And then the baton of Pearson pain was passed from Kevin to Kate.
On Tuesday’s episode of This Is Us — the middle chapter in the Big Three-centric trilogy that will close out the fall season — the raw impact and honest aftermath of loss was explored, as her high-risk pregnancy ended calamitously. Kate (Chrissy Metz) had been so cautious about the news, even secreting it away for a while, before finally allowing her beyond-thrilled fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan) to persuade her to lower her guard and revel in the bliss of an addition to the Pearson family. But now: shock and awful. She tried to bypass grieving by returning prematurely to the stage, but that just resulted in her fleeing from the gig after she saw a family-friendly moment, and then clashing uncomfortably with Toby over how much pain a partner has a right to feel as well. It was only when Rebecca (Mandy Moore) arrived with open arms at her doorstep that Kate was able to open up — revealing that she felt she “took this from Toby” — and to finally move her complicated, loaded relationship with her mother in the right direction. In sharing her own story of loss, Rebecca encouraged her daughter to let Toby into her grief, and by episode’s end, there was nascent light: Kate spoke optimistically with him about their future, and that they would, not yet but maybe soon, try to conceive again.
That’s for another day, though. Right now, read how Metz vividly brought Kate’s pain to life in “Number Two.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the beginning of the season, you hinted that Kate and Toby would definitely experience some “lows.” I assume this was the biggest low you were referring to?
CHRISSY METZ: For sure.
Did you learn Kate would become pregnant and that she would miscarry rather quickly in the same conversation with the producers? And what were your initial feelings on those turns for the character?
We found out the middle of the summer when we had our meeting, and, ooooph, of course I was devastated. More so for the audience, because I think they are rooting for Kate and Toby as a relationship for so many reasons. And that it’s a story line that needs to be addressed on network television — not just because of pregnancy, but because of plus-size pregnancy and it’s an unconventional relationship, they’re not married, they’ve just moved in together. There’s so many reasons why I think it’s important. I was a little disappointed, I was like, “Ohhhhhhh. Well, okay.” But I do believe that somewhere down the road, and especially as you learn in the last scene, there’s hope, and they are able to come through this really traumatic life event together, and stronger than ever, and hopeful about the future and conceiving again.
Kate just wants to live her life like everyone else, and, though miscarriages are very common, it’s brutal to see that bit of joy taken from her. But, like you said, the takeaway here was that she won’t be broken by tragedy, and she’s willing to be vulnerable and try again with Toby by her side.
It’s tough because it’s not just about weight, but when you feel like you’re finally going in the right direction and you’re happy, things do happen. And it’s not because you deserve them or because you’re a terrible person, but just life happens. It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it. It’s very hard to deal with and we don’t know how to deal with it most of the time, and Kevin’s not in the picture because he’s dealing with his own demons. It’s really important to see all that unfold even though it feels like her happiness, that one piece of happiness she had for a moment, was taken away. But she won’t let it break her.
Were you as surprised as the audience that such a revelation came not in her showcase episode but at the end of Kevin’s? Were you wondering at first if that might take away some of its potency because the audience is already entering the episode with that news?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I had to pacify my sister and show her my interpretation of giving birth because she was like, “You have to promise me that nothing bad’s going to happen,” and I’m like, “I prom—it’s not.” And she’s like, “Okay, so let’s practice the birthing scene.” So I went through all of this with my sister to then have her text me [while watching last week’s episode] and she’s like, “Poor Kevin,” and I’m like, “Oh, she hasn’t finished the episode yet.” So then when she texted me, she goes, “I can’t talk to you right now.” She literally could not talk to me, she was so devastated and so upset. She’s like, “We practiced together!” I’m like, “I know! I’m sorry!”
To have the conversation with my actual sister about finding out, sort of quickly, and on the tail end of Kevin’s story, I think the bigger picture is not so much the surprise of it happening but how is Kate going to process this and how do Kate and Toby process this, and how is she going to tell her mother — if she’s going to tell her mother. And then we find out that she does, and very quickly, and Rebecca comes to her aid by her side, in such a surprise, and that opens up a whole new level of vulnerability for Kate that we’ve never seen before.
We’ll get to that moment in a minute. How did you fundamentally approach these scenes with Kate trying to handle this loss and process this grief?
I don’t want to say afraid, but I was definitely like, “Okay, this is going to be a challenge,” because I haven’t experienced it personally — I do have friends who have and family who have, but I couldn’t, of course, reach out to them because you can’t tell them anything. So I did process what it would feel like to go through this alone and feel like nobody would understand you, so I used that in the process of just being really in my own head, or in Kate’s own head about it all, and overanalyzing it and feeling inadequate and just being hormonally a wreck because your body still thinks that you’re pregnant. So just trying to have empathy for Kate, and this beautiful piece of joy that Toby and her had and then it was taken from her. I just tried to stay authentic in the heartache and also the process of grief because everybody processes grief differently. I don’t know, personally, I might have gone to town at the Chinese buffet, but she decided that she wasn’t going to do that because it didn’t serve her in that moment. That was a really big deal for her to not go to the food.
That’s an easy and comfortable crutch for her.
Especially with a loaded plate.
