There was so much going on and so much to unpack, but we have to take a moment to acknowledge the incredible work of Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan in the compassion they displayed in sharing the end of a marriage, though not the end of the story.
There were a lot of tense and uncomfortable moments, and evident frustration from both parties, but there was also that underlying love and affection that clearly never leaves the couple. It also kept things from getting too ugly.
These aren't people who suddenly hate each other. These are people who have built up resentment toward each other and have lost the ability to be completely open and honest. They also did what many failing marriages do by missing the true diagnosis and trying to treat something else entirely.
Toby compromised his happiness at work to move back to Los Angeles to be with Kate and his family, but that wasn't going to fix the problem. If anything, it made things worse as he resented Kate not having to give up her "dream job," while she had to downplay how much she loves what she does.
The episode cleverly worked in two directions at once. On the one side, we had the inevitable end of Kate and Toby's marriage as they tried and failed to make it work. On the other side, we started at the day of Kate and Philip's wedding and moved our way all the way back to the day Kate and Toby signed the divorce papers.
This single hour covered years in the lives of our characters, but it did it in such a tidy and clear way. And yes, we noticed that Kate said to Toby on her wedding day that it would be easier if they could live their lives backwards -- and then that's exactly how we experienced her relationship with Philip.
Next week, it's the wedding itself, which has us thinking for these final six episodes we're going to stay at this point and moving forward. Flashbacks could fill in any gaps of whatever we missed in the interim, but it's slow going.
Things we did learn in our journey through the near future is that Kevin is nowhere near done processing the end of his relationship with Madison, working his way through a bevy of models and awkward product spokeswomen. We do not see who he is with at the wedding, but at their engagement party it was still just the latest beauty.
We also learn that KeMadison is not a thing, as she and Elijah are still very much together at that engagement party, and she's pregnant with his kid. Madison is clearly post-baby at the wedding, but she and Kevin appear to be in a good place. Co-parenting is possible.
Sophie is back in the picture, but not for Kevin to get back with (maybe?). She's married now, but it's encouraging to see that Kate's efforts to reconnect with her one-time best friend worked out. It's also indicative of some growth in Kevin that he's not trying to wreck her marriage to reclaim what was once his ... though it could still work out that way.
Finally, as fully expected Randall is running for the Senate, with Jae Won still on his team. He gets some good news about the donations he's receiving. We have a feeling his dream manifested to that cop at the closed pool as a young man will come true by series end.
What will begin to take center stage in the near future is that after the years we jumped, Rebecca's mental decline is accelerating and fully evident. She appears frail on Miguel's arm and struggles to remember Philip's name. In the teaser for next week's episode, Miguel looks to be at his wit's end, struggling with how quickly things are declining.
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.
You'll have to bear with us as we're going to be jumping around in time as much as the show did. This was such an important moment because it showed that both Kate and Toby wanted this marriage to work. They wanted to believe that they could figure it out and make it work, even as we immediately knew that Toby compromising his career dreams wasn't going to make him any happier. Plus, we already knew that their problems ran so much deeper than the surface. At least they agreed to therapy, where the truth did ultimately out after more than 16 months.
1 tissue (for not just giving up)
"I Guess That's the Last Time That I'll Ever Kiss My Wife"
After his last desperate plea to save their marriage, two days before signing the papers and making it official, and nearly two years after vowing to do "whatever it takes," Toby finally had to come to terms that it was over. This was Kate realizing something he wasn't ready to realize yet and that was that this chapter of their story was over. All the little jabs and the lack of real growth in their ability to communicate honestly was the end. They'd yet to learn to speak their raw truth for fear of triggering a fight or upsetting the other.
2 tissues (painful realizations are part of the process)
"I'd Accompany You Anywhere"
Jumping ahead four or five years, we got to the moment that Phillip got down on one knee and proposed to Kate. Even better, we got to see young Jack supporting his nerves beforehand, and both kids supporting him in the moment with sweet signs. Phillip may still be an underdeveloped character, considering we just rushed through his whole relationship with Kate, but it was still beautiful the way he chose to tie it to their passion for music, and that he would accompany her, which suggests standing beside her and never compromising her shine.
The journey through divorce is painful and it hurts the heart on an almost daily basis. But there comes a time when you start to realize that there is still joy and laughter and happiness on the other side. This small moment between Kate and Toby happened when Whitney Houston serenaded them down an elevator with the most awkward song ever after a meeting with a divorce mediator. Their laughter was catharsis and what they both needed to see -- if for just that brief moment -- that it can and will get better.
2 tissues (the healing power of laughter)
Toby gave up his dream job that brought him so much joy to move back home with Kate, where she is still thriving and loving her job. But it's painfully clear that Toby has no joy in his work, and so Kate downplays her own job, playing it off like it's as mundane and uninspiring as his is. In other words, she's dimming her light and her joy to try and match his tone. She knows he resents that she's so happy at work when he gave up his joy to fight for their marriage; feeling he sacrificed more than she did to try. But by neither of them acknowledging their truths, those simmering resentments bubble over into their regular fights.
2 tissues (compromising happiness and truth fixes nothing)
"It Was Just a Little Vanilla"
In one of our glimpses forward at a post-divorce life, we see Toby share a meet-cute with a woman over a parfait. In typical Toby fashion, he hits her with a terrible pun. But after a beat, she counters with one of her own, criticizing his. It's like Nicky finding someone who can crab right back at him in Edie. A deep look into the future shows that Toby and Laura seem to have made it work in a way that he and Kate couldn't. But the difference is that Toby is now fully realized as a much healthier and whole individual than he was when he and Kate met as two broken people.
