This Is Us recap: Toby and Kate wrestle with their changed relationship
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Last week's This is Us marked the start of the final season's Big Three trilogy, a noted show tradition. Things began with Kevin (Justin Hartley) having a crisis of confidence across three time periods. This week, the focus turns to Kate (Chrissy Metz) and what she deals with while Kevin's journey unfolds in shared or concurrent moments.
On the day of the young Pearson family's pool trip, while Kevin yearns to jump off the diving board in the deep end, Kate refuses to try swimming on her own at all. In the college era, as Kevin laments not belonging in the deep end, Kate laments her lack of ambition or future hopes. In the present, after a messy Thanksgiving dinner, Kate and Toby (Chris Sullivan) work on their marital troubles.
Whereas Kevin's story was about self-confidence and lacking substance to stand upon (foundation), Kate's is about independence versus reliance, and lacking substance to walk toward (goals). Let's soak up all that unfolds in this sense, in Kate's season six, episode nine spotlight, dubbed "The Hill."
Little Kate and the Pool Day
When the young Pearson family visits the pool one summer day, while Kevin marvels at kids jumping off the diving board, Kate marvels at a girl swimming on her back. However, she herself does not want to get in. She clings tightly to her mother in resistance. Apparently, like Kevin, Kate quit swimming lessons too early.
Eventually, Rebecca (Mandy Moore, who guest directs this episode) pursues the frustrated Kevin, leaving Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to try to coax Kate into swimming. Kate defiantly insists she won't be convinced. Jack admires her spunk, but nevertheless, carries her in and tries several tactics of persuasion. When he insists she let go of him and try at least floating, she declares she's never going to let go, saying, "Why would I?"
Jack seems to consider her attitude an adorable reflection of their closeness and thus, he caves to her will and takes her out of the pool. But it's possible Kate's refusal to swim on her own by that logic is perhaps not particularly healthy. At least, that's what seems to be the takeaway when the memory is considered along with two other moments from Kate's life.
College-era Kate and the Empty Pool
Kate (Hannah Zeile) and Randall (Niles Fitch) follow Kevin (Logan Shroyer) to the closed-down pool and cheer him up through his self-loathing. Then, as they're leaving the empty pool, Kate does her own reflecting about how empty she feels.
This reflection starts the moment the Big Three realize they're locked in the pool grounds. She jokes if they die there, the news will read "Sunny Delight poster boy, valedictorian, and 'other' died trapped in the pool."
As they try to find a way out, she says aloud that she's trapped — but she means regarding her life. She is stuck in a cycle of menial activity. Her brothers tell her to focus on good things, like her future and dreams, but that's Kate's problem. She can't think of anything she wants for her future. She doesn't see a family, or an ideal job — nothing. First cry of the episode. Uncertainty of the future is no joke.
When we return to that scene, the siblings have moved on to their last resort for escape: climbing the fence. Kate doesn't think she can do it but her brothers insist. Randall climbs over, ready to help her get down, and Kevin sits atop the fence to help her up. He tells her one step at a time. She reluctantly tries, but slips, and refuses to try again.
Present-day Kate, the Independent Woman … and Her Two Men
As Toby and Kate head home from the volatile Thanksgiving, Kate, undoubtedly with Rebecca's speech in her mind, says they can't sustain the long-distance marriage so she wants to visit him in San Francisco to assess the possibility of life there. Toby is ecstatic.
Before Kate's visit, we see a quasi-montage of a normal day for Kate. She appears to be a happy, super mom and teacher. She brings the kids to the park, singing out scenery and directions along the way to orient Jack. She helps her student finish an original song, then leads a retirement party for an older colleague — declining the cake she presents.
That night, Kate and Madison watch Fight Club. Kate says she sometimes imagines seeing Old Toby — the Toby her husband was before losing weight, getting his new job, and dressing better — as if he's her own Tyler Durden (the Brad Pitt to current Toby's Edward Norton). Madison assures Kate the old Toby is still in him, and she just has to find him again during her visit.
What unfolds over the weekend is a roller coaster ride, during which Kate can't help but compare Old Toby and New Toby. First, New Toby sadly can't pick her up from the airport, because of work. Then Kate and New Toby drink fancy champagne and giddily have sex for the first time in a long time. Then New Toby sadly disrupts post-coital bliss for a work call, and Kate imagines Old Toby insulting New Toby — his interest in basketball and fancy pants, how he doesn't make Kate laugh as much.
Kate rejects New Toby's carefully-planned itinerary for spontaneity. Spontaneity fortunately proves fun, but at one point, to Kate's chagrin, Toby implies she can't handle walking up a big hill. At a party with Toby's boss that night, Kate has delightful interactions with Toby's boss and co-workers, and is happy to see him in his element. But that happiness is marred by two events.
Before the party, Kate is overwhelmed to learn Toby has a house he wants to make an offer on in two days, and has already received pre-approval for a loan and gotten a quote for their LA house. Then, during the party, Kate learns Toby turned down a job offer in LA without telling her.
When Kate angrily confronts him, he says the offer was less money for a lesser title, but Kate feels betrayed. Kate says it's not fair Toby wants to uproot them, taking Kate from her sick mother and her job, taking Jack from a place he's familiar with, and taking both their kids from their cousins. Toby says they need his job to fund the expenses that will come with giving Jack his best possible life given his blindness.
But Kate asserts it's not just about money for Toby — he's the happiest he's ever been despite living away from the family because of his job and stature. When he notes she should want him to be that happy, she says the problem is this Toby who drinks expensive champagne and knows how to work a room isn't the goofy guy from their first date with whom she fell in love.
He says that version of him was a miserable, insecure, self-loathing mess whose goofiness was self-defense, and if he hadn't changed, he'd probably be dead. He asks her (rightfully) what's wrong with the new him. Kate achingly says he's just different. Toby retorts that she's changed, too. Whereas it used to be them against the world, she loves the life she's building without him, as a working supermom. He says she's become the fully realized version of herself because he's gone. Kate admits she does feel full and happy, except the man who helped her get there is now the only thing making her sad. This conversation suggests they helped each other grow, but that same growth is pulling them apart.
In the morning, Toby lovingly says he's happy they both have discovered their worth, but says the only way forward as a family is for her to move to San Francisco. Floored by this sugar-coated ultimatum, Kate walks out. She heads to the hill Toby had implied she couldn't handle and starts to climb. She labors, but eventually reaches the top. When she does, she calls Philip (Chris Geere) and asks to be considered for the retiring colleague's position.
In this moment, it seems the lesson of the present and past situations converged is that Kate thrives when on her own. When she had her father holding her in the pool, she refused to swim because she didn't have to. When she had her brothers around, she refused to climb the fence. But when Toby left for work, Kate learned to be a working, single mom, and in that solo environment, she has thrived. Kate final has the future she couldn't imagine as a teen, and it's alone yet linked to two men. The one who helped precipitate it, Old Toby, is gone. The other, it seems, will pay the price, and be forced to get gone. Kate's best life might not have room for New Toby.
We're elated to see this fate unfold as the season continues. Do we raise a fancy champagne glass in cheer for the woman Kate will become, or in sorrow for the man she'll leave behind? Or both? Sound off below.
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