This Is Us Season 1 was all about Randall's quest to find his family. But despite how he phrased it, who Randall really was searching for was his father. Once William told him his mother had died, Randall stopped looking for any of her history or who she was. Five seasons in, the show finally corrects that decision, sending him to New Orleans to learn her story. But Laurel's history, as told by Hai, on This Is Us was more than Randall bargained for.
Warning: Spoilers for This Is Us Season 5, Episode 6 follow. In all of William's stories about Laurel, it was notable that she had no past. As far as Randall knew, she came from nowhere significant, she did drugs, and she died after having him. That's how little he knew.
Laurel's lack of family ties was deliberate on the part of the This Is Us writers, since it gave them the opportunity to now devote a full episode to her background. She was the only daughter of the DuBois family, one of the wealthiest families in New Orleans. Her older brother, Jackson, was killed in the Vietnam War, leaving her the sole heir. But she was never comfortable in the strict, conservative Christian upbringing. She preferred her Aunt May, who lived in a small farmhouse by the river. Aunt May had been banished from the family for getting pregnant out of wedlock, so she understood how suffocated Laurel felt and encouraged her to let out her feelings by screaming in the river whenever she visited.
Hai first saw Laurel during one of those visits, as she was swimming in the river, screaming out her frustrations. He mistook her screaming for drowning and attempted a misguided rescue. It wound up a meet-cute for the ages, as the two fell in love after that. When Laurel's father attempted to set up a marriage between Laurel and a man of his choosing, Laurel ran away. She tried to get Hai to go with her, but he could not leave his elderly parents.
It was years before she returned. After she recovered from her overdose, she was then sent to prison for drug possession. When she got out in 1985, she returned to her hometown and her Aunt May. She never searched for William or Randall, believing her failings meant she'd forfeited the right to claim him.
But Laurel didn't get back together with Hai upon her return either. He was married with a baby on the way. Instead, they became distant friends, seeing each other daily at their respective stalls in a New Orleans outdoor market. It wasn't 2013, when she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, that Hai finally returned to her. His wife had passed; his children had moved out. Hai took care of Laurel for the next two years, until she died in 2015.
Hai reaching out to Randall meant he could do right by Laurel one more time. After telling Randall her story, Hai passed him the keys to the farmhouse by the river. Laurel would have wanted him to have it.
This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.