This Is Us recap: Randall finally learns about Laurel in 'Birth Mother'
There's no ambiguity in tonight's This Is Us episode title, "Birth Mother." The episode is all about Randall's biological mom, Laurel. It's the conclusion of a mystery that began in the season premiere, when we learned that after William, thinking Laurel had died of her post-birth overdose, fled from the EMTs with baby Randall, an EMT actually managed to revive Laurel. The mystery grew when we saw in the third episode that an elderly Vietnamese man had a photo of Laurel.
In last week's episode, that man, Hai Lang, contacted Randall, informing him that Laurel didn't die from that overdose. To hear his story, Randall and Beth head to New Orleans, where Hai lives and where he says Laurel actually died. On their way, Randall reflects on having been in New Orleans when Laurel was still alive, and wonders if he might've walked right past her without realizing it. Beth and Randall meet Hai at a lakefront home, which Hai says was Laurel's, and thus, belongs now to Randall. (This scene also includes a remark about quarantining and testing, as if we needed a reminder about COVID things).
Soon, Hai begins his story, starting with Laurel's childhood.
Laurel came from a distinguished family, and her father, a successful banker, was an abrasive man. When Laurel was a child, he chastised her for a myriad of things. Once, when he caught her sneaking back from visiting her Aunt May, he threateningly forbade her from seeing May again. It's unclear why he loathed May, but perhaps it's because, as May later told Laurel, she once was involved with a married man.
Regardless, Laurel adored May. On that visit before her father's threat, Laurel found May in the garden of her lakefront house. In an ensuing conversation, May told Laurel, "There are two kinds of people in this world — the ones who look before they leap, and the other ones who throw their arms out and plunge into the void not the least bit worried about what's below… you [Laurel] are the latter… I'm the latter, too."
Laurel's other favorite person was her older brother Jackson. Jackson was her ally against their father's harshness. When Jackson died fighting in the Vietnam War, Laurel was distraught. May told Laurel she must let go of her grief before the pain consumed her. At May's suggestion, Laurel walked into the lake to let out her emotions, screaming and crying into the void.
At this point in Hai's story, Randall is shaken by meeting and losing an uncle so quickly. Surprised also by how much Hai knows about his family history, he asks how Hai knew Laurel. Hai says Laurel was the love of his life, then dives into that part of his tale.
When Hai Met Laurel
Hai's family arrived in New Orleans from Vietnam as refugees. To care for his parents, Hai became a fisherman. One day while fishing, Hai heard a scream and saw Laurel in the lake. Thinking she was in trouble, Hai jumped in to help her. The ensuing encounter — both parties scaring one another — is quite comical.
They part from that encounter as strangers, but one day, while helping Aunt May sell vegetables in a town market, Laurel spots Hai. Hai, not yet knowing much English, indicates his recognition by reenacting the incident, dunking his head in water and yelling. Laurel laughs giddily. Soon, the two begin spending significant time together. One night, Laurel and Hai exchange "I love yous" in Vietnamese and English.
But then, Laurel's father orders her to accept an impending proposal from her actual boyfriend, Marshall. Finally fed up, Laurel asks Hai to run away with her. Hai can't leave his parents, though, so Laurel goes without him.
Here, Randall interjects, gruffly demanding Hai get to the part about why William thought Laurel died of an overdose after his birth. When Hai replies, "because she did," Randall loses his mind. Playing peacemaker as always, Beth softly urges Hai to explain further. So, Hai moves on to Laurel's life after death (and birth).
Laurel's Second Life
Laurel awakes in a hospital after her overdose. A few days later, she's arrested for drug possession. She serves five years in a California prison (Pittsburgh's are overcrowded). Once released, she wants to find Randall but feels she's forfeited the right to be his mother, so instead, she returns to New Orleans. May helps Laurel rebuild herself and work through her guilt over leaving her son.
While in the market one day, Laurel sees Hai, but they merely wave at one another. Beth interjects here to complain that all they did was wave despite their sexual tension. (Randall-centric episodes aren't everyone's cup of tea, but the Beth time they bring is always spectacular). Hai says they kept their distance because he had a wife and family by then. However, they fully reconnect years later, after Hai's wife had passed away and his children had left home. He cares for Laurel for two years before cancer takes her. One of the last things she tells Hai is her regret over never talking to her son.
With that, Hai's story ends, though he notes he still feels Laurel's presence on the property sometimes. He gives Randall the keys to Laurel's (formerly May's) home. After Hai leaves, Randall summarizes his astoundment to Beth, saying, "We own a farmhouse by a lake in New Orleans, where my dead biological mother grew up, and fell in love with her Vietnamese boyfriend."
That night, Randall returns to Laurel's house alone. He decides to swim into the lake, stripping down first — I would assume just because everyone loved shirtless Sterling K. Brown so much in the accidental strip tease episode, the writers decided to gift the viewers more.
Anyway, in the water, Randall imagines seeing his mother. He says, tearfully, "I didn't even know I was looking for you, now I found you and you're gone." Vision Laurel apologizes for everything, then urges him to let go of the pain she sees in his eyes — which look like hers. So, Randall screams. Vision Laurel and Randall then exchange "I love yous," in Vietnamese and English.
On their way home, Beth notes Randall seems lighter. He says it's because he finally knows his birth story involves two people who really loved him — it was never cold abandonment. He decides then to make amends with Kevin because he wants to finally let go of everything bad in his life.
But when he calls, Kevin is preoccupied, racing home from Vancouver because Madison is in labor. Amid chastising himself for going to Vancouver, Kevin hangs up on Randall.
This episode and its ending suggest we're at the "solo episodes" point of the season. Thus, prepare for a potential Kevin-centric episode. Will Kevin make it to the birth? Will he really give up acting? Will we finally learn whether he and Madison survive as a couple? Stay tuned.
To read what This Is Us producer Kay Oyegun revealed about the episode, head over here.