"I think she just ultimately realized, 'Oh, we're never going to be on the same page,'" says the actress, who co-wrote the episode.
Courtesy NBC.
This Is Us - Season 3

You've known the doom and gloom that looms. What you haven't known is how Kate and Toby's marriage winds up in divorce, setting the course for Kate (Chrissy Metz) to marry a curmudgeonly Brit years later. Tuesday's episode of This Is Us, "The Hill," brought D-Day a little closer, unspooling the story of how a mother of two/daughter of an ailing Rebecca (Mandy Moore) journeyed to San Francisco to salvage her strained marriage, only to find more trouble ahead — and a different path to happiness.

Kate spent the weekend as a tourist in Toby's (Chris Sullivan) shiny-happy new life, feeling disconnected from the man he'd become yet tethered to the idea of the manchild that he once was. (So much so, she conjured up conversations with the Toby of yesteryear.) The more that present-day Toby urged her to picture their life together in the Bay Area — such as: setting up a tour for a home for sale that he'd practically already purchased — the hazier things got in San Francisco. After she discovered that he'd secretly turned down a job back home in L.A., that haze turned into dark clouds as they exchanged hard truths and disquieting realizations. The next morning, a chance for repair turned to despair when Toby told his wife that the only way to solve this problem was for her to move the family to San Francisco, even though, as she explained, her ailing mother had relocated to L.A. to be near the family, and even though Jack Jr. is comfortable at the music school for the blind where Kate works.

And so Kate — who was scared to put her face in the water as a young child; who couldn't see any future for herself as a teenager — honored her mother's live-your-best-life speech (much like Justin Hartley's Kevin did in last week's opening trilogy episode), walked up a steep hill (the one that Toby hinted that she couldn't climb), and dialed current boss/future husband Philip (Chris Geere) to inform him that she'd like to be considered for the job that was vacated by a retiring colleague at their school. (Do the geographic math at your own peril.)

Let's turn off this Bill Gates documentary, switch on The Great British Bake Off, pop open a bottle of your finest bubbly, try not to be distracted by a shirtless Brad Pitt, learn more about infrastructure platforms, and climb the nearest hill to interview Chrissy Metz, who not only headlined this episode, she co-wrote it. (In other cast-members-moonlighting-behind-the-scenes news, Moore directed "The Hill," while Sullivan contributed an original song.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So… yay for Kate, but wuh-oh for Kate and Toby?

CHRISSY METZ: Yay for both. And wuh-oh for both. That's really the duality of any relationship, because we all know in our heart and our soul and our spirit when something isn't right, and you're like, "Yeah, but…" We know when we've stayed too long or we are denying our own wants and needs and desires. And what we, of course, come to find out is both Kate and Toby have done that for quite some time. And ultimately it affects the relationship. Those things were said, they needed to be said because they were thought, and that's where the resentment builds, and that's where disdain builds, and where the relationship starts to fall apart.

You could think, "Oh gosh, if they would've talked about this sooner, could they have fixed it?" But I think that they served such beautiful purposes in each other's lives. And that's the bittersweet nature of not only our show, but the way that it's written. Everything has a purpose and a place and a time. And, ooof, it's just really… you know, the end of a time, of an era, of this relationship. They both were so important in each other's lives. And what's beautiful is that neither one of [them] probably would've even been able to choose their paths without each other. It's so bittersweet.

As the end of this episode, Kate climbed a big hill, literally and figuratively, and made that call to Philip. How much of that forward motion was activated by Rebecca's speech at the cabin to make big, scary decisions and live your life to the fullest? And how validating was it that Rebecca made Kate her health care proxy if Miguel (Jon Huertas) wasn't around?

Absolutely. Kate might feel like the glue holding these two alpha male brothers together. She's very strong and vulnerable at the same time. All the kids are. But never did she ever feel like she was going to be appointed [as Rebecca's health care proxy] because she never thought she could handle the big stuff or handle the scary stuff or these really tough decisions that are going to be thrown at her. But I think that with her mom choosing her, it's a validation of where she was and where she's come to as far as a mother and a daughter and a woman. That definitely bolstered her confidence and also made her think about, "I might have to make some tough decisions and I might have to say things people don't want to hear."  

