This Is Us recap: Beth realizes her dance dreams
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After an Olympic-sized hiatus, This is Us returned tonight for the sixth episode in its final season. Wasting no time before yanking heart-strings, the episode opens on Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson, who co-wrote the episode), as a little girl having a special moment with her father.
Standing on a beach in Jamaica, she demands to again hear the story of how she danced before she could walk. This sets the stage for a Beth-centric episode, which continues the third episode of season three, "Our Little Island Girl." That installment unprecedentedly focused exclusively on Beth. It gave her a back story involving a complicated relationship with her mother and a childhood passion for dance that ended in disappointment, and subsequently set up Beth's future career moves. Tonight's episode, "Our Little Island Girl: Part Two," furthers that narrative.
This time, though, other Pearsons also make an appearance. In the Big Three college-age era, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) accidentally brings her new flame Matt into the family fold. Meanwhile, in that same era, Kevin confesses about a life-changing mistake, and related drama parallels with present-day drama. It's a matter of where romance intersects with friendship and siblinghood.
Let's break down those latter stories before stepping into Beth's spotlight.
Last episode, Miguel (Jon Huertas) convinced Rebecca to try dating again. The friends-in-mourning go to a speed-dating event, where Rebecca encounters Matt, a former fellow PTA member who'd asked her out once. When she and Matt leave to get coffee, Miguel seems slightly bummed. Kate had an even worse reaction, when she saw Rebecca dropped off late by Matt. But after a reconciliation, Kate gave Rebecca her blessing to date.
Turns out, Rebecca followed suit, as she's still spending time with Matt. The couple is thrust into unchartered territory, though, when they arrive at Rebecca's to find Miguel, Kate, Kevin, and Sophie all there, ahead of the pending Thanksgiving holiday. Awkwardness ensues as Rebecca introduces Matt, and Matt gets himself invited to their Thanksgiving.
After Matt leaves, while Miguel and Rebecca prepare for Thanksgiving, Miguel makes snide remarks about Matt — clearly out of jealousy. He later apologizes, but when Rebecca then calls Miguel her best friend, as if reacting to the official friend-zoning, Miguel asks Rebecca if he can invite his quasi-flame to Thanksgiving. Now it's Rebecca's turn to appear a little jealous. The seeds of friends-to-more are blossoming.
Kate and Kevin
While Rebecca faces man drama, Kevin faces Sophie drama. He acts strange around her, like seeming disturbed as she wistfully discusses her and Kevin hosting Thanksgiving one day. Then, while Sophie is in another room, after Kevin and Kate swap comments on her weight gain and his excessive drinking, Kevin admits to Kate that he cheated on Sophie. Kate is appalled. Kevin's guilt-ridden, but too afraid to tell Sophie. Kate doesn't want to keep the secret, as Sophie is one of her best friends — the Louise to her Thelma. But Kevin plays the brother card.
So, when Sophie asks Kate about Kevin's behavior, Kate claims Kevin is just stressed about acting. However, later, Kevin finally confesses his infidelity to his wife. Sophie's crushed, and further devastated when she learns Kate knew. She leaves the Pearson home, heartbroken.
Intertwined with this flashback is present-day drama. To prove adult Kevin (Justin Hartley) is fine with Madison dating Elijah — following wisdom from Cassidy about messing with other peoples' lives — Kevin makes breakfast for Elijah and Madison, along with Toby (Chris Sullivan) and Kate (Chrissy Metz), and invites them to his show taping the next day. But he remains abrasive toward Elijah, and when he learns that instead of the cabin for Pearson Thanksgiving, Madison wants to take the twins to Elijah's family dinner, he blows up at the couple — and at Kate, for keeping that from him.
Confronting him afterward, Kate reminds Kevin she's had his back their whole lives, no matter how hard — a reference to choosing him over Sophie. She says he always takes one step forward and 16 back, like with being supportive of Madison. Kate's letting Kevin crash with her, even though it's adding to her marital strain (judging by Toby's constant work calls, and other factors ... Toby's possibly changing, to Kate's chagrin, but that drama appears slated for another episode). Kate says Madison needs her help, too — she won't choose Kevin over a friend again. Then Kate urges Kevin to respect Madison by letting her have her own holiday and enjoy being with a good man who's falling in love with her. Kevin admits Kate's right about everything.
He later apologizes to Madison. After they reconcile, Elijah privately warns Kevin to not hope Elijah will eventually leave, because he doesn't plan to. Kevin seems amused and impressed by this stand, but also anguished, perhaps because he wants what Madison's developing with Elijah.
Meanwhile, Kate texts Sophie apologizing for what happened all those years ago, invoking their old bond by calling herself Thelma. Sophie expresses forgiveness, noting she understands the brother factor. She signs it: Louise. It's a beautiful moment for an understated, but significant secondary character dynamic. But is it a series loose end tied up, or the beginning of a rekindled friendship, with other ramifications?
After the flashback to Beth's father's story about her nickname origin and comment that she's always done things in her own time, we see Beth in the present-day, launching a scholarship program at an elite dance conservatory. She's nervous about choosing just 15 out of more than 200 applicants for the inaugural cohort. Randall (Sterling K. Brown) urges her to trust her gut.
Cut to Beth welcoming her dancers, including one girl, Stacey. Beth makes them all say to themselves, "I can and I will." Later, Beth's supervisor suggests Stacey isn't polished enough to be ready in time for a solo in a pending showcase. Beth dismisses the woman's assessment, but seems nervous nonetheless.
In their college era, Randall and Beth are dining out in D.C., when Beth sees her former ballet teacher, Vincent. As Beth tells Randall, Vincent abruptly turned from mentor who treated Beth like his superstar, to abruptly dismissing her, not considering the toll her father's death took on her performance or even comforting her about the loss. Beth approaches Vincent, to chastise him for ruining dance for her in that way, but she can't find the words.
In the present, Beth finds Stacey putting in extra practice, frustrated. Stacey asks Beth why she chose her. She wonders if she should just become a lawyer, as her father wishes. Beth says her mother was similar, pushing her to be an educator and never understanding dance, but Beth fought for dance, and she recognizes the same fire in Stacey. Is someone going to tell Beth she's now an educator, like her mother … ?
When the showcase arrives, Beth is terrified of failing in dance again via her dancers' performances. Beth watches from the wings of the stage as Stacey performs … and falls during a pirouette. After brief panic, Beth calmly joins Stacey on stage. She sits down beside her and tells her she once fell even worse. She'd felt so alone, but Stacey is not alone — Beth will sit with her all night, if necessary … or Stacey can get up and take it from the top. Sure enough, Stacey tries again and succeeds. Watching this, Randall tells his daughters to remember this moment as proof of how incredible their mother is.
After the show, Beth calls Vincent and finally says her piece. She says the failure he made her feel by tossing her aside so easily was such a strong, dark part of her, crushing her dreams to dance on the world's biggest stages. But she now sees power in waiting in the wings and being there for dancers — stars or not. She says he took her identity as the "little island girl who danced before she walked," but she's taking it back. She knows what she's meant to do.
That is build her scholarship program — and indeed she does, as a flash-forward reveals the program grows, and her first special pupil landed the lead role in the Houston Ballet's "The Nutcracker" production. By making such a thing possible, it seems Beth is doing what her father predicted of his little island girl — changing the world.
Beth will surely be in the rest of the season, but if that's her final spotlight time, we couldn't have asked for a better swan
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