All of the Pearson family members have their merits and moments, but there’s no denying that when it comes to being straight-up awesome, Beth Pearson often has the rest of the clan beat. So when we learned the This Is Us (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV) character was getting her own standalone episode, we were jazzed to tune in for the ride. Or, as it turned out, dance.
The episode kicked off with Beth and Zoe rushing to help their mother/aunt Carol (played by the flawless Phylicia Rashad) after she hurt her hip at work. The girls feared Carol might be in danger of breaking the bone again, but when they got to the house they found Carol pretty much being her bossy, pretending-to-be-fine self. In fact, Carol turned the tables on Beth when she learned Beth had been let go from her job, leading the character to take a deep dive into her past to rediscover her passion: dancing.
It was an episode full of sweeping, character-building moments that not only helped Beth remember who she is, but had us getting to know the character in a whole new way, and we were here for all of it.
As far as fathers go, it seems like Beth got a really good one in Abe (Carl Lumbly). He loved her mother, stood up for his daughter when she needed to pursue her dreams, and he was a big reason why she was able to go to the dance academy in the first place. When he was diagnosed with lung cancer we knew it wouldn’t be good, but that didn’t make it any less heartbreaking when he died. One of the saddest images of the entire episode was seeing the empty armchair where he used to sit.
In terms of characters to dig into, Carol is a virtual onion. There are so many layers to that woman and reasons why she acts (and reacts) the way she does, which must be the coolest thing to play as an actor. You can understand her for wanting her children to have the best education and to always put their best selves forward, but in the same moment you want her to just be warm and comforting, the way you picture a mother “should” be. Considering Rashad played the opposite kind of TV mom for so many years on The Cosby Show it really was fun to see her on This Is Us in a completely different but equally nurturing role.
The younger Beths
When you have a sweeping series like This Is Us, which relies on telling a person’s story over the entire span of his or her life, casting becomes an essential part of making it all work. Whoever made the final call on the casting of Rachel Naomi Hilson as teen Beth and Akira Akbar as a younger version of the character should get accolades, because both girls were spot-on. And considering all of the drama and dancing they had to deal with throughout the episode, we’d say they performed really admirably.
It was so interesting to watch Beth as a character go from a young dreamer with her head in the clouds to a realistic (if not resigned) young woman entering university for the first time. We were left with the haunting feeling of knowing that a piece of Beth died with her father, which might have been too sad to handle. But then Beth caught a young Randall’s eye and you knew things would work out, and that made it somewhat bearable. Now we’re excited to delve into the beginnings of that Beth/Randall relationship, especially knowing the loss of their respective fathers at such a young age probably helped them to connect, and that that connection probably helped them heal.
Does anyone want to put money on Goran Višnjić getting a guest star nod at the Emmys this year for his role as Beth’s dance instructor, Vincent? Vincent was integral to Beth making her dance dreams come true. He’s the one who spotted her talent when she was younger, and when she was older he was the one who told her she may want to consider dropping ballet for another form. But a dream is a dream, and Beth was going to go for that solo with everything she had. Until she didn’t get it, and reality came crashing down.
The idea that Beth worked so hard and still couldn’t achieve her dream—despite all of the stock people placed in her—was actually kind of beautiful. In life we’re not always first despite our best efforts, and TV tends to hide that fact. The nice story is that hard work pays off, right? But This Is Us has never shied away from reality and sometimes reality is sad. Not everyone who shows promise in sport or music or art is going to turn pro, no matter how much promise they show growing up. Just look at Kate and Rebecca and their singing careers, or Kevin and his football days as examples. Pursue your dreams and try, but know that things don’t always work out the way you’d hoped. That doesn’t mean there isn’t another great path waiting for you. In life, you simply need to adjust your dreams.
We love that idea, don’t you?
Leaving dancing behind
Speaking of adjusting your dreams, we had one problem with Beth’s actions on Tuesday night: blaming her mother for making her give up on dancing entirely. After watching the episode it was pretty clear that Beth wanted to quit, and perhaps one of the only reasons she worked as hard as she did to try and get the lead was because her mother pushed her to stick with it. Was it really so terrible of Carol to get her child to register at school, to have a backup plan when Beth didn’t get the lead she worked so hard to get, had talked about quitting earlier on and her teacher was advising her to follow another path too?
Listen, Carol looks like a tough cookie to have as a mom, and we get the whole “no air” speech Beth gave her. But if Beth really, truly wanted to stick with dance, she would have—Carol wasn’t really going to change that. There were other avenues. If you truly love something at that age, you find a way to make it work. Quitting was as much on Beth as it was on Carol. At least Carol gave Beth some guidance, and she probably should get a little credit for that.
The good news is that the dreamer who was dashed in Beth seems to be back. Because as we learned at the end of the episode (and via the flash-forward the show gave us earlier on in the season), Beth is returning to dance and it’s going to be glorious. Now here’s hoping the rest of her family will be on board.
Happy dances for everyone.