Kate has never really wanted to rock the boat. Now she's getting to, because she's putting herself first. And ultimately, that's what we all have to do. It's such a beautiful character arc for Kate — and for me to play. Then for her to decide, "Oh, I do want to teach! And I do want to ask for the things that I feel like I deserve" — there's so many times that we don't ask for the raise or ask for anything that's scary or do the things that are unexpected of us. And because Rebecca's time is slipping away, Kate feels so motivated to live a life that she knew she always wanted to live. Which is, again, such beautiful storytelling with Kate and Rebecca, and their journey, previous and in the future.

Randall (Sterling K. Brown) looked surprised and hurt when Rebecca told the kids that Kate would be the back-up caregiver. What was your reaction when you found out? Were you as surprised as Kate?

I was absolutely just as surprised. I just can't believe that she chose her. She looks to Randall like, "We know it's going to be him. Because it's always him." I think Rebecca knew exactly what she was doing, and I think Randall will understand that.

Here, Kate does decide it's time to rock the boat, choose what's important to her, take control and seek her own happiness. We've talked in the past about her doing this and having agency in her life. The moment she confronted Marc comes to mind, and it feels like now we're getting pretty close to her attaining her full power.

Yeah, it's coming. I think it's going to be a tough few episodes for people to watch, because naturally people want to choose sides. But what's so amazing is that you're going to be able to side with both Kate and Toby in different instances and different times. What's so great is nobody's wrong and nobody's right. It's what they need to do.

Building on that, you can see that both parties are thriving in their own respective environments. They love each other and want the same thing in theory, but sometimes people grow in opposite directions. Maybe it's nobody's fault and they both make good points, but did you think Kate's points were maybe a little better?

For me, I was always like, "Kate's right! Kate's right!" And then I'm thinking, "You know, Toby is, too." Because Toby has sacrificed being near his family and taking a job in a city that's wildly expensive and traveling and trying to make it all work, but still being absent as a father in many regards and not seeing this day-to-day growth [of] his kids, and Kate feeling like she's a single parent essentially. At the same time, he's like, "Oh, I did this for you," but now he's thriving at this new job, happier than he's ever been. So it's like, you don't want to say anything — you don't want to become that person — but she has to because she can't move there. That's not an option when her mother's sick and her children are comfortable — at Jack's school with his disabilities. That's really hard. [Toby] means well, but it's just not practical. There's so many ways that you're like, "Oh, he's right! She's right! No…" And we will come to see in episodes 11 and 12 where this conversation eventually takes them, and… whoooa Nellie!

This is Us
Chrissy Metz as Kate, Chris Sullivan as Toby
| Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

There's the hill moment where he calls a ride instead. There's the visit to the house for sale, where he's already gotten them pre-approved for a loan —

How about when he didn't tell her that he had a job offer somewhere else?!?!

That's what I'm building to. The biggest crime was that he hid the job offer in L.A. from her. He's really made this a habit: He hid his workouts from her. Last season, he took the job in San Francisco without telling her. Can the break-up also be attributed to communication breakdown and the accumulation of trust-breaking decisions in which he doesn't include her?

Definitely. When you put them all together, you're like, "Why isn't he telling her?" And if he's not telling her, it's because he's afraid of what she's going to say? And if he's afraid, why is he afraid? And is it because he feels like he's doing something wrong? And then you're thinking, "Oh, well, is Kate not receptive? Is she not trying to hear him?" And if that's the case, do they not have open communication? It's a whole thing. I think that's such a huge factor in what happens between them. Because when trust is violated, it's really hard to go back from that. Really hard. I mean, you're always going to be second guessing. You're always going to be thinking, "Ugh, okay, if he's going to the store, is he really just going to the store?" Because if you're going to lie about the big things, surely you're lying about the little things.

