Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg in the episode, as virtually everyone had a powerful and poignant moment, including the cast's most under-served characters, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Miguel (Jon Huertas). Both have incredibly compelling connections to the Pearsons, so it's about time they're starting to get some love from the writers.
Plus, with the show revealing young Toby and offering up vignettes from throughout his life, there's hope yet that Beth might get the same treatment. But for now, we're satisfied that she's getting a storyline of her own, and that Miguel is getting something else to do other than be the Pearson family punching bag. The poor guy deserves better than that.
Surprisingly, the least compelling story of the week was Randall's (Sterling K. Brown) disastrous first campaign "rally" for his foray into politics. Primarily because it went exactly as we would have predicted. He's well-intentioned but tone-deaf to the reality of the community he's seeking to help.
In a way, he's no different from the white collar landlord coming in to drive up rents and get minorities out, as he was told with much venom by the restaurant owner. It's all a part of Randall's ongoing identity crisis, but as it was more of the same on that front this week, Randall took a backseat to the powerful performances from his co-stars.
As we do every week, we're going to single out the show's most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
We didn't expect to get into the heart and mind of Zoe (Melanie Liburd) during Kevin's trip to meet Jack's old war buddy, Don Robinson (Charles Robinson), but while Kevin and Don were having their heart-to-heart, Zoe opened up to Don's wife. She found herself in that moment at a crossroads with Kevin, and unsure how much she wanted to let him into her life, but it's not so much her life specifically, as it is the black woman's experience.
On their way down, Zoe lamented she'd forgotten her silk pillowcase, and she experienced some not-so-subtle racism at a convenience store. Kevin dismissed the first incident as a "princess" thing and didn't even notice the second. Does this make him a bad person? No, it makes him someone coming from that place of privilege that triggers many white people when you bring it up.
Kevin doesn't know that the silk pillowcase helps keep her hair from drying out, and he missed the racism because it's not on his radar. So her question was whether or not to let him into that world by telling him. Finally, she decided to share both, causing him to ask why she hadn't done so earlier.
There have been plenty of racially mixed couples on television, but it was refreshing to see a show step into that world from the beginning and understand that it's not always as easy as two people digging each other. There's an element here where Zoe wants and needs Kevin to understand, at least a little bit, what her world is like. It's a vulnerability in a different way, but no less powerful.
"A Place Where You Can Put All That Sadness"
This was the episode where we saw Rebecca (Mandy Moore) start to wake up from her grief-induced miasma and reach out to her kids again. Clearly, there's a long road ahead, but she shared a beautiful scene with Kate at the piano where Rebecca revealed her own connection to music, and professed that she knew Kate shared it.
Now, Kate wasn't able to pour her feelings into music in that moment, as she still struggles with processing grief and sadness in healthy ways, but in the present, we checked in on her after getting news from the doctor about their attempts to get pregnant, and she was at the piano and singing.
It took her awhile to get there, but she did get there. It's always powerful to see those moments from childhood with Jack and Rebecca reverberate through the years and impact the kids in the present day. You never know which moment you share with your children will have a lasting impression like that, but it's always powerful to witness.
And Kate had reason to celebrate in that moment, even if her joy was sadly short-lived. The news from the doctor was good. From eight eggs to three embryos to one bun in the oven. Kate and Toby are pregnant and they are over the moon. And then Toby almost immediately collapsed in anguish.
For one, he was berating himself for missing the phone call, having fallen back into his depression video game habit. For another, he's been trying so very hard to hold it all in and be the strong one for Kate through all of this, to the point that he never even told her he went off of his antidepressants.
Clearly the detox hit him hard and now the depression itself is struggling to take hold. It's a heartbreaking scene to watch someone who always brings such joy and laughter to those around him struggle so deeply, but it's a powerful representation on a major network television show, because Toby is the face of depression.
He is so full of life and so joyful and does everything he can to bring laughter and happiness to those around him. And underneath all of that, he is fighting this battle. It's an important thing for people to see, just as Zoe's experience at the gas station are important to see.
A flashback to an earlier time in Toby's life, shortly before he met Kate, revealed a previous rock bottom and how his mother Mary (Wendie Malick) helped him through it, just as he had helped her. "The joy in you is just as much a part of you as this sadness," she tells him, and she knows that dichotomy all too well.