Young Kate says that if she didn’t get into Berklee, it would crush her, but she couldn’t deal with disappointing her mother on top of that, which her mother explains isn’t true. Adult Kate tells Toby that she feels like she failed him after the miscarriage, which also isn’t true. What is it about Kate that makes her assume a heavier burden than just processing her own disappointment or grief? She’s very concerned with letting other people down.
I think it’s still that remaining guilt from her father’s death, and also feeling less than. It did definitely start before Jack’s passing, where she’s never going to be as skinny or as talented or as beautiful as her mom, and I think that turns into the guilt, and then there’s resentment, and then it’s like, “Why can’t she just get it together?” She continues to feel less than, and just not equal to anyone in her family and anyone in her life, and she feels like she constantly lets people down, and I do think it has a lot to do with letting herself down.
There’s an interesting conflict raised in the episode after the miscarriage, when she dismisses Toby’s pain, saying he only had an emotional couple of hours, but she was going through something that he couldn’t understand. This was her miscarriage, not theirs. “It happened to me; it didn’t happen to you.” Whose side did you find yourself on when you first read that scene?
I feel like I’m sort of a diplomat in that I can always see both sides of the coin, especially in emotional situations, because our perception is our reality. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, Kate is actually going through this physically, and if you’ve never gone through this, you don’t know. You truly don’t know, and you can’t compare.” But at the same time, Toby is valid in his feelings and his heartache. It’s different, but it’s still heartache, and it’s still grief, and it’s still sadness for something that he was very excited about. And I think that it’s really important to talk about that, because often the men or the spouses are in the shadows of the women who actually had the miscarriage, because you think it’s not as important or as real. But it really is. It’s just a different kind of grief. But I totally can side with Kate in that, yeah, you might have cried, you might have beat the steering wheel, and you might have been really angry about it, but actually being pregnant and having that whole experience is something entirely different that a man couldn’t really relate to 100 percent.
For such a dark episode, there was some uplift and repair in Kate and Rebecca’s adult relationship, as you mentioned. There was Rebecca, still with arms open, to receive her at her apartment, just like she promised young Kate. How helpful and connecting was it for Kate knowing that her mother had experienced similar loss through miscarriage?
It was so helpful, because Kate and Rebecca have never actually, to our knowledge, had a connecting conversation, really bonded over something where they both were vulnerable, they both were exposed in different ways and could actually relate to one another. We’ve never seen them actually relate to one another. And so when she said, I never held Kyle, and I went through a very deep loss and never was able to communicate that and had a breakdown about it, she can say, as a mom, as a human, as your friend, you’ve got to talk about it, because you’re going to break down in the grocery store over a bag of onions. There’s going to be a breaking point.
It was so beautiful to see that scene where she shows up, she just shows up without notice or explanation, and everything — the culmination of what their relationship hasn’t been and needs to be, was in that moment when Kate just fell her into her mother’s arms. So, so many people never get that moment, or never allow themselves to feel that moment for many reasons, and I thought it was really, really wonderful to have that in that episode.
It’s like when Kevin shows up for Randall at his office and takes him in his arms. It’s a Pearsons-represent moment.
Right. It’s like, I am absolutely broken and I don’t know how to even move into the next moment, and then that unconditional love for each other comes to the surface.
We’ve seen how complicated and fraught their relationship has been, right up through the present, when Rebecca went to Kate’s first big gig. But this is the most significant breakthrough in their adult relationship to date. Where does this take them moving forward? It feels like a big building block.
Moving forward, they’ve extended these olive branches to one another, and I think that they cracked open their real, true feelings in a relationship and are being vulnerable, because for so long, it was so covered in resentment and anger, as opposed to the hurt and the sadness. So, yeah, we’re definitely going to see them closer and getting closer as time goes by. And just getting to know one another as adults, and creating a real relationship between a mother and a daughter.
Which scene was the most challenging to tackle?
It would have to be when Rebecca shows up at the door, and then of course the conversation where she actually sees her mom show up for her, and she doesn’t know, if she knew she was coming, it would be, “Oh, she’s going to point fingers, she’s going to cast judgment, it’s going to be this whole thing.” But that she just shows up because she knew that her daughter needed her, that everything was just released at the moment, and she fell into her arms. But that was really difficult because that removal of the ego and being that vulnerable is not only challenging that quickly as an actor, because it happens in, like, four seconds, like I open the door and it’s there. But also having that really deep conversation about how she’s really felt, I don’t think she’s ever told people, anyone, maybe her therapist at the weightloss camp, how she’s really ever felt. She’s never been heard. Toby knows, but he doesn’t really know.
How would you tee up next week’s episode, which focuses on Randall and the fall finale?
It’s really special. Sterling is just captivating. It’s Randall in a way that we haven’t been able to see him, trying to find his identity and footing in an all-white family. And he’s preparing to go off to school. And then, of course, we find out some more backstory of relationships and how our parents impact us, biological or adoptive.
What can you hint about Kate’s journey moving forward?
We’re going to find out what and how both of these really huge events in Kate and Kevin’s life have affected their relationship and the family as a whole, and it’s going to be real freakin’ good. We did a scene the other day that was, like, epic. I mean, yeeeeeahhhh. It’s like a 12-minute scene. It’s incredible.
To find out why This Is Us wanted to tell the story of Kate’s miscarriage, read a Q&A with executive producers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker right here.
For more This Is Us intel, follow @dansnierson.