Deja moves back in with her mother, but the stay is relatively short lived. Here we see the origins of Shauna meeting Alonso, the man whose gun was in her car when she was arrested, the catalyst for Deja’s foster adoption by Randall and Beth. Alonso asks Deja to give him a chance; he says he met Shauna in rehab and fell for her. But we know how the story goes: He and Shauna begin fighting, he starts having his buddies over drinking, and Shauna’s efforts to keep things afloat once again become insufficient. She finds the gun in the house and rightly chastises Alonso for bringing a weapon into the house with a young kid living there. But we know how that story ends: with her getting pulled over and the cops finding the gun.
After Shauna is arrested and Deja’s dance class is cruelly interrupted by police (who bring her back to Linda), we find Deja where we first met her: on Randall and Beth’s doorstep. That sequence was filmed from her perspective originally as well, but this time, we get new insight into what was going on in the back of her head while she lived with Randall and Beth. Despite her anxieties and fears and traumas being so intense, especially at first, Deja remembered what Raven told her after they left Mr. Miller’s: “The next time you find a bed that feels even a little safe, don’t blow it.” Then there’s the heartbreaking montage of Deja’s time there: her laughing at Randall’s corny jokes, witnessing Beth fight with her own mother, saying goodbye, hugging Randall one last time.
The story continues, revealing what happened between Deja and Shauna after Deja returned home. Initially, things are peaceful. Deja tries to keep on her mother about paying bills on time — bringing back Shauna’s favorite question to her daughter, “What would I ever do without you?” — and even gives her the “home bank” she made in school to help them start saving. It’s gut wrenching to watch the happy reunion slowly fall apart. Deja senses something’s wrong, leading her to that moment when she showed up at Randall and Beth’s, and from there things get worse. The money bank is emptied because Shauna tried to help pay Alonso’s bail, reasoning he’s in there partly because of her. “We have bills, Deja,” she stresses. The money runs out, they’re evicted from their apartment, and before long we’re right where we left off: Randall and Beth, knocking at where Deja and Shauna are now living — their car.
One of the most understated moments of the episode comes just before this, when Deja, in a moment of desperation, tries selling off whatever she can to keep them in their apartment. She remembers her grandmother’s broach — and we cut, symmetrically, to the image of Kevin tightly holding onto his father’s necklace, a major motif this season. Deja decides not to sell the broach, shaking her head quietly, and it’s a decision that in many ways defines “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life”: how she, despite not having Kevin’s privilege or emotional problems, could implicitly connect with him in such a cosmic, profound way.
She and Shauna temporarily move in with Randall and Beth, if only for a few nights, and the comfort of the experience makes for what might be the most devastating sequence of the episode yet: Shauna watching her daughter so at peace, so comfortable, in another family’s home — playing card games, laughing at old movies, telling stories at dinner. Joy Brunson, who plays Shauna, is silently stunning here, nailing the mix of joy at seeing her daughter happy and pain at realizing she’s not the reason why. It’s so gorgeously sad to watch.
But then there’s the performance of Lyric Ross. As Deja, she’s been a breakout all season on This Is Us, but this is her moment to shine, and goodness does she deliver here. While Beth and Shauna bond downstairs, Deja reconnects with Randall, and writer Kay Oyegun hands Ross a monologue that puts the entire episode — entire show, perhaps — into perspective, about the human condition in all of its messy, beautiful, painful glory. Deja recalls how Randall told her she reminded him of himself, and how she didn’t understand why at first. “That was kind of weird, honestly, because you seemed so weird to me,” she says. “It just didn’t seem so deja-vu-y to me. But then I started thinking: Isn’t it weird that everyone goes to sleep at night? Everyone…. Some are poor, some are rich, some sleep in beds, some sleep on the floor.” This Is Us speeches can get cloying, no doubt, but in Ross’ sensitive delivery, this one lands perfectly.
Shauna, meanwhile, has come to a realization: She and Deja can’t keep going the way they’ve been going. “I failed Deja,” she tells Beth. “I failed her and I can’t keep failing her.” Leaving Deja upstairs, Randall heads back to the living room, and he sees Shauna with her bags packed, on the way out with Beth standing behind her. He looks at Shauna, almost blankly. “I gotta go — and I can’t take her with me,” she says. Shauna leaves. Randall and Beth had been desperate to reconnect with Deja, but the feeling’s different now that she’s there to stay. Like them, we got to know Shauna better — her shortcomings, yes, but also her spirit, her grit, and her unyielding love for her daughter. That she ultimately couldn’t make it work with Deja, while also leaving her in more secure but equally loving care, is bittersweet.
This Is Us has put its characters through the wringer this season, putting a magnifying glass to each Pearson family member we’ve come to know over nearly two seasons. But as “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life” so potently reminds, sometimes it’s the stories of those we know the least that hit home the most.