It's not that Toby is just sad sometimes, it's that his sadness is a part of the fabric of who he is, just as his jubilant jokester side is. These are facets of what makes him unique as a human being, and it makes him no better or worse than anyone else, though try telling that to depression.
Mary was there in this moment for Toby because he was there for her. They understand one another in a fundamental way that few could understand. Even as a child, Toby was in tune with his mother. He didn't shame her for a near breakdown in the department store. Instead, he put on a coat, did a Rodney Dangerfield impression and made her laugh.
That's his superpower. He brings light into the world. Toby is an amazing character, and a fully realized character, representing so many people who struggle with depression perfectly. He's the guy you would never expect to be living with it, and in some ways that makes him the most likely guy to be living with it.
"Could You Give Me a Minute?"
But Toby isn't the only person struggling, as a teaser for the next episode showed us. This week, we got a glimpse of Beth cracking during a job interview, and Beth almost never cracks. Randall is an emotional mess from week to week, and just as Toby is for Kate, Beth is his rock.
Only her foundation was cracked when she got fired, and clearly it is tearing her up inside. But for whatever reason, Beth is following a similar path to Toby. She's bottling it all up inside so she can be there for Randall and her kids. Do the Pearsons just exude this aura of need that convinces everyone else to set aside their own issues and help them?
That's why it was so powerful and startling to see Beth crack and crumble during her job interview, asking for a minute to collect herself. We'll bet she never went back in, and there probably was no point. The business world does not tolerate emotion from much of anyone, but especially not from women and even more especially not from women of color.
As first impressions go, Beth did not show herself to be someone filled with passion and devotion. She showed herself to be someone who is weak, unable to control her emotions, likely to crack under pressure. All those things that she's so very not, but it doesn't matter. Looks like Randall is going to need to step up, no matter how poorly his campaigning is going.
Don wasn't immediately forthcoming with Kevin about their time together in Vietnam. While he was medically discharged before Jack ever reconnected with his brother, it turns out Jack and Don did correspond. Initially, he said Jack never responded to his letters, but later reconsidered.
As Kevin and Zoe were checking out of their hotel, Don was waiting there with a stack of letters. This is the Pandora's Box to what happened to Jack in Vietnam after Don left, and after what we saw in Jack's big flashback episode last week.
We don't know how shocking these revelations are going to be, but the first thing Kevin pulled out was a bombshell of epic proportions. It was a photo showing Jack standing with a Vietnamese woman wearing a necklace, and it is the same necklace Kevin wears to this day after Jack gave it to him. So clearly that's a story.
How many more stories do those folders hold? And why was Don so reluctant to share them with Kevin, even going so far as to tell him, "Sometimes the answers are so dark you're better off not having them." So yeah, he knows something about why Jack did not talk about the war after he came home. And that something ain't gonna be pretty.
The sweetest parts of the episode were those where Miguel began to step up and become more a part of the Pearson family in Jack's absence. After surprising Rebecca with that piano delivery in their new place, Miguel stayed around all night to fix the light in the refrigerator. When she told him he didn't have to, he said, "I do, Rebecca."
Later, he attempted to connect with Randall about a horrific experience with racism that ruined his prom (basically his date's dad said, "I can't do this," upon seeing Randall and stormed off and that was it), and even though that didn't go all that well, it could have gone much worse considering where Randall was at emotionally at the time, and that he was a teenager.
Much later, Sophie brought Kevin to Miguel's house after the dance because he was stone-cold drunk. And so, Miguel let him sleep it off there, calling Rebecca to tell her the boy is going to be okay. We then got a quick flashback sequence of Jack filling out life insurance papers and telling Miguel that if anything happens, he wants him to look after his family. That's probably what Miguel was referring to when he said, "I do."
It was a poignant scene, but one we didn't even necessarily need. Miguel loves those kids and he loves Rebecca, even if it wasn't romantic at this point in their lives. Miguel was probably going to step up no matter what Jack did or didn't say. And this just goes to prove what a great guy he is and has always been, and how awful those selfish Pearson kids have been to him for years, now.