Randall finally learns about his birth mother’s family. He also grapples with his identity and experiences of growing up black, in a white family. Rebecca apologizes to Randall for the way she handled his desire to know his biological family. Meanwhile, Kate and Toby adopt a baby girl and say an abrupt, yet heart-wrenching goodbye to the birth mother. This is season 5 of “This is Us.”
Few shows can evoke as much emotion as “This is Us.” About to start its sixth and final season, the hit NBC drama has explored many adoption storylines, taking viewers back – and forth – in time. When the show was forced to wrap early in season 4, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were left with some dramatic cliffhangers. Randall and Kevin got into a heart-wrenching argument that resulted in Kevin saying he wished that Randall had never been adopted and placed in their family.
Fans were understandably shocked by the brothers’ exchange, and the aftermath was felt for many episodes into season 5. It has been quite the roller coaster for the Big 3 and matriarch Rebecca, with fans also left wondering if Kate’s plans to adopt would come to fruition in season 5. Read on, as we explore the adoption storylines in “This is Us” season 5 and the lessons we can learn from them. #AdoptionsWithLove is proud of the way this show has captured so many of the important issues in #adoption. We can all learn a great deal from the compassionate look they provide to us.
The Transracial Adoption Factor
At the start of the season, we return to find the Pearson family navigating life through a global pandemic. This is not, however, the only current event reflected in this season. Viewers see Randall and his family coping with 2020 headlines and videos of racial injustice. Season 4 explored some of Randall’s experiences growing up as a Black boy in a white family, but most of the story was told in the past, as Randall was a young boy and teenager. Now, we are confronted with the ugly truths of racial inequity today and the aftermath of his experience.
Randall is offered a vague, albeit sincere “I’m sorry” from Kate, who understands that the current events must be difficult for a person of color but does not truly understand the depth of Randall’s pain. He finally breaks down and tells her that it was not easy for him growing up in a house where race was never discussed.
“You never apologized before. And this isn’t the first black person to be killed on camera,” Randall says. When Kate says that this time it feels different, Randall claps back, “Not for me. It has never been different for me. We grew up in the same house. Things like this have been happening to black people for years and we have never talked about it. Not once…Growing up, I just had to keep so many things to myself because I didn’t want to make you guys feel bad.”
Randall’s childhood experience serves as a cautionary tale for transracial adoptive families. You may already know the importance of open adoption and honesty with a child about his background, but this storyline is a prime example of why it is so important to discuss race, as well. Adoptive parents should not shy away from race and social injustice, and they should never pretend to “not see” the color of their child’s skin, as this is an important part of a child’s identity and life story. Diminishing race only minimizes a person’s experience and struggles with racism – a harsh reality of our world.
Halfway through the season, we see Randall attend a support group meeting for people adopted by different-race families. An Asian man says he struggled with being raised by a white Jewish family, and a Black man admits he always wondered if the mailman was his father since that was the first Black man he ever saw in the neighborhood. As Randall listens to these highly relatable experiences, we are taken through flashbacks of Randall experiencing similar emotions are a child. He may not have brought these feelings to the attention of his parents, but it is the parent’s responsibility to elicit these feelings and discussions.
It is clear that – while he loves his family – Randall wished he could have known life with his birth parents, or at least known people who looked like him. Both feelings can ring true for adoptees in real life, which is why open adoption is such a positive adoption plan for many families. Allowing children to feel connected to both their family and birth family gives them a strong sense of identity – not to mention double the love.
In Episode 13, fans finally get to see brothers Randall and Kevin hash out their differences and work toward reconciliation. Throughout the episode, we see many flashbacks between different phases of Randall’s “racially charged” childhood and teen years, as his wife Beth describes it. There are many moments in which Kevin makes subtle, off-the-cuff racist remarks and hurt his brother. When the two are teenagers going to a party, for example, Kevin grabs a fake ID that looks nothing like Randall. When Randall contests, Kevin says, “He’s a black guy, you’re a black guy. It’ll be fine.”
Randall shares his experience with Kevin, who is resistant to admit that his hurtful comments over the years have been about race. Kevin claims that he would act out of jealousy. Randall explains to Kevin that while he inflicted racial wounds that were not intentional, they were, nevertheless, thoughtless and willfully ignorant. By the end of the episode, Kevin admits that he may have resented Randall’s “Blackness” growing up, because he tied the special treatment he felt Randall received to his race.
This highlights the importance of education and racial awareness for all members of a transracial adoptive family – including young siblings.
The Birth Mother
In the first season of “This is Us,” fans got to know Randall’s birth father, William. In the show’s iconic pilot, Randall tracks down and confronts William. The two form an unlikely bond and get to know each other, and form a meaningful relationship, before William’s untimely death.
Season 5 offers a new, seemingly cruel twist of fate. Randall discovers – thanks to a goof-turned-viral video on the internet – that there is a man named Hai who has information about Randall’s birth mother, Laurel. This is a shock because William told Randall that Laurel died shortly after giving birth and that is what prompted him to drop the baby at the fire station. At first, Randall is distraught by the revelation, thinking that William lied to him. Once he learns the full story of her past, however, he understands that William may have never known the full story.
Randall and Beth take the time to quarantine and test for COVID-19 before traveling to New Orleans to see where his birth mother grew up and was raised. Hai, who knew and loved Laurel, explains that Laurel moved back to New Orleans after serving years in prison, and she always regretted not finding Randall before her death in 2015. Randall and Beth also learn on this trip that they have inherited Laurel’s New Orleans waterfront home.
