Most of the hour, titled “Mother Birth Mother,” consists of Hai telling Laurel’s story while Randall and Beth listen. Almost all of the action takes place in New Orleans, where the Pearsons – as promised – travel to hear from the man who says he can explain why Randall never learned that his birth mother survived the overdose that ‘he thought to kill her.
The quick answer? Circumstance and shame. Read on as we elaborate as we break down the main developments in this week’s episode. (And listen to what Sterling K. Brown had to say about Randall’s epiphany here.)
MEET LAUREL DUBOIS | Beth and Randall haven’t been to Hai’s house – no masks, although they quickly establish that everyone has quarantined and tested – for over a minute when the older man drops his first bomb: home was actually Laurel’s, which means it’s now Randall’s. . They go inside, they sit in the kitchen and Hai goes straight into the story.
Laurel’s family was one of the most distinguished in New Orleans. His father (played by Hawaii 5-0/Public de Boston alum Chi McBride) was a banker. (Side note: And this is The Bernie Mac Show‘s Kellita Smith as a mom – can we get another slow grateful applause for this show’s deep and secretive casting bench?) Laurel had an older brother who was killed during the Vietnam War, when Laurel was a young woman. When her grief over her death became too much to bear, Laurel visited her Aunt Mae, who lived nearby.
Mae, Laurel’s father’s somewhat bohemian sister, lived nearby, grew vegetables for sale at a farmer’s market, and generally seemed a lot less strict about everything than Laurel’s parents. And when Laurel’s sadness threatened to overwhelm her, Mae advised her that “God can take your pain, but you have to let it go.” So Laurel waded into the lake behind her aunt’s house and cried out her feelings.
At that time, Hai – a Vietnamese refugee who came to Louisiana with his parents after the war – was fishing nearby. Thinking Laurel was drowning, he jumped into the water to save her… which irritated him endlessly. “If I’m being honest your mom was the love of my life,” Hai told Randall, explaining that although Laurel was dating a man named Marshall at the time, Hai and Laurel met at the farmer’s market. after the lake incident and began to hang around. They finally fell in love.
But when Laurel’s father strongly suggests that she accept Marshall’s impending proposal, she runs – and asks Hai to go with her. He cannot leave his parents and he knows that Laurel’s family will never accept him as their man. So she takes off for Pittsburgh, where the cheapest bus ticket takes her.
At this point, Randall is impatient. He wants to know what kept Laurel from finding him. “Prison,” Hai said simply. Can we continue?
“She was punishing herself” | After William runs with baby Randall and paramedics are able to revive her, Laurel spends a few days in the hospital before being arrested for drug possession. She and William don’t have a phone at the apartment, so her only call is to her family’s home in New Orleans. And although her father picks up and realizes it’s her, she’s defeated and can’t tell him anything.
Laurel’s lawyer advises her to plead guilty, believing that the judge will show the young woman a little pity. Laurel’s lawyer is wrong. She is sentenced to five years in prison and eventually transferred to a California prison due to overcrowding.
“She said not a single night has gone by without dreaming about you,” Hai tells Randall, who cries softly. The older man continues: Laurel was released in 1985, returned to New Orleans, and stayed with Aunt Mae. “I think she was punishing herself,” he said. “She felt that she had lost the right to be a mother.”
After Laurel told her aunt everything, Mae (The practice‘s LisaGay Hamilton) confesses that she got pregnant with a married man when she was young. “I lost them both and it changed me,” she recalls. Laurel cries loudly as she fears that “my son will grow up thinking that I didn’t love him. Once again, Mae tells him to let go of the guilt “or she will strangle you.” So that night, Laurel slips into the lake in her nightgown and gives a huge painful cry.
HI AGAIN, HAI | When Hai and Laurel see each other at the farmers market after she returns, they wave to each other across the plaza. But he’s married and about to be a dad, so they don’t have a lot of relationships – “We had a few moments,” he says. “Small, but sufficient.” – in the intervening years. But decades later, when she doesn’t show up at the vegetable stand one day, he visits her home and learns that she has a cancerous and very aggressive tumor.
So he cooks for her. He takes care of her. And he’s there when she dies (which, thank goodness, for once this show didn’t feel the need to make us watch).
NIGHTSWIMMING DESERVES A QUIET NIGHT | That night, back at the hotel, Randall can’t sleep. So he goes to Laurel’s, walks to the backyard, takes off his clothes and walks into the lake. When submerged up to his neck, he hears a woman’s laughter. “My baby,” she says, and suddenly the older Laurel is in the water with him.
Poor Randall starts to cry. “I didn’t even know I was looking for you. Now I found you and you are gone, ”he told her. She apologizes and gently tells him that he has to let go of all his sadness and pain. So he screams in the night, and it’s full of anguish and loss.
Laurel tells her son that she loves him in Vietnamese, as we saw him say to Hai earlier in the hour, then appears as the younger Laurel and tells him again in English. “I love you too,” he said, utterly defeated and defeated – but maybe in a good way? – by the whole effort.
THE PORTABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING | In the car the next day, Beth notices how “different Randall looks. Lighter. ” And he East rather smiley. “I know my birth story, Beth. And it’s not just being left at a fire station, ”he says. Knowing that William and Laurel loved him but got fucked royally by the universe (and by “universe” I mean all the racist and classist systems that created a world in which to bring the three of them together in family has become virtually impossible) is a balm to Randall’s long and sore spirit. So yeah, he feels pretty good about it.
How awesome? He then decides he’s going to call Kevin and start healing this loophole, because he doesn’t want to hang on to bad things anymore. “I want to let it all go,” he announces… but is interrupted when Kevin, who also drives, can’t speak: Madison is in labor and Kevin is driving home from Vancouver to be with his fiancée, hoping that ‘it will arrive on time.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Were you satisfied with Laurel’s story? Sound off in the comments!