Oh boy, I needed those tissues I predicted last week, and I’m sure you needed yours too. This is one of my favorite episodes, ever, because it told the story of a huge breakthrough for Randall. Plus, Hai at any age–such a gentle, winsome, wise soul. It was also wonderful to see Beth and Randall facing this together. Their closeness is a balm to the soul!
2020: Beth and Randall fly to New Orleans and encounter Hai outside a charming green and white farmhouse outside New Orleans. They reflect on how the two of them had their honeymoon in New Orleans, and how they could have passed Laurel on the street and not known her. (That is a uniquely poignant thought to every adoptee. I remember feeling electrified when I found out my birth father had frequently shopped at the grocery store in the strip mall where my dad ran his bookstore.)
2020: Hai (whom I instantly adored like I instantly adored William; Laurel has marvelous taste in men) gets right to the point: “This house and land belong to you; it belonged to your mother.” (Beth, muttering under her breath: “We gonna need some Absynthe tonight!”)
Late 1960’s to late 70’s: We time travel to the fancy DuBois home, where it’s obvious Dad rules the roost and young Laurel is chafing at the bit. She goes to visit her Aunt Mae, whom she is forbidden to see, but who is obviously her main source of nurture and care. They have the beautiful bond of kindred spirits. Later, after the visit, Laurel hangs out with her lovely older brother, Jackson, and the two soak up some spiritual songs from Queen Mahalia. It’s evident they have a close-knit bond as well, but before I could even wonder hopefully if Randall might have an Uncle Jackson to meet, we learn that Jackson was killed in the Vietnam War.
Late 70’s: A grief ravaged Laurel goes to Aunt Mae’s for comfort, and Aunt Mae serves as a wounded healer. “God can take your pain but you have it let it go.” Laurel wades into the lake in front of Aunt Mae’s and screams out her anguish and sorrow.
2020: Randall: “I just met and lost an uncle in the space of five minutes.” (This happened to me this summer, when a tip on Ancestry.com led me to discover a biological aunt living 4.5 hours away from me, only to find out moments later that she had literally died–under mysterious circumstances–days before. Yeah, that was hard and weird and shocking, yet it was another puzzle piece to fit into the story of my life.)
Late 70’s: Young and handsome Hai, an immigrant from Vietnam, is fishing on the same lake and hears Laurel screaming in the water. Of course, she is grieving, not drowning, but he plunges in to rescue her, only to be met by fierce resistance. To Laurel’s credit, it must have been terrifying to be grabbed underwater by a man! A few days later, we think, Laurel encounters Hai at the farmer’s market where her aunt sells vegetables and Hai sells fish. Though he speaks very little English, they communicate via charming charades and facial gestures and smiles. It’s all pretty freaking adorable, and aren’t Laurel and Hai just gorgeous together?
Late 70’s: Though she has found her soul mate in Hai, Laurel must contend with an overbearing father who seems intent on foisting a “suitable” banker on his daughter. She must escape, and begs Hai to join her in Chicago where they can be together. Unfortunately, Hai cannot leave the parents he is supporting.
2020/1980: At this juncture, Randall loses patience with Hai’s love story, comparing it to The Notebook and demanding to know why Laurel didn’t find him. “Prison,” Hai says, bleakly. Laurel was locked up for five years for her first offense, and taken straight from the hospital to jail. Since she and William didn’t have a phone, she couldn’t call him, and for some reason used her one call on her dad, but is unable to speak. My question is, why didn’t she call her Aunt Mae? But oh, those harrowing scenes of Laurel aching for her baby … Searing.
2020: “She dreamed of you every night,” Hai tells Randall and tears stream down Randall’s face (and mine. And yours!)
1985: Laurel comes home after serving her absurdly unjust sentence, and Aunt Mae is there to enfold her broken niece in her arms. It’s too late to find her baby, Laurel thinks, deep in shame and remorse. Aunt Mae prods her to grab ahold of life again, but not before letting it all out. So Laurel screams her grief and rage and mournfulness into the lake once more, and she begins to slowly heal.
1985: Laurel runs into Hai at the market again, and the two share a wave that is fraught with pining and what cannot be. Hai is now married with a pregnant wife, and Hai being Hai, he won’t desert them now, even if Laurel is home. Years later, though, after Hai’s wife dies, they reconnect, but it’s almost too late: Laurel has terminal cancer.
2013-2015: Hai and Laurel are together for two years, cooking together, laughing, and telling stories. “Every day was perfect,” Hai says. Pass the tissue! Have mercy, this episode, though.
2020: Hai assures Randall that he was always in Laurel’s heart to the end, and that sometimes, when he swims in the lake, he can almost swear he hears her laughing.
And this is where it becomes a bit of a mashup between The Notebook and Ghost, because Laurel’s spirit also visits her son in that same magical lake.
First, we stop crying for a minute because Randall appears to be skinny dipping. However, that hot minute sped by fast, and before one could say “Naked Pearson Alert,” Randall is meeting his birth mother, and the mood shifts entirely.
He hears laughter and swivels around in the water to be face to face with Laurel. “My baby,” she croons. “My baby.” (I was pretty much wailing at this point, you?)
“Now I have found you and you are gone,” he cries, his eyes full of pain.
“Let the pain go,” she gently urges, cradling his face in her hand. “Tôi mến bạn,” she tenderly says in Vietnamese. “I love you.” And Randall tells her that he loves her, too.
2020: On the car ride to the airport, Beth can tell that Randall has changed. He is lighter, different. He wants to call Kevin and finally make things right with him, but when he reaches his brother, Kevin is in a blind panic.
Madison is in early labor with the twins and Kevin is stuck in Vancouver, racing in a car to get to them. This time, he cuts the call short, and in the preview for next week, we see that our dear Kevin has been in a terrible accident.
Yowza! I hardly know what to expect, but as I told my husband, we have seen Kevin alive in the future so we can expect him to survive. But what about Madison?
Back to Randall and this tender, tender episode. What made you cry the most? I had pretty much lost all control by the time mother and son were reuniting in the lake. What did you love? What did you not love? Tell us all about it and we’ll mull it all over as we wait with baited breath for next week’s episode.