As Randall tries to digest this new information, he feels overwhelmed. Unsure of what to do, he goes into the water – where he has learned his birth mother used to go when she was upset – to let it all out. He lets out a good scream and then has a transcendental experience. He finds himself “communing the spirit of my birth mom,” as he later tells Kevin, as she appears in the water with him, telling him that she loves him. Randall leaves New Orleans feeling peaceful, like a weight has been lifted, knowing he knows everything he needs to know about his birth parents. This speaks to the power of adoptees’ strong desire to know their roots and family history.
In the final episode of the season, Randall shares photos of Hai and Laurel with Rebecca, his mother. She tearfully admits that she never gave Randall a real explanation for keeping William from him, something she regrets. She also apologizes for never giving Randall a forum to talk about his birth parents. As we look back to earlier seasons, Rebecca always reflected a fear that she would lose Randall, and therefore kept quiet about his family history. In addition to not giving Randall the space to talk about his birth parents, Rebecca also apologizes for not providing a safe space for Randall to also talk about race and his complicated feelings about growing up Black in a white home.
Now recognizing this mistake, she tells Randall that he can tell her about his journey to New Orleans and that, if she cries, it is only because she feels badly for what she took from him. Randall then tearfully opens up about Laurel and what it was like learning about her. Much like the Kevin and Randall reconciliation, this is another long-awaited confrontation that is just as heart-wrenching as fans would expect.
Kate and Toby Adopt a Baby
At the end of season 4, we learn that Kate and Toby have decided to pursue adoption to enlarge their family. They already have a biological child, but pregnancy is not an option for them again and are excited about the prospect of giving little Jack a sibling. They meet an expectant/birth mother named Ellie. The three meet up in a public park, wearing masks and keeping a social distance. Ellie quickly connects with Kate and Toby, appreciating Kate’s sense of humor with her silly mask. She likes them even more after seeing the couple get into an argument about their diaper stock. Before long, Ellie decides that Kate and Toby are the perfect parents for her child.
Ellie already has a child, and she became pregnant after a “one-night stand,” as she candidly explains. Even when there are moments of doubts about Ellie’s commitment to the adoption plan, Ellie assures her that she is certain this is the right decision.
When it is time to deliver the baby, Ellie chooses Kate as her support person in the delivery room. Ellie’s labor lasts for many hours, and when the next nurse starts her shift, she casually mentions that “her baby” will be along eventually. Ellie corrects the nurse and sternly explains that it is Kate’s baby, and all the hospital staff should know that Kate will be the first person to hold her. This gives Kate another reassuring sign that everything is going according to plan. Once baby Hailey arrives, however, Ellie has a change of heart and decides that she wants to be the first person to hold the baby. Kate is understanding, but you can feel Kate’s concern. In the same moment, Ellie also asks to have a moment alone with the baby.
This moment alone gives Ellie a chance to say hello to her baby and explain that she is loved and will always be loved. She is visibly emotional, but she is also reminding her baby–and herself–that there is a great life awaiting with Kate and Toby. This saying “hello” to her baby is very important for her own mental health and grieving process, although it is difficult for Kate and Toby to be confident Ellie is still making her adoption plan.
Kate and Toby give Ellie a ride home from the hospital. In the car, it is clear that Ellie is struggling and feeling overwhelmed. Just before their ride is over – and as Kate is trying to make plans to connect in the near future – Ellie interrupts and says that she cannot do an open adoption. She says she might feel differently in the future, but for now, she needs to keep the adoption closed. She abruptly exits the car, leaving Kate feeling shocked and heartbroken.
“We signed up for an open adoption and that all changed in a really sad blink of an eye,” Kate later tells Toby. Toby, once again, is the sound voice of reason. “Kate I am sorry that Ellie is hurting and I feel bad, but when we got into all of this, we knew that it was just a plan, we also knew that plans change.”
This moment offers some key takeaways for both adoptive and birth parents. When an adoption plan is made, it is just that – a plan. As Toby said, “Plans change.” At #Adoptions With Love, all adoptive parents agree to at least a semi-open adoption. Ultimately, however, the decision is left to the birth mother. She must decide what she is comfortable with and what type of adoption plan works best for her at the time. Plans are written and signed just like any other contract, to help keep communication open between adoptive and birth families. These plans, however, may be edited throughout the years to accommodate a growing child.
Before the scene ends, Kate explains that she does not want Hailey to have a similar experience as Randall, not knowing her birth mother or adoption story. Toby reassures Kate that, no matter what Ellie decides, Hailey will know who her birth mother is and will know her adoption story because they will share that information with her. It is a good reminder that open, honest, and ongoing adoption conversations are key for adoptive families, no matter what type of adoption they have.
“This Is Us” has covered many other adoption storylines throughout its run. The show continues to captivate audiences every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. To read more about the previous adoption storylines, read our previous season recaps:
- What “This is Us” Can Teach Us About Adoption (season 1)
- A Recap of the Adoption Storyline in “This is Us,” Season 2
- Adoption in “This is Us”: Season 3 Recap
- “This is Us” Season 4 Recap: Adoption and Foster Care
If you would like to learn even more about adoption, contact Adoptions With Love. We can help you make an adoption plan or adopt a child. Call us any time of day, any day of the week at 800-722-7731, text us confidentially at 617-777-0072, or contact us online.