We gave it an A-
This Is Us
9/20/16 - 1/1/70
- TV Show
- genre new
- Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Justin Hartley, Sterling K. Brown
- Dan Fogelman
It’s fair to say that the harrowing ending of last week’s This Is Us — in which we learned, via Randall, that Kate had a miscarriage — was as much of a twist as it was preparation. After spending a solemn hour with Kevin, “Number Two” brings Kate into focus, reliving the same days as the previous episode but from a new Pearson sibling’s perspective. It’s an emotional installment, but at least the ending of “Number One” gave us an idea of what we’d be in for.
Rather than dragging the whole episode to the already teased miscarriage, the loss happens early on, leaving the rest of the hour to trace Kate and Toby’s attempts to move on. Instead of wallowing in the despair of the moment, “Number Two” is a surprisingly hopeful episode that leads to some breakthrough character moments. It’s bracingly sad — break out the tissues for this one — but also sweet and even a little optimistic. It resonates, and it lands as This Is Us’ best season 2 episode so far.
Kate is doing all the right things as the episode opens: taking her prenatal vitamins, making lists for questions to ask the doctor, and getting the home ready for the new member of her family. Toby’s making her green drinks (tragically, not shamrock shakes) to keep her healthy, trying to contain his excitement and talking her down about her various anxieties. They’re preparing. But when Kate leaves the room, we hear a crash off screen and hear Kate scream, “Toby!” Based on the reveal from last week, we know what’s happened.
We’re in the hospital in the next scene, camera on a near-catatonic Kate. “I know how difficult this is,” the doctor says. “The good news is that you got pregnant, which means that you can try again as soon as four weeks.” Toby gives her some space after the doctor leaves, and we see him on the other side of the curtain, totally heartbroken.
Once out of the hospital, Kate tries to bury her trauma. She gets a text from her mother, asking how the ultrasound went, but doesn’t respond to it. She puts on makeup in the bathroom, trying to avoid flashbacks to losing the baby. We watch what happened in total silence: Kate entered the bathroom, buckled in pain, knocked down the shower curtain as she collapsed, and finally screamed for Toby’s help. She snaps out of the memory, staring at the broken curtain rod, and enters the living room all done up in makeup and a red dress. Toby, slumped on the couch watching old sitcoms, appears puzzled by Kate’s glam look. “I think you’re a little overdressed for watching classic sitcoms and trying not to cry,” he says. She has a lunch gig at a café that she doesn’t want to miss — she’s trying to act like she’s doing fine. Toby is stunned by Kate’s decision to go but agrees to pick her up after her gig nonetheless.
Meanwhile in the past, we meet teenage Kate as we caught a glimpse of her in “Number One”: keenly listening to her headphones as the power goes out, then encouraging Randall and Kevin as they prepare for the next stages of their lives in college and beyond. While the Pearsons prepare for the arrival of the college football coach, we observe Kate’s close relationship with the new family dog, Louie, and get more details on that Kate-Rebecca argument about college options (which we heard in the background last week). Rebecca asks her daughter to make a list of at least five colleges — to not put all her eggs in one basket — but Kate appears resistant. The next morning, Rebecca tries to clarify why she’s being so pushy: “You aren’t your brothers — you’re not,” she says. “You don’t know what your path is just yet, and you know what? I think that’s okay.” But Kate takes it as yet another coded insult from her mother. She accuses Rebecca of calling her “passionless.”
Once Kate leaves the room and Rebecca snoops around, desperate to see what’s going on her daughter’s life, we see why Kate is being so cryptic and touchy: She’s filled out an application for Berklee School of Music, with cash attached by paper clip. (Ah, the days before the Common App.) Rebecca appears moved and slightly perplexed and then turns to that cassette tape Kate has been listening to. She plays it, and we hear Kate introducing her audition tape — a performance of “Summertime.”
We listen to the tape, a soft but beautiful rendition of the classic, as the episode returns to the present day, again allowing us to silently observe Kate in her state of grief. We watch her dealing with the loss, singing at the swanky café, then struggling to continue on as she sees a family happily dancing along to her performance. She can’t hold it together — but we’re still watching in total silence, only hearing her teenage self sing “Summertime” against the image of her adult self crying on stage. It’s a powerful contrast. Kate leaves mid set, humiliated, and we hear her heavy breathing as the song comes to a close. (Recap continues on page 2)
Toby, meanwhile, is back at home, struggling in his own way: He dumps the broken shower curtain after being haunted by the sight of it, and goes into frantic protective mode when he learns that a certain baby-related product they’d ordered — “a fancy baby bath” — is in transit. He heads to the shipping facility to try to find it, horrified by the thought of it arriving on the doorstep for Kate to see, but the employee who approaches him, Carl, is skeptical that they’ll be able to retrieve it. “The hardest part about seeing someone you love in pain is not being able to do something about it,” Toby pleads, begging him — with some not-so-subtle physical threats sprinkled in — to help. Carl agrees, noting it’s not yet on a truck but could be anywhere in the warehouse. They search endlessly, and when Carl finally finds it, Toby offers it to him. “I’m sorry if something happened,” Carl says, taking the bath for his sister, who’s pregnant with her third child.
