This Is Us recap: Kate and Toby's marriage ends, but romance still wins
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Hollywood loves troubled marriage stories — Marriage Story, Blue Valentine, Scenes from a Marriage, to name some examples. Tonight's This is Us took a page out of that book, chronicling the ultimate end of Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Toby's (Chris Sullivan) marriage.
It's an unpleasant way to begin the home stretch of this final season. But with the fall of "Katoby" comes the rise of a new love story: Kate and her music school boss Phillip (Chris Geere). (Ship name Killip? Phikate? Or Phate, since it feels like they are fated). The episode weaves the stories together with scattered time jumps like a Rubik's cube-turned-epic mosaic, charting Kate's journey from divorce, to first date, proposal, engagement party, and ultimately, the wedding shown in the season five finale.
We get brief updates on the rest of the family throughout the episode, too, but first, let's break down Kate's journey – by sorting the episode timeline into actual chronological order.
In the present, after toddler Jack's fall, Toby declares he'll take the LA job he turned down. Kate welcomes the offer and suggests couple's therapy. Toby agrees, wanting to do anything to save their family. The first session seems to go well, but as Kate thrives in a new role at the music school, Toby languishes at his LA job. During a therapy session six months in, Kate is late, bickering erupts, and Toby storms out. Then, at Hailey, Nicky, and Franny's second birthday, Toby makes a snide comment about Kate's "dream job" not paying enough. In private, Kate asks Kevin (Justin Hartley) how to know when it's time to end a marriage. Kevin says if it comes to that, she'll know in the moment, and she'll be okay after.
Sixteen months into therapy, at the therapist's suggestion, Kate and Toby attempt to have a nice dinner date. However, they talk pointedly about work and fall into fighting about parenting – Kate implying Toby is clueless and unhelpful, Toby saying Kate's constant criticism makes him feel like a bad father and ruins fatherhood. Indeed, they are both brutally problematic. Then it escalates. Toby says their marital issues aren't about weight, parenting, or work, but rather that Toby could never live up to Kate's obsession with her father as a husband and parent. He says Kate would have married Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) if he hadn't died. Kate is horrified, and the comment is disturbing, but it emphasizes Jack's hold on the Big Three. Even if Kate didn't intend to put that pressure on Toby, he felt it. There are a million ways parents can mess up their children, but it's strange to think one way is being too good. Is Toby insecure, or does Kate have impossible standards?
Toddler Jack interjects, faking a crisis to urge them to stop yelling. Subsequently, Toby says he'd vowed to never be like his parents, making his children listen to such fighting, and Kate decides it's time to end their marriage.
In intermittent scenes, Toby moves out and they begin divorce mediation. One night, Toby brings the kids home, asleep. Jack wakes and joyfully says, "you're both here." Toby then suggests he and Kate stop the divorce. Their dynamic has improved, and he'll try harder in therapy. But Kate says everyone is better because they're apart. Toby desperately confesses he is terrified. He doesn't want to be alone, start over, and live half his life without his kids, and he doesn't want their story to end like this. He kisses Kate, but she rebuffs him, so he leaves, crushed.
Flashforward to signing their divorce papers. On their way out, Kate, showing her newfound Zen-master persona, tells Toby just because their marriage is over, doesn't mean their story is; they were meant to find each other, be together, and now be apart. She insists Toby will understand someday, but he coldly disagrees.
The day of the divorce, Phillip invites Kate out to karaoke in Koreatown, to comfort her. Together, they sing "Tubthumping (I Get Knocked Down)." Soon after, they have a first date. When a mariachi band approaches them, Phillip panics over the public attention. Kate grabs his hand in support, but upon recognition of the embrace, Kate excuses herself, sullenly.
Phillip pursues her and asks what's wrong. Kate says she and Toby swallowed their feelings for too long, and she never wants to experience that kind of relationship again. Given that, she asks Phillip why he's interested in her, since he's a serial womanizer who dates toothpick-sized women, and she's "a recently divorced, non-toothpick … mother of two" and he usually avoids her kind of messy and complicated.
Phillip rejects her claim and tells a story to prove Kate wrong. His first wife wasn't perfect, but he still thought her beautiful. They had trouble conceiving, through three rounds of costly IVF. Phillip refused to try a fourth time because he felt their efforts had destroyed the bright life they once had together. In anger, his wife got in a cab to head to her mother's. Five minutes down the road, she was killed by a drunk driver. Phillip says he's trying to be happy again and Kate makes him happy. Then, he kisses her.
Down the line, Toby confronts Phillip about how he expects him to interact with Jack and Hailey if he's getting serious with Kate. Phillip admits he plans to propose soon, then agrees to not yell around or at the kids, per Toby's orders. Toby confesses he thought he and Kate would reunite, but clearly that dream is dead. Nevertheless, Toby extends an olive branch in the form of teaching Phillip about American football, noting he should know it since it's a big deal to Kate, because of her father. Again, Jack looms large in Kate's life, even without her realizing.
Fast forward to Phillip proposing, during dinner at home, with young Jack and Hailey happily holding signs of encouragement. Then, there's an engagement party. (Note: Here, Madison [Caitlin Thompson] is pregnant by Elijah, and Rebecca [Mandy Moore] seems worse – briefly forgetting Phillip's name – but still going.) Kate makes Phillip join her in singing "Tubthumping," to honor the day things changed for them. Next comes their wedding day. As Kate finishes getting ready for the ceremony, Toby calls.
After Kate and Toby divorce, there's a flashforward montage of the two of them co-parenting increasingly happily, including at the sixth birthday party of the new Big Three (Hailey, Nicky, and Franny). Then there's Toby meeting a woman in a coffee shop. Then Toby, and his wife (as we are to assume from the wedding band on his finger), Phillip, and Kate gathered at a restaurant to watch Jack Damon (baby Jack, all grown up) perform, his own song with them in the crowd. Upon seeing his parents before the show, Jack (Blake Stadnick) repeats what he said that night as a kid: "you're both here." Perhaps the message is: divorce happens, and it's hard, but it can work out for the best for everyone.
Flash-forward again to Kate on her wedding day. Toby calls to say he finally understands what she said the day they divorced – that she was right about their story. Kate smiles, as if that comment is the final step for their post-marriage peace. Katoby the lovers are dead, but remaining is Katoby the co-parents who changed one another's lives.
Kevin and Randall
With this episode, it seems Kate has reached her happy ending. However, there's still plenty unfinished with the Pearson boys. Perhaps they are set to get their own two-episode happy ending arcs next. In fact, the episode hinted at where Kevin and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) stand at the time of Kate's engagement party. Kevin is seemingly back to his womanizing ways, after moving on from Madison … and Cassidy … and Sophie. Everyone keeps calling him out for cycling through commercial actresses, and he reluctantly acknowledges his philandering. At the engagement party, while his latest flame chats with Phillip, Kevin spots Sophie and her husband. Kate and Sophie (Alexandra Breckenridge) apparently rekindled their friendship, and Kevin was warned of her attendance, but evidently, he's still stirred. Could Sophie still be in Kevin's future? Meanwhile, Randall gets a call from Jae-won about donations for his senator campaign. We can bet he'll win, but what will it mean for his family? Here's to finding out in the final six episodes of this twisty family drama.
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