This Is Us' Sterling K. Brown Takes Us Inside Randall's Catharsis in the Lake (and the Choice to Show a Little 'Cake')

This Is Us' Sterling K. Brown Takes Us Inside Randall's Catharsis in the Lake (and the Choice to Show a Little 'Cake')

Warning: This post contains spoilers from Tuesday’s This Is Us.

Randall finishes off Tuesday’s This Is Us with some hard-won peace: Finally, he — and we — know exactly why his birth mother, Laurel, never tried to find him.

In short: Her overdose following his birth led to her going to jail for five years, after which an overwhelming sense of shame kept her from searching for her son. (For a more detailed explanation, read our recap of the episode.)

In an interview Tuesday, series star Sterling K. Brown told TVLine that Randall has spent years circling the same questions: Was he loved? And if so, why was he given up? “People who love you don’t do that sort of thing,” the Emmy winner said. As such, Laurel’s story only mattered to Randall in relation to how it affected him on a personal level.

But in this week’s hour, after having a cathartic vision of his mother in the lake behind her house, “That clicks in his head,” Brown added. “‘I have been, to a certain extent, selfish in terms of how I thought about this woman. And now I just need to recognize and appreciate all that she has gone through to be where she is.’”

Read on for more of Brown’s thoughts on the episode, including what it might mean for Randall and Kevin’s ongoing argument, as well as the decision process behind Randall’s baring his soul and… other things.

TVLINE | You hear that Randall is going to find out all about his mom and then he’s going to have this moment of catharsis. What was your first take?
When Dan [Fogelman, series creator] first pitched that his mom is still alive, my first thought is, “Alright: Are we jumping the shark? Are we still maintaining the integrity of this whole thing?” He was like, “She’s not alive, but what happened was we thought that she OD’d, but she didn’t.” I was like, “OK. So then how come she hasn’t come to see me? If she’s been alive and she had this child, then why did she not make her presence known in my life?” and then they answered that question. There was a series of things that I was like, “Alright, does this make sense? Does this track?” And it all checked out. I should never doubt Dan. And shout out to Kay [Oyegun] and Eboni [Freeman] for writing a great episode, and to Kay for directing it, as well.

There was an interesting thing for me, and I don’t think this is acutely stated in the episode. But that moment of release for Randall, and the idea that he had this encounter with his mom in the lake — we’re not an overtly religious show, but it has spiritual overtones. And Randall primarily is a man of science, right? And not so much a man of faith. But this instance, because he lives with anxiety and whatnot, and I do believe to a certain extent beyond just the chemical level, it’s hard for anxiety and faith to exist in the same space. So for him to have this recognition that this woman actually loved me, that I was the product of two people who loved me but circumstances conspired in such a way that they weren’t able to share their love with me in a direct manner? I’m OK with that.

TVLINE | Beth remarks that there’s a lightness in him at the end of the episode. Moving forward, how will we see this epiphany manifest in the rest of his life?
Good question. So the first catalyst really is a step toward reconciliation with his brother, and seeing how not being able to make peace with your past and having shame or frustration can keep people from being connected who should be connected to one another. Laurel saw that in Hai and in her inability to make peace with her parents before passing away. [Randall] desperately loves Kevin. And he knows, and his brother knows, too, that they said just some sh—y, sh—y things to each other. But hopefully, that doesn’t have to define their relationship in perpetuity. The recognition that forgiveness is essential for any relationship to persevere is firmly imprinted on him by virtue of this experience…

My hope is that he learns to let go. To borrow a phrase from the Black community, and spirituality — Christianity, specifically — to “Let go and let God.” To recognize that the fallacy of control is something you have to willingly relinquish in order to actually be able to enjoy the moment, to live free. There’s moments that I watch in the episode, there’s echoings of Bible verses from his maternal grandfather to his mom and then conversations between his great-aunt and his mom in terms of how to let go. Ultimately, that moment of being in the lake and just — it is a scream, but it’s a big exhale. It’s like “I don’t have to have the answer in order to be OK.” I feel like, for Randall, so much of his being OK is wrapped up in “What do I do? How do I respond? How do I fix?” I don’t have to have the answer in order to be OK. I would like to see that incorporated into him as we move into the next phase of the show.

TVLINE | I’m going to follow up your very well-thought-out answer with a very silly question: For a 9 o’clock network show, when Randall strips down to get into the water, we see a bit more than usual. Were you like, “Yes! This is what he would do!” or was there any thought of, “Um, I’m not sure about this?”
That was an interesting conversation. Kay had called me up earlier in the season and was like, “So, we’re planning Episode 6, and we have this sort of baptismal thing we’re trying to accomplish, and I was thinking we’ll have you go down to your boxers and into the water. But Dan was thinking that maybe, if you were comfortable with it, you could just enter into it in your birthday suit.” I thought about it more from a spiritual aspect, of a rebirth or cleansing and not having anything stand between me and that. And I was like, “That makes sense.”

Now, let me say this, too, right? When I saw it, I was like, “That is a bit of cake.” [Laughs] More than I anticipated seeing in the primetime, 9 o’clock slot on the TV. I guess it is the shadow of the cake, when you really check it out. And I will gladly thank Peloton for assisting and augmenting.

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