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Spoiler alert! This story contains details from “This Is Us” Season 3, Episode 17, “R & B.”
We all knew this was coming.
Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) marriage has been simmering on the edge of a full-on catastrophe all season long on “This Is Us.” And in the penultimate episode of Season 3, every last resentment and conflict came to the surface, while we learned a little more about how the couple came together in the first place.
Following a run of rather poor episodes, “R & B” is mostly OK, far more at home in the past than in the present, when Randall and Beth’s actions continue to feel out of character and hurtful to the point of seeming like their marriage shouldn’t be able to recover (although I have a feeling it will). At the end of the hour, the NBC drama leaves us with yet another cliffhanger about their relationship, although at this point Randall is angrier with Beth than she is with him. So, progress?
“R & B” picks up where last week’s episode left off, as Randall slammed the door on the couple’s bedroom so they could wage their latest battle over their respective careers and domestic labor. The conflict was made exponentially worse by a cruel voicemail Randall left for his wife when he thought she stood him up at a work event.
Beth rightly points out that the voicemail didn’t sound like the man she married – nor the Randall viewers love – and although Randall apologizes, the argument quickly moves into larger territory. Beth suggests that they’ve been having this fight since they met in college, and the episode helpfully flashes back to that first meeting.
After Randall asks Beth out (with some help from Kevin over the phone, a scene we’ve heard about before), we see the couple’s disastrous first date.
Randall wears a suit and takes Beth to a fancy restaurant, but she’s wearing a college sweatshirt and clearly uncomfortable. Randall talks too much and gets personal too quickly, and the date eventually implodes when a waiter discriminates against them.
Randall tries to smooth it over, but Beth storms out and asks him not to call her again. He, of course, tells his roommate he’s going to marry her. And eventually, his charm wins her back.
The episode cuts to what, at first, seems like Randall’s wedding proposal, but it’s one of many. Although Beth consistently said she wasn’t ready for marriage, Randall has been relentlessly popping the question and even clued in his mom (Mandy Moore), which infuriates Beth. But after a sweet story from Rebecca and a recreation of the first date she wished she’d had, Beth is suddenly ready to tie the knot.
On their wedding day, Randall and Beth are struggling to write their vows, because Randall always overdoes everything and Beth’s been stressed. Beth suggests they write their vows together just before the ceremony.
The mood sours when the episode flashes forward to Beth and Randall as new parents and an early-morning diaper change. They’re squabbling, but it seems like the same kind of conflicts all new parents face. Eventually, over nachos, they discuss their relationship and the division of labor between them, as as Beth accuses Randall of taking more than he gives, although she is seemingly OK with it for now.
The final flashback is set in 2017, when Kevin (Justin Hartley) and William (Ron Cephas Jones) were staying at Beth and Randall’s house. Beth lies about a conference so she can check into a hotel to get some time to herself, and while Randall understands once he catches her, she feels so guilty that she comes home again.
Back in the present, Beth reiterates the lesson we’ve all just learned from the flashbacks: She works hard on their relationship and makes compromises, but Randall never does. She says the reason they’re at this crossroads is she’s finally refusing to bend, and their relationship doesn’t work unless she does. Randall doesn’t agree with her “revisionist history,” and claims the problem is that she didn’t figure out her life goals early enough. Beth says she never had time to figure out her life; she was too busy taking care of him during his anxiety attacks.
Beth apologizes, but the damage is done, and Randall goes to his city council office in Philadelphia to sleep. It’s clear their marriage is wounded, but nothing much has changed from last week’s episode except that the punches are coming from both sides.
One thing we know: Beth doesn’t give up teaching dance. The flash-forward we saw last December showed her running a class.
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