This week's episode of This Is Us was a character standalone, and one that didn't focus on anyone from the Pearson clan. It was a radical departure from the show's normal format, though, heartrendingly, they still managed to find ways to flashback to the past. Tracking Deja's life (and having it reflect in the experience of the Pearsons) made for a stunningly effective episode. But it also showed how many threads of her life have been left dangling. What happened to those she left behind? Where is Raven now? What happens to those in the foster system who aren't as lucky?
Deja didn't find herself in the foster system until she was already nearly 10 years old. Raven, on the other hand, had been there almost her entire childhood and seen far too much for someone her age. Her comment about the Millers, "at least all they do is hit," was unfortunately frighteningly accurate.
Raven made fun of Deja for being soft and gentle, in a world where kids learn to be hard early. But by keeping out of the system for as long as she did, Deja still had the luxury of being soft and gentle. Raven wasn't given that chance. Her attitude was shaped by a world that had taught her that crimes mostly go unpunished. And if they do punish you, keep going and take everything you can while you can.
Also, Raven learned early not to trust authorities, because well-meaning adults doing their best can many times backfire, landing a kid in a worse situation than they were before. After all, in the grand scheme of things, the Millers did only hit. As she says to Deja:
You're a good person Deja, but you need to listen to me. The next time you find a bed that feels even a little safe, don't blow it.
The irony that the next shots are a recap of Deja's hair freak out earlier in the season, and her inability to keep herself from doing things and acting out in ways that could have totally "blown it" should not be lost on anyone.
In a way, Deja did blow it, by insisting on going back to her mother the moment her mother was free again. Raven tried to teach Deja that she needs to be selfish, that she needs to put herself first. A Deja that put herself first would have stayed in the house where the iPads were freely given, and where the education to get that "big house, fancy car" was plentiful.
Instead, she gives it all up to go home, and to look after a parent who had been following Raven's advice this whole time. As we learn quickly after Deja goes back home, when it comes to money, Shauna puts her own desires first. It really is always going to be something.
The saddest part about Raven's part in Deja's story is that there's little chance that Deja would ever see her again, and if they did, there's little chance they would have anything in common. We have no idea where Raven went after that night in the shared space before they were sent off to separate families. But we do know her attitude and her survival skills are such that she would have accepted staying somewhere where her physical safety was compromised, as long as it kept her in one place for a while.
Meanwhile, Deja may have bounced around from home to the Pearsons' and back, but a good portion of that time was spent at home. She may suffer there from her mother's terrible life choices, but at least it's still a relatively safe environment.
Deja was lucky. The question is, with Shauna perhaps abandoning her for good, will she stay that way?