Randall, Kevin and Kate are toddlers at the start of the episode, and Rebecca and Jack nervously smile their way through several planned visits from a social worker handling Randall’s case. But all the worry is for nothing: The woman says she’s going to give them a glowing recommendation, and all they’ll have to do is go through the formality of appearing in court before they can legally adopt Randall!
Rebecca is ecstatic, telling Jack that they’ll need a new family portrait session to commemorate the event. But the photographer kinda ruins the pre-emptive celebration when he can’t stop remarking about how hard it is to light their photoshoot so that everyone’s skin tones look good.
The court date arrives, and all of the Pearsons appear before a judge, where they’re expecting to answer a few pro formal questions before Randall is officially their son. But the judge presiding over the case, who is black, says he has some questions he wants the social worker to answer before he makes a decision. And because the social worker isn’t there, the case is delayed. Uh huh.
Outside the courtroom, Rebecca and Jack approach the judge asking for some answers. In his chambers, he admits that he doesn’t think a black child belongs with a white family, because Jack and Rebecca will never be able to teach/understand what it’s like to be black. “My fear is that he won’t have the tools he needs in his life if he stays in your home,” he says frankly, adding that he’d rather see Randall back in foster care until the right family comes along. Jack and Rebecca are beside themselves, but they pull it together and leave before anything terrible happens.
Later, Rebecca receives the photos back from the session. As the photographer predicted, his skills were not good enough to make everyone look great in every shot — some of the setups are too dark for Randall, while others blow out Jack, Rebecca, Kevin and Kate. But Rebecca is done having people tell her that her family doesn’t go together, so she cuts the good shot of Randall out of one group photo and manually sticks it onto the other one. Then she sends it to the judge, along with a letter that informs him that “Randall is my son, whether you approve or not, whether you sign a paper or not” and that “exposure is tricky” but she and Jack are doing their best and they’ll keep coming back to the courthouse “until you do your job.”
When the Pearson family shows up for its rescheduled hearing, the troublesome judge has recused himself, as he should, and a kinder, gentler judge is now overseeing the case. And she has no trouble with the Pearsons or their arrangement, so she happily presides over the adoption, and all is well.
At the same time, a young William is in court after a drug arrest. His judge — a different one from the man overseeing Randall’s case — notes that the incident is William’s first arrest, and he’s disappointed to see him there. “What would you have me do, your honour? On every corner there’s someone selling,” he quietly points out as he stands with his lawyer. “So I buy, and I use.” He tells the judge that his mother and girlfriend are dead and his son is gone. “I am the most disappointed man you’ve ever met in your whole damn life,” he says, asking to go to jail “because there is nothing out here for me anymore.” So the judge does as asked.
Later, just before William is to appear in court again for sentencing, the judge visits him in jail. William’s “most disappointed man” line stuck with him, he says. “I fear I am a close second, Mr. Hill. Because I’m the man who writes terrible stories, day after day, and I can’t change the endings. And that, sir, is a horrible disappointment.” He then says they’re going to try to find help and a different ending for William… as long as William will do one thing: Look the judge in the face. He does.
“Lock it in your brain,” the judge gently commands him, asking the younger man to remember his face any time that he’s tempted to do something illegal or harmful again. “Can you do that? Can you find me a different ending to your story?” he asks. On the verge of tears, William softly replies, “Yes.”
So after he’s freed, William pictures the judge’s face when he sees some men drinking and smoking up on the street corner, and he turns the other way. And he apparently continues to use the judge as a reminder to stay on the up-and-up, at least until the doctors give elderly William the news that his cancer is not responding to treatment. He goes home to his sad apartment and, despite envisioning the judge sitting across the table from him, he prepares to shoot some heroin. But all of a sudden there’s a banging at the front door: It’s Randall, and we realise that we’re at the point of the series premiere. Randall’s reappearance in his biological father’s life literally kept William’s demons at bay.
Kevin’s demons, however, are a lot closer to hand. He wakes up hungover in a hotel room filled with empty beer bottles, and when he unsuccessfully tries to get out of an already thrice-rescheduled visit to the East Coast to see Sophie, he pops a pill and washes it down with warm booze.
