Kate spends the weekend in San Francisco with Toby, only to discover he's made big plans for the family and turned down a closer job without consulting her.
The big scary "D" word has been looming over this final season of "This Is Us," and we knew we were in for a walloping with this Kate-centric installment of the latest Big Three trilogy. But we didn't know it would make that "D" less scary.
Don't get us wrong, we're still devastated that the interminably adorable together Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan are going down this road of darkness and miscommunication, but through the "fight" that ultimately seals the fate of their marriage, we begin to understand the far more complex factors in play.
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People who haven't been there often wonder how it can be that people will get divorced but still say they love the other person, are happy to co-parent with them, but they've just grown apart. In one brilliantly scripted argument, Metz helps spell it out.
The actress who portrays Kate is credited as a co-writer in this episode, alongside Casey Johnson and David Windsor, while the hour was directed by her on-screen mom, Mandy Moore. Having players who are obviously so invested in these characters in such key roles helped make this episode breathe even more authentically -- and painfully.
We may not be happy to see Kate and Toby falling apart before our eyes, but at least we have a better understanding of what's happening and why. What's interesting, though, is that we suspect there will be as many people who see Toby as the villain here as there will be who see Kate that way.
For our money, we're going to definitely say Toby is a little more on that side than Kate as the events played out this hour, but neither of them are particularly awful. It just is what it is and so here we are.
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.
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"The Name's Boring. James Boring'"
In an interesting and powerful conceit, borrowed from "Fight Club," Sullivan jumped back into all the costuming he wore to portray "Old Toby," the heavyset guy in Hawaiian shirts who used to joke around with Kate. Now, he's there to illustrate just how much Toby has changed since the two of them got together.
There's a wistful sadness in these scenes, as Kate clearly misses the Toby she fell in love with, and barely recognizes at times the one she's married to now. But it's also not healthy or fair for her to want to stunt him as that man, just as it would be wrong for him to want to hold her back in any way. And yet, neither of them is fully ready to let get of the person they each were.
1 tissue (it's hard to let go of the past)
"You Said KaToby"
The fascinating thing about Sullivan's portrayal throughout this episode, and in recent seasons, is how he brings to life this character that has evolved, but is still recognizable as the guy he was. There is still that playful "grand gesture" guy lurking underneath the sharp suits and social confidence. And there's still clear affection and love between him and Kate, as evidenced by the early goings of their day together.
Yes, he made a concession in throwing away his big plan, but there was also a bit of an ulterior motive lurking beneath the surface in that plan -- that he managed to squeeze in anyway. Still, we loved seeing the sweetness between them, like him loving her use of their couple name and even putting it on a padlock to hang at the Golden Gate Bridge.
1 tissue (even as things change, love still lingers)
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"We Can Make a Life Up Here"
There's a reason we have to lean a little toward Toby being more the villain in this particular chapter. If you'll recall, Toby was secretive about his weight-loss efforts, hiding that he was going to the gym and even hiding his changing body from his wife. Those creepy tendencies returned, only this time he was setting the stage for major decisions about their life. On what she thought was a casual walk through his neighborhood in San Francisco, he brought her to a house where he had a real estate agent waiting to meet them so he could show her this house he'd picked out.
On top of that, he'd already gotten them preapproved for a loan and assessed the value of their current home, where Kate lives and Jack is familiarizing himself with (that's huge for a blind child). That he did this without consulting her, even if he made no final decisions, is a huge red flag. It's manipulative and a little controlling.
At the same time, we believe Toby has the best of intentions, and he does want to be a part of his kids' lives. He just believes this is the best way to make that happen. He makes more money, Jack's special needs will be costly as he grows up, and this is where they can better guarantee their son his best possible future. It's not unreasonable an argument. But it's not the best way to set the stage for it.
2 tissues (two people so disconnected trying to cling to the life they used to have)
"Thank God He Turned Down the Job Offer Back in L.A."
This was the bombshell that started everything in motion. Never mind that Toby later told Kate it was a lowball offer from a job he applied for way before he got this one in San Francisco. The bottom line is, he didn't tell her about it. It could be argued that he maybe didn't need to do that, but with their current living situation and the stress and strain it's put on them, it seems it should absolutely have been a conversation. But there's a very good reason that it wasn't.
2 tissues (the catalyst for the end)
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"Don't You Want That for Me?"
Toby is happy. For perhaps the first time in his entire life, he is actually and genuinely happy. We've known through his depression that feeling valued and important at work has been important to him, and for the first time, he feels that. After meeting his boss and coworkers, it's easy to see why. They genuinely seem like a great group of people. He's finally got the physique he's always wanted, the job he's always wanted. There's only one piece missing, and that's the family that he loves. And so, without sacrificing this happiness he discovered, he found the best way that he could find to have it all. It just doesn't necessarily take into consideration whether or not that's best for Kate and the kids.
3 tissues (growth is great, but growing apart is a thing)
"Except for the One Thing That's Making Me Really, Really Sad"
Right here is where it gets so complicated, and at the root of all things, there are no villains in this story. Just as Toby has finally found his happiness in San Francisco, Kate has grown into hers back home. She is fulfilled and validated at her job, even if it's part-time and the pay isn't enough, she loves where she's at with her kids, her neighbors and her family nearby. The only missing piece for her is the same missing piece for Toby. She doesn't have him. And she's not even sure she recognizes him anymore, so maybe the "him" she doesn't have doesn't even exist anymore.
