Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Season 3 premiere of This Is Us.
With the premiere of its third season, This Is Us continues to do its thing — blending dozens of minutes of anguish with a few blissful moments of joy — but this time the joy wasn’t given its due time.
This Is Us thrives in its patterns of viewer abuse and comfort, hitting us over the head with blow after emotional blow of Pearson family misfortune and then treating us to some heartwarming gem so that we well up with a confusing mix of sadness and happiness. And it usually works. Except for Deja’s adoption storyline in the first episode of Season 3, “Nine Bucks.”
Throughout “Nine Bucks,” the stakes are pretty low. We get a look back at Jack and Rebecca’s first date (which goes pretty poorly), we get whiplash from Kate and Toby’s pursuit of pregnancy, we see Beth get angry at Kevin and her cousin Zoe for knocking boots, and we see the shining light of the episode: Randall asking Deja if she would like to be adopted by the Randall branch of the Pearson family tree.
Deja, in typical, understandable fashion, is at first put off by Randall’s attempt to relate to her by talking about his own experience as someone who was adopted. His life was so different compared to Deja’s difficult life as an unwanted child who has been shuffled around the foster care system.
It seems like Deja doesn’t want to be adopted in the moment, but her attitude shifts when she has some time by herself.
After talking to her absentee biological father, Deja gives Randall one of the most heart-tugging birthday presents imaginable: she tells him she wants to be adopted. Also she got him a pair of running shoes (thanks to her biological father) in a touching nod to Randall’s comments while they were going for one of their head-clearing runs.
It should have made me feel something, but against the backdrop of the entire episode, the moment fell flat.
First of all, the moment was too short. It was given no room to breath at under a minute in length and was sandwiched by two unrelated scenes. “Nine Bucks” was all over the place, and what should’ve been its season-defining moment, the introduction of a new member to the Pearson family, was passion-less.
I can watch adoption surprise videos on YouTube all day and they’ll consistently make me tear up even without the assistance of an emotionally charged soundtrack. This should’ve been an easy one for This Is Us, but instead we immediately cut to an interview with Pittsburgh Steelers player Franco Harris. We don’t get to see Sterling K. Brown’s infamous tears.
I get it, there’s a lot of characters on this show. But please give your key moments a chance to resonate. And please don’t kill the moment with a shot of Toby flushing his antidepressants down the toilet. That’s just rude.