Even Kate and Toby’s announcement that they’re expecting his niece or nephew does nothing to lift Kev — in fact, it kinda ushers him onto the downward trajectory we see him ride for the rest of the episode.
But when Kevin arrives at the hospital to surprise Sophie, she’s out on a transport. So he falls asleep in the waiting room, where he has a nightmare about being a drunk, terrible father and husband. When he wakes up, he bails. And when he finally shows up on Sophie’s doorstep later that night, red-faced and babbling, she’s legitimately worried.
“I don’t have anything to give you. There’s nothing inside of me to give you,” he says, calling himself an empty shell. “You’re spiraling,” she correctly diagnoses, trying to get him to come inside. But he resists, telling her that this is who he really is, and the guy who came to woo her back at the end of Season 1 was him “trying to be my dad or Toby or every great man from every really good movie.” He maintains that he’s playing a part, and intimates that they should probably break up. “Trust me when I say I’m saving you from 40 years of disappointment from me,” he says, which causes her to cry and shut the door in his face.
When Toby’s scared to tell his very Catholic mother that he and Kate are expecting, his wife-to-be has a solution: Why not get married as soon as possible at City Hall? Toby’s all about it… until he realises that Kate really wants the big wedding she’s dreamed of forever. So he breaks the news to his mum, has a brief chat with Jack’s ashes and then decides to give her the proposal she never got — remember, she proposed to him at the hospital — as well as the option to have the ceremony she really wants. “If there is any part of you that wants the big wedding, even though it can be scary and emotional and cliché, I think you deserve that, kid,” he says. She’s crying happy tears as she says yes, she’ll marry him. Toby, that Russian-nesting-doll sweatshirt thing was a little silly, but I’ve gotta give it to you: You got this one right.
Randall is not excited to take Deja for a court-mandated visit with her mum, but Beth reminds him that it’s part of the deal. So he accompanies the excited teen to the clink and they meet Linda the social worker at the prison. But after waiting a while, Linda has bad news: Deja’s mother, Shauna, doesn’t want to see her.
This infuriates Randall, who rips into Linda as he wonders if anyone is looking out for the kids in the foster-care system. She then schools him hard on the realities of her job — there’s a very sad story about a deaf kid involved — and he realises that he’s yelling at the wrong person. Then he couches the news to Deja as though there were some kind of mix-up, and she just wants to make sure that she can give her mother something she brought. “I’ve been saving up my allowance for my mom, so she can get everything she needs in here,” Deja says, asking for her purse. Both Linda and Randall are gutted.
At home, the normally chill Beth is hot about the events of the day. She literally takes off her earrings as she says, “I am done letting that woman hurt that child,” and she reverses her earlier thoughts on the matter: She decrees that Deja won’t have anything to do with her mum while living under the Pearson’s roof. Randall visits the prison alone the next day, talking to Shauna via phone from the other side of the glass. She’s beat-up, and she tells Randall she declined Deja’s visit because she didn’t want her daughter to see her in such rough condition. Still, Randall’s short on sympathy and high on telling Shauna that he and Beth are going to be in charge of what’s best for Deja from here on in. “You got a white wife?” she counters. “Don’t get it twisted, sis,” he replies coldly.”I wake up every morning next to a headscarf and coconut oil. I’m married to a black queen — not that it’s any of your business.”
Then Randall gets a little higher and mightier by informing Shauna that she should make better choices regarding her life and, by proxy, her daughter’s. “Don’t you dare say I’m in here by choice. People who have choices say that mess,” she responds, insinuating that luck — and only luck — dictated the different paths his and her lives played out. She ends by saying that she’s what’s best for Deja, “and the second I get out of here, I’m coming back for her.” Randall is the human equivalent of HELL NAH. “You’re going to have to go through me,” Randall says. “I’ve been through worse,” Shauna shoots back.
That night, Randall and Beth come to the agreement that they’re going to have to fight for the teen. “I think about all those people making choices about my life before I could make choices for myself,” he says. Now we’re those people, Beth. We’re the adults making complicated choices about that girl’s life.” But it’s not all blind fury and indignation: Randall gave Shauna their number, and told her to call collect so she can speak to her kid. And she does.