Toby might have good reason to protect Kate from reminders like that. As she walks home from the gig she’d prematurely left, dismissing the fact that Toby was supposed to pick her up, she flashes back to those moments of joy: hearing about the pregnancy, telling Toby, telling Kevin. Each glimpse is more devastating than the last. She’s at a low point — a dangerous place to be, especially as she walks by a “King Buffet” restaurant. She enters, builds a mountain of food on her plate, and sits at a table, wondering what to do — trying to fight back. In a moment that calls back to the episode’s opening seconds, when we heard Rebecca say of her toddler daughter, “She’s a fighter,” Kate gets up, leaves the plate behind, and heads home. She fights back.
Toby arrives at the café, meanwhile, and Kate is nowhere to be found. He asks someone still lingering at the set where Kate is and is informed that she left early, “sick.” He calls her cell. Nothing. He calls Kevin (which we’d witnessed in the previous episode). Nothing. Distraught, he heads home, where Kate’s already returned. She notices the bathroom shower curtain has been removed and finally picks up her mom’s call; Kate tells her she lost the baby and hangs up before they get into any kind of conversation. She then calls Kevin, but again, as we already know, he doesn’t pick up. By the time Toby arrives, relieved to see Kate’s home safe and sound, she’s ready to let out some of her ugly feelings. “Let’s go big because you like to do things big,” she snaps. “You pushed and you pushed, so congratulations Toby, you got me excited.” She says the miscarriage happened to her, not him, an insult that stings enough to rush him out of the room.
As a teen, we see Kate push back against another person she loves: her mother. While at the football game where Kevin’s life-altering injury will soon occur, Rebecca admits she saw the application after handing her a check for $50 (her application fee). Kate is initially upset that Rebecca went through her stuff, but she’s lifted up by her compliments — which are free of the qualifiers Kate so often dreads. “I thought you sounded terrific,” Rebecca gushes. After they’re in the hospital, waiting on Kevin’s MRI, they connect more in a beautiful conversation, albeit still with that distance we’ve seen characterize their relationship. “I wanted to be the mom that had her arms wide open just waiting for you to fall right in if you needed it, and somehow…we just never got there, did we?” she says, frankly but tenderly. “It’s my job to keep standing there with my arms wide open, waiting for you to maybe some day fall inside if you needed it.”
We’ve been waiting two seasons for that moment — and in this episode it finally arrives. While Toby leaves the house in the present, saying he “needed some air,” Rebecca shows up to be there for her daughter. Kate just falls into her arms, sobbing. It’s a deeply sad moment, but it’s also a safe space for her to grieve. “How can I be this sad?” Kate asks her mom. “I never even met the baby, never held him or her. It wasn’t even old enough for me to know.” Rebecca tells the story of when she lost Kyle, and how she experienced feelings of profound grief and self-blame without ever knowing him, either. She recalls having a grocery store meltdown when the kids were six months old, and how she screamed at a woman to give her a bag of onions. “Eventually, I opened up to your dad, and that’s what made space in my heart for you,” she tells Kate, adding that she should talk to Toby and patch things up. It’s a nice complement to our final shot of teen Kate in the episode, waiting in the hospital as she watches her parents embrace outside in the parking lot, as they fear for their son’s future.
Chrissy Metz’s outstanding performance resonates here because she commits as much to the raw pain of Kate’s loss as she does to those slowly building feelings of hope — hope in connecting with her mom in a way she never had before, hope in moving through tragedy together with Toby, and hope in just continuing on. (Head here for Metz’s thoughts on the emotional hour.) When Toby comes home and Rebecca leaves to give the couple time to talk, Kate tells him the truth of her feelings: “I feel like I failed you.” Toby says she never could, and the two hug and make up. It’s a moment of necessary levity after such a gut-wrenching hour of TV. And it continues into its final seconds, as Kate and Toby put the shower curtain back up and she vows to try to get pregnant again — not now, but soon. She’s a fighter.