This Is Us Season 2 Episode 17
This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life
This Is Us isn’t known for following the book. They love to play with time and form so instead of setting up the storylines for Kate’s upcoming nuptials, the season’s penultimate episode focused on Deja’s life-story.
Forty minutes didn’t do her justice, but it did paint a better picture of what she’s gone through, what headspace she was in when she first came to the Pearson household and what this means for her in the future.
That said, the episode opens with a 16-year-old Shauna giving birth to Deja with her grandmother by her side. Shauna is reluctant to bond with her daughter claiming she’s “too tired,” but Gigi witnessed this same attitude with Shauna’s mother — she doesn’t want to accept responsibility.
Snippets of the Pearson clan experiencing the miracle of life — Rebecca with the triplets, Randall’s parents with him and Randall with Beth welcoming Tess — are interjected in hopes of showing that no matter the race, background, or circumstance, everyone goes through the same experiences in life.
The next scene shows a young Shauna at home by herself. Gigi comes home and is surprised that it’s midnight but the toddler isn’t sleeping. She lulls her to sleep with “Goodnight Moon,” and once again, snippets of Rebecca reading the book to the triplets and Jack reading it to his brother, are woven in.
Shauna arrives home shortly after in a “hoochie dress,” and her grandmother scolds her for leaving her daughter alone. She seems apologetic, though, admitting motherhood is hard for her.
“I can't carry this for you, not forever,” Gigi says consoling her granddaughter. So naturally, the next scene shows the day where Gigi is no longer able to carry the burden. As little Deja watches, she collapses on the ground.
As we see images of the Pearsons grappling with death, Deja and her mother are left to pick up the pieces on their own. “What are we going to do,” Shauna asks a Deja, who is still too young to understand the complexities of death. She cheers her mother up by reading “Goodnight Moon,” just like her grandmother always read to her.
Financial troubles aren’t too far behind given Shauna’s experience of being a mother is much different than Rebecca’s; she’s a single mother working to put food on the table and keep the water on in the apartment.
She tries her best but when that isn’t enough, she seemingly falls off.
On her birthday, Deja decides to surprise her by cooking dinner, but her mother never makes it home, even as Deja calls multiple times after cutting her hand on a can opener.
She rushes herself to the emergency room thinking little of it but realizes her grave mistake when Linda, the social worker, arrives.
Shauna comes to the hospital soon after but is deemed incapable of taking care of her daughter.
Deja is taken to her first foster home where she joins Raven, a young girl who has been in and out of homes since before she was nine-years-old.
The two bond quickly with Deja trying to protect Raven from their foster dad, Mr.Miller who is a drunk and abusive man.
We’ve witnessed the effects Deja’s previous foster homes have had on her when she arrived at Randall’s place and she would flinch anytime he tried comforting her but now, we’re seeing it in real life.
We never see Mr. Miller actually hit Deja, but he does lash out on Raven after the girls steal makeup from a local convenience store to get ready for the school dance.
Fast forward to a year later and Linda comes to check up on Deja, telling her that her mother has been in and out of treatment. Deja retorts that her mother only started using because she misses her but Linda's hands are tied. She senses Deja wants to tell her something and after trying to hold back, she reveals that Mr. Miller hits them.
Deja and Raven are escorted out and go back into the system. Deja tries to apologize but Raven is upset. She’d willingly take the beating if it meant she’d have a stable bed and a place to call home.
Eventually, Deja moves back in with her mother but almost immediately, she realizes her mother has found another vice: a man named Alonso, who is the very reason Deja eventually arrives on the Pearsons doorstep.
Alonso asks Deja to give him a chance and for a moment, it seems like he might not be so bad after all. But over time, his drinking picks back up, he starts fighting with Shauna and it feels like they are standing on quicksand.
One day, Deja informs her mother, who is already running late for work, that she'll be staying late at school for drill practice. It’s one of the only moments we see Deja act like a kid and actually smile.
But her class is interrupted when the police come crashing in and bring her back to Linda. Turns out her mother was caught driving with the gun Alonso brought into the house.
Now, we’ve arrived at the moment when Deja appears on Beth and Randall’s doorstep. The moment is once again shown from her point-of-view, but this time we see the depth of her fear and anxieties, including a moment where Raven reminds her “the next time she gets a bed, don’t blow it.”
Clips of Deja’s happy times with the family flash on the screen until we finally arrive at the moment Shauna gets out of prison and comes to pick up her daughter.
When Deja arrives at home, they both have a positive outlook. “This time it’s going to be different,” her mother tells her. And for a while it is. Alonoso is gone and Deja makes it a priority to stay on top of her mother for payments, even giving her a home bank she made at school so they can set up a savings fund.
But the optimism quickly evaporates and once again, Deja watches things fall apart.
Deja realizes funds are becoming a problem again and reaches out to Beth and Randall after their heat is turned off.
Deja puts the money in the bank thinking everything is fine for now, but soon after, overhears the landlord giving Shauna a stern warning.
She checks the bank and realizes the money is missing. Shauna tries to give her the “we have bills” excuse but eventually confesses that she used it to pay Alonso’s bail.
Deja calls Randall, who is in Vegas at the time and assures him their fine while heading to the pawn shop to try to make some extra money. In a moment of desperation, she considers selling her grandmother’s broach but decides that it isn’t worth it.
When all their efforts fail, Shauna and Deja are evicted and with no place to go, end up living in the car.
We pick up where we left off in the previous episode, with Randall and Beth finding Deja and Shauna sleeping in their car.
Randall and Beth bring them to their house and allow them to “temporarily stay.”
In what seems to be the longest night ever imaginable, the family and their guests eat dinner, watch movies, and play games. And in the most devastating realization, Shauna finally sees Deja act like a child is supposed too — laughing, playing, even talking about boys with Tess.
Shauna’s face says it all; she’s happy that her daughter is happy but she realizes that this is how Deja’s whole childhood should have been. She’s been the reason for her pain this whole time and she’s unfairly placed adult expectations on her, even with the simple phrase of “what would I do without you.”
Deja and Randall bond about how weird life is. She recalls how Randall told her she reminded him of himself and how she didn’t see it until now when she realizes that no matter what, everyone sleeps. It’s similar to the realization that one day, we’re all going to die so we might as well make the best of this big, amazing, beautiful life.
Shauna, on the other hand, connects with Beth and realizes that she cannot provide for her daughter in the way that this family can.
“I failed Deja,’ she confesses. Beth tries to cheer her up but in her first selfless act, she puts her daughter first and packs her bags.
“I can’t take her with me,” she tells Beth and Randall who are a little shellshocked by the realization that Deja is here to stay thanks to this woman’s undying love for her daughter.
It’s bittersweet but also a testament to a mother’s love.