3 tissues (growth means change)
"I'm Gonna Need You to Get on Board"
If finding out Toby turned down a job without even consulting her was the first board of the coffin, this was the final nail. The next morning after their big fight, Toby apologized for not looping her into these major life decisions. But he then followed it up by telling her that he'd already figured out that her moving to San Francisco was what's best for their family. His logic may be sound, but it lacks compassion.
It's also moving way too fast, giving her no time to even process such a monumental decision. What is his rush, other than his frustration at being disconnected from her and the kids? The bottom line is that this is the moment he gave her an ultimatum. She needs to give up the happiness she found at home so that he doesn't have to give up his.
But there's another huge difference. Toby said that Kate had changed, but there was no talk of an "Old Kate" that he preferred. She hasn't changed as much in his eyes as he has in hers. If this is not the Toby she fell in love with, then she'd be giving up everything that does bring her happiness for a guy she doesn't even recognize at times.
4 tissues (ultimatums are never a good move in a relationship)
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"You Fell in Love with a Coping Mechanism"
At the same time, when that came up in the big fight, Toby had an absolutely heartbreaking revelation, even if we kind of realized it at the time. The "Old Toby" that Kate so adored and fell in love with was not a person who was happy or fulfilled in his life. As we saw when he slipped into a depression, that was a deeply unhappy man.
"He was miserable and insecure and self-loathing," Toby told her, and it's true. Toby was a broken man who met a broken Kate at a point where they were both struggling with their weight. But their problems were so much more than the scale. So what happens when two broken people start to fix themselves?
Kate and Toby were incredible for one another, with Kate acknowledging where she was when they found one another. Through unconditionally loving and accepting one another through their darkest days, they helped themselves find the strength to shed some of those deeper issues and grow as people. Sometimes when we grow, though, we find that what connected us broken is no longer strong enough to hold us together.
4 tissues (sometimes getting fixed means breaking up)
"We Have Both Figured Out Our Worth"
Neither Kate nor Toby could have found themselves and their confidence and their worth without the journey they took together. The problem is that the most recent chapters of those journey have been separate, and the value they've discovered in themselves also happened separate from the other.
Would this have happened if Toby had never left? Possibly not. At the same time, this decision forced them to both stand on their own two feet, no codependency allowed. Kate discovered that she can be a great single mom to two kids. Toby discovered that he can be that guy at work that he always dreamed of. The fact he still flew home every weekend for his family is indicative of how much he still values them, too.
What it comes down to for both of them is figuring out how much of their own sense of self worth they're willing to sacrifice for the other's happiness. Is it fair for Kate to give up hers for Toby? Is it fair for him to give up his for her? Is he wrong to want financial security for Jack's future? Is she wrong to want familiarity and family for him?
Neither of them are necessarily wrong in what they want, which makes the disconnect even more heartbreaking. They both love their family desperately and they both want what's best for Jack. As they've grown, though, what they value and how they define that "best" has grown as far apart as they live.
4 tissues (the journey can be worth it, even if the destination is heartbreak)
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"I'd Like to Be Considered"
This week's flashbacks took us to two points in Kate's life where she let fear and not believing in herself hold her back. We saw her refuse to even put her face underwater or try to swim as a young child at the pool, and then as a young adult trapped in the now closed pool with her brothers, we saw her give up almost immediately after faltering once climbing a fence.
By that point, Kate's struggles with weight were just beginning, but already it was starting to define her declining sense of value and self-worth. Kate has underestimated herself almost her entire life, and she's let her size define her for most of that span. It's only recently, as she's started to find happiness, that she is seeing her worth outside of the body she's had such a terrible relationship with over the years.
Prior to going to Toby's boss' cocktail party, there was a scene where Toby's car canceled and Kate suggested walking as the boss didn't live too far. Toby's response was that it was uphill, already assuming that would be too much for her. Some of Kate's dismissal of her value has come from the outside and others judging her.
Throughout her childhood, Kate clung to her father like a life preserver. When he tried to get her to let go, she asked why she would ever do that? When he died, she was adrift and lost, with no prospects for her future. That's the Kate who stopped believing in herself, even as her brothers tried to step into their father's shoes and help carry her through.
Kate lost herself after Jack's death, and she found herself when Toby came into her life. But this was just another life preserver. She acquiesced to the car, as she was quiet for so much of this hour. It was through their fight and his ultimatum that Kate took stock of her life, her happiness and her life and realized that maybe, just maybe she could lose the life preserver and swim just fine on her own.
And so, when she stepped out for air and found herself at that same intersection, she looked up at the hill Toby didn't believe she could climb and started up it. One step at a time, she learned that she could do it. She can, in fact, do anything if she takes that same approach. One step at a time.
At the top, proud and impressed with herself, she called Phillip and threw her hat in the ring for a full-time position -- without consulting Toby. She made her decision in that moment. Ultimatum or no, Kate's next step is back home in Los Angeles. She made that decision knowing that Toby was setting up his life in San Francisco. She knew what she was doing.
5 tissues (finding strength in setting out on your own path)