, finally, is among people who understand his experience. (Recap continues on page 2)