By Amanda Ostuni
November 05, 2019 at 10:00 PM EST
Mitchell Haddad/NBC
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Is this season bigger on meals than ever before?

I ask because just like two weeks ago, tonight’s episode “The Dinner and the Date” focused on special dinners. In one, Jack and Rebecca have over Randall’s teacher Mr. Lawrence (charmingly played by Brandon Scott) and his wife, so they can get to know the man Randall can’t stop talking about. In the other, Beth and Randall dine with Malik Hodges and his parents, Kelly and Darnell, to determine if Déjà can date Malik… after the kids get busted for skipping school together.

The show switches, in its effortless parallel transition trademark way, between the two dinners and the date Malik and Déjà had in lieu of school.

Adult Kevin and Kate get the whole episode off. It’s well worth the wait for the next parts of those Pearson stories because these Randall-focused plots are so rich.

Whereas the theme of the other dinners was about moving forward, these are about looking back — about how your past grounds you, shapes you, and impacts how others see you.

Let’s break down the heady and heartful plots.

Parent-Teacher Dinner

In last week’s episode, Jack invited Mr. Lawrence out of both jealousy and genuine interest in the teacher his son has bonded with over their shared experience as the school’s only black people. Rebecca doesn’t think dinner is necessary and busts Jack’s chops about it.

Meanwhile, Cory’s wife Trish is also skeptical. When Cory asks her to help pick a poetry book for Randall, Trish calls him a troublemaker for wanting to give Randall black consciousness poetry at a dinner with his white parents.

When the Lawrences arrive at the Pearson’s, Cory and Randall do their handshake and Jack again jealously looks on. During dinner, tensions between Cory and Jack rise as Cory and Randall carry on an exclusive conversation. Things only get worse when the subject comes up of an African culture festival the Pearsons didn’t know existed. Randall asks Cory if he can attend it with him, but Jack gets territorial and says the whole family will go. Cory says they should, and Jack considers the remark a dig at Jack’s inability to relate to Randall on an ethnocultural level.

Alone in private later, Rebecca scornfully tells Jack that Randall will always choose him over anyone else, even Einstein, but if Jack makes Randall choose and give up Mr. Lawrence, Randall will lose something important that he needs. Jack realizes he’s been insecure and selfish. After dinner, he apologizes to Cory and admits he’s just upset he can’t answer Randall’s questions about what his blackness means for his place in the world. By giving Jack a Langston Hughes book to give to Randall, Cory wordlessly sends a message to Jack: he doesn’t have to personally understand what it means to be black to support Randall’s journey. Jack accepts that. He takes the book to Randall and, to Randall’s delight, says he wants to read it together.

Meet the Parents

As Randall and Beth prepare for dinner with the Hodges, Randall says he wants to enlist Malik’s parents in splitting up their kids. But Beth says they should give them a chance and, combining what she’s wearing and her approach to dinner, declares a mantra of “open-toed shoes, open mind.”

Soon their guests arrive. Randall greets them and Kelly, in a cold first impression, shushes him because the baby is sleeping. Beth and Randall are shook by seeing Malik with his daughter.

In Darnell and Randall’s first interaction, Darnell basically calls Randall bougie, to Randall’s dismay. Still, the men soon seem to hit it off. Darnell admits skipping school was Malik’s idea, probably because he thought it was smooth. But he says Malik is sorry and promises it won’t happen again, and when Malik makes a promise, he keeps it, just as when he says someone’s special, they are. Randall seems to believe him and softens toward Malik. (Cue my tears).

But elsewhere, Beth and Kelly are getting heated, each hinting the other’s kid is a bad seed — Malik, because he’s a teen father, and Déjà because of her troubled past.

Beth pulls Randall aside and says she now does want to break up the kids, but Randall now favors the open-minded approach.

Things boil over at dinner. With the children out of the room, the mothers again go at it. When Randall says he and Beth are afraid Malik will drag Déjà back to a bad life, Darnell displays his gang tattoos and gives (one heck of a) speech. I was bawling.

Darnell says he used to live the “hood” life but it’s behind him. “You can choose to see me and only see my mistakes,” he says, “or you can choose to see something different. Just like you can choose to see our son as a kid from North Philly, a teenage father, or you can choose to see a straight-A student, a sweet kid who loves to make his mother and daughter smile…”

Then Déjà appears and apologizes for everything but says she won’t apologize for liking Malik. After the Hodges leave, Randall and Beth tell Déjà she’s grounded, but she can still see Malik. They ask her to tell them more about him.

As she does, we see the end of the date…

Ditch Date

The episode opens on Malik and Déjà. While heading to school, Malik asks her to join him at the famous Max’s Steaks, where Déjà can finally try a Philly cheesesteak. Déjà recalls being in Philly when she was a child with her mother and grandmother. She vaguely remembers Christmas lights on houses, lights reflecting on the water. She says she wishes she could remember more of when her grandmother was alive.

Then Malik suggests they skip school so he can show her his Philly. Déjà eventually agrees. They start at Max’s. Déjà is jealous at the warm welcome the staff gives Malik because she’s never lived anywhere long enough to build that sense of community. So, Malik takes her outside, walks back inside with her, tells everyone to say hi, and thus, deems her a regular. Déjà loves the gesture. Awww.

Later, while gazing at a mural, Déjà says it’s beautiful and Malik admits he’s tempted to cheesily reply, “No, you’re beautiful.” Déjà assumes it’s a line he says to all the girls. A later stop reminds Déjà of her childhood visit. As evening approaches, it’s on to the park, where Malik lays down in what he says is his favorite spot in the city. Déjà lays down beside him, and soon they’re holding hands. But as they turn their faces to one another, Déjà suddenly breaks away.

Malik follows her to apologize for making her uncomfortable. Déjà tells him she’s never liked anyone before. She loves how he makes her feel but all the men her mother dated were liars, so she’s only ever learned to trust Randall, and she’s not sure she can trust Malik the same because she assumes he’s a player. She doesn’t want anything to mess with her life plans. More tears.

Malik swears he’s no player, he’s never been with anyone but his daughter’s mother and all his family elders have or had long-time relationships, so that’s what he aspires to. Déjà then allows him to take her to one more spot in the city.

As Déjà tells her parents about Malik — he’s confident but not cocky; when he walks into a room, everyone notices — we see that this last stop is none other than the place she vaguely remembers: a view of Christmas light-adorned boathouses along Boathouse Row. Déjà is taken aback, and soon she and Malik share a kiss. Back in the present, Déjà tells her parents Malik makes her feel like herself, he represents a piece of home. The implied meaning? Because he’s had a life that was at times just likes hers, or what hers would’ve been if things hadn’t gone so south. He is a bridge between all Déjà’s worlds.

Cue tears again.

Related content:

Episode Recaps

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.
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