"Another Secret Test About Our Kids That I Didn't Know I Was Failing"
One of the through-lines of the collapse in this marriage has been Kate's resentment that Toby doesn't step up as a parent as much as she thinks he should. As such, she sits in judgment of him and finds him lacking on so many fronts with the kids. Even on their therapist-appointed date night, she nicks at him over Hailey crying before bed, which never happens with her. It's just further proof that she's at the end of her wits with all of it, because this is not something she would have attacked over just a few years prior. You reach a point where your sensitivity is so high, every little thing turns out to be huge.
"You Guys Have to Stop Yelling Now and Get Him Out"
The most painful moment for any couple that is unable to gain control of their marriage and happiness is any moment they are reminded of how this is impacting their children. Last week's episode was about little Jack going to the park because that's where Mommy and Daddy are happy. Tonight, he found a way to "stop" their fight by "dropping" his toy into the toilet. By shifting focus onto his crisis and his problem, little Jack was hoping to stop the fighting. It's heartbreaking to see a child trying to fix something that's so far beyond his scope, and something he shouldn't even have to worry about.
3 tissues (they understand so much more than we realize)
"How Do I Know When It's Time to End a Marriage?"
The struggle when a marriage is failing and you're fighting to fix it is that there is a point that you know it's already too late; you're just not willing to accept it just yet. You can see it in your own bad behavior, see it in that you and your partner are bringing the worst out in one another. That's where Kate was as she and Toby continued to poke at one another at the new Big 3's second birthday party. It was Kevin who came to offer some hope and support, but also tell her that when the time comes, she will know. And he's right.
3 tissues (sometimes you face the truth before you're ready to face it)
After the blowup over Hailey crying before bed derails their supposedly romantic dinner, Toby finally reaches his breaking point. He's been criticized and challenged as a father, which is hard for any parent to hear over and over again. He loves his kids and he's trying. He's not even a bad father, he's just a different parent than Kate. And so finally, in his anger he accidentally (or intentionally) drops the shield of propriety and lets Kate have it, telling her that the real problem is that he'll never be the ideal, dream husband she's always envisioned -- her father.
3 tissues (when the veil drops and the truth is exposed)
"I Am Trying to Be Happy Again"
In lieu of actual years of character growth, we get one meaningful speech from Phillip, which comes after Kate owns her own truth and reality by asking him point-blank after their first date what his intentions are. This is Kate being blunt and in her truth in a way she and Toby never really were. To his credit, the gruff Phillip answers in the same way, revealing that his first marriage ended over failed IVF attempts when he wanted to stop trying and his wife didn't. Then, when they decided to separate, she was hit and killed by a drunk driver leaving their home. And so, he hid himself behind snark and womanizing. But now, with Kate, something is different and suddenly he's ready for something real.
3 tissues (truth can be awkward, but it's also beautiful)
"It's Over, Toby. It's Time."
In most cases, it comes down to someone just knowing. And there's a calmness in that knowing. Kate reaches that point after the toy-in-toilet incident when Toby reveals he never wanted to be his parents and never wanted his kids to hear fighting. In total calm, Kate announced it was over. They'd been trying for so long at this point and it just wasn't getting better. They were both constantly on edge, and it was affecting the children. It wasn't going to get better. Kate, who is far closer to finding her center and her truthful happiness in herself as an individual than Toby at this point (as evidenced by his plea later that he doesn't want to be alone) had to be the one to reach this point. She's the only one who could.
4 tissues (a strange calm but there is still such an ache)
A pivotal moment for Toby's somewhat delayed journey toward finding his own happiness was evidenced in what could have been an awkward exchange between him and Phillip down the road. This happens before Phillip is about to propose and it sees Toby almost demanding that he never yell around the kids. He wants Phillip to fulfill what he could not, and why he was willing to let his marriage end. The kids deserved better. What showed his acceptance of things, and him growing closer to his own individual happiness, was when he learned that Phillip doesn't understand American football at all and began to educate him, knowing how important it is to Kate and the Pearsons.
4 tissues (everyone grows at their own rate)
"I See It Now"
We're not sure the status of Toby and Kate's relationship at the time of her wedding, but he's clearly not there, nor is he going to be. Maybe he had the kids? What we do know is that at the end of their divorce, she told him that their story doesn't end at the divorce. They're meant now to be apart, and that's okay. It took until her wedding for him to see it, and then offer her some closure about their relationship by letting her know he was there, and probably give himself some as well. It'll be interesting to see if his career doesn't define his happiness as much after this revelation, as that seemed to be about acceptance and feeling important, valued and needed more than just loving the work. But it's good to see that he got there.
4 tissues (closure is so necessary to fully move forward)
"You're Both Here"
Echoed twice in the episode by young Jack, the first came after Toby brought him home to Kate's and they both put him to bed. The latter came deep in the future when Kate and Toby came to one of his performances, seemingly before he became a huge superstar. Kate had Phillip in tow while Toby was with Laura, indicating that both relationships are going the distance. The fact that Jack echoes the same line about Kate and Toby both being there when they are in separate relationships shows that it wasn't that he needed them both to be together, necessarily. He just needed them both to be in his life, to both show up, to both be there. The details aren't as important from the perspective of a child. It's a very healthy perspective to present as divorce can leave parents feeling they've failed their children when that isn't the case at all. They're not nearly as invested in their parents being together as much as they are in their parents just both being there.
5 tissues (sometimes kids get what it takes their parents years to understand)
"This Is Us" shifts forward and moves into its final six episodes, starting next Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.