The Beth-centered episode we’ve been waiting for was absolutely incredible. The Feb. 19 episode of ‘This Is Us’ peeled back the layers on Beth, and she had her fair share of struggles in the past.
The one and only Phylicia Rashad is playing Beth’s mom, Carol, on This Is Us. She’s a principal at a D.C. high school. She’s tough on the kids, but you can tell she cares about her job. However, the job is taxing. She hits the stair railing after being shoved by a rushed kid. She bruises her hip, so Zoe and Beth go on a road trip to D.C. to check in on her and hopefully convince her to retire. Zoe knows this is going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight. Beth has a tendency to clam up when it comes to her mom. When they get to Carol’s house, it doesn’t take long for Zoe to state the obvious, “She’s still scary as hell.”
Zoe and Beth confront Carol about retiring, which Carol thinks is preposterous. She has a purpose when she wakes up every day. She’s not ready to give that up. When Zoe tries to chime in, Carol scoffs that Zoe working on documentaries isn’t a real job. Beth admits to her mother that she lost her job months ago. That catches Carol off guard, to say the least.
Carol has always been tough on Beth. When Beth gets into a prestigious dance academy and is recruited by a renowned instructor named Vincent Kelly at a young age, Carol isn’t so sure. But Beth’s dad is all in. Vincent explains that the training all leads up to the senior showcase, where scouts come to recruit talent. Beth’s mom is so critical of Vincent and whether or not Beth has what it takes to make it. Vincent stresses that Beth is a “remarkable, raw talent.” However, this dance school is very expensive. Beth’s dad is willing to work overtime, and he’s the one who really convinces Carol to agree. Carol makes sure to tell her daughter that she’s going to have to be the best and work the hardest if they’re going to sacrifice so much for her.
As she gets older, Beth encounters challenges. She doesn’t necessarily have the typical dancer’s body, but she’s not giving up on her dreams. Vincent tells her she’s going to have to work 10 times harder to stay on par with everyone else. Just when she thinks she’s going to dedicate herself to doing just that, she learns her dad has lung cancer. The news devastates Beth, but Carol tells her not to cry. Beth wants to quit dance and feels that she may have caused her father to push himself too hard, but Carol stresses that she has to stick to the path she chose. Soon, another dancer comes in who is better than Beth, which hits her hard.
Beth’s dad passes away, but she refuses to stop dancing. When the list comes out for the senior showcase, Beth doesn’t get the solo. She tells her mom about it when she gets home. “Don’t worry, mom. I’m not going to give up,” she says. Later, Carol comes up to Beth’s room to say that it’s “time to choose a different path.” She gives her a book about colleges. She refuses to pay for the dance school anymore. Beth’s dance dreams are completely crushed. Beth takes the path her mother chose for her, and she ends up meeting Randall at a freshman college mixer.
In the present day, Zoe wakes Beth up in the middle of the night. She hid drugs behind a picture frame years ago, so they get high together in the laundry room. Beth apologizes on behalf of her mom. She doesn’t want Zoe to think her documentaries are meaningless. Beth notices that Zoe handles Carol a lot better than she should. Zoe admits that after everything that happened with her father, she felt safe with Carol. However, she knows that Carol has always been easier on her. Zoe brings up that Beth is holding onto something bigger and tells Beth she needs to talk about it before she explodes.
Beth confronts her mother in the middle of the night. “You didn’t have to take it from me,” Beth says to her mother about her dancing dream. She brings up why her siblings don’t come around anymore. “There’s no air around you,” Beth says. “There’s no air to breathe.” Carol refuses to apologize for pushing her kids. Beth says that Randall dreams big all the time, but Beth feels like she can’t because of her mom.
After they both take some time to cool down, Carol talks about her past. Her mother was hard on her, too. She opens up to Beth about how she and her father were the perfect balance. When he died, she just wanted to make sure Beth, her last child, was OK and set for the future. “You didn’t fail me, mom,” Beth says. “I’m strong because of you. I don’t regret the path you put me on. It brought me to Randall…” Now it’s time for Beth to dream again. She goes to a local dance studio and starts dancing. She’s ready to start the next chapter of her dancing career. This time, she’ll be teaching just like we’ve seen in the flash forward.