The next morning, Toby might have been able to dissipate the tension a bit with an apology, but he comes off as intractable by telling her that her moving to San Francisco is the only option, even though she agreed to this long-distance arrangement to help save their relationship. In your mind, was that the moment that broke her? Or was it more with the discovery that he was hiding the job offer and couldn't justify that his decision was based on salary?

I think it was the audacity for him to even say that I need to do that. Why is it that I have to be the one to move when everything is settled and good in L.A.? I think she just ultimately realized, "Oh, we're never going to be on the same page. Even if I moved there, it would be something else." Because of the distress or because he didn't want hurt her feelings and never was honest with her. Whatever his reasoning was, it's like, "This is a fight that we will continue to keep having over and over and over, because we're two different people now in two different places and happiness means two different things." It was all of it, but also that was a very big eye-opening conversation and argument. It was like, "Oh! Huh. So he gets to put himself first, but Kate doesn't get to? That doesn't work for me anymore."

What was it like to act opposite old Toby? It was almost like the show had digitally stitched in old footage of him.

I don't know if people realize: Chris shaved his beard, they hand-laid hair on a wig, so he looks exactly like he did in the first couple seasons. I mean, the hair and makeup alone is incredible. And also the nuances and who Toby used to be and the jokes — Chris just really embodied that old Toby again. And it's such a juxtaposition to how he dresses now. One of my favorite scenes — and yes, I wrote it — is when he's making fun of new, fancy, thinks-he's-too-cool-for-school Toby. That was just really fun because you got to see the charm and the silliness that Kate really fell in love with, while her subconscious is completely comparing the old and the new Toby together. That was really cool the way they did that, and Mandy did such a great job with how she was going to direct it and how they're going to do split-screen and how it was all going to come together. So yeah, it was really cool. You sort of get to take a journey back in time.

It's just so wonderful to see not only how it was shot and what commitment Chris took on that, but how you really fall in love with the person you fall in love with and when they change, it changes everything. Kate and Toby want each other to be happy, but that doesn't always include one another. And we hold onto what's normal, what's comfortable, what's historically worked in the past to some degree. There's also a letting go while she's trying to hold onto old Toby, which is also very difficult.

We know this marriage isn't going to work out, given the flash-forward to Kate's second wedding. But we didn't know who we were going to get there. What has struck you about the way that this marriage has been broken down?

At least for as far as the way I played it, you really see Kate standing her ground. I think she's treaded her ground, but she hasn't stood her ground before, and I was like, "I'll be damned!" He's been convincing her since the weight-loss group — she said she didn't want a boyfriend. She's been placating and he's been convincing her and she's like, [affects pleasant tone], "Okay." And now she's like, "Oh hell, no! I can't do this!" This is the whole journey of her life: she's put everybody else first. So I'm most surprised by the things that they wrote for her to express and how she really firmly holds her ground and she has ground to stand on.

How might Toby react when Kate tells him about the phone call that she just made?

Personally, I don't think he ever thought he would hear that from her. Not to say he was conniving, but I don't think he ever thought she would really do it and make that decision. I think she really surprise[s] him… All the Kate and Toby stuff coming up [is] going to be heartbreaking and exciting to watch.

Dan [Fogelman, the show's creator] offered cast members a chance to direct an episode. Both you and Susan Kelechi Watson chose to write an episode. Why did you decide to write instead?

You know, I haven't had 20 years of experience as Justin or Milo [Ventimiglia] or Sterling or Mandy has had in this industry as far as being an actor. This is my first series lead, and I really feel like the words are a foundation for the story that you're telling. And I'm like, "I really want to get that understood and really digest it, before I could sit around and bark where people should go and what they should do." I'm joking. Not that we didn't all have scaffolding keeping us safe on a beautiful show — we couldn't really muck it up — but I didn't think that I was ready to direct. There's so much more I need to learn. I've always obviously had a love for words, whether it's music or a script, so it was just something I wanted to do since I got on the show. And I'm so glad that it was [a Kate] episode and something that was so close to me, but also David [Windsor] and Casey [Johnson, who co-wrote the episode with Metz and Windsor] were so awesome.

My goal was like, "I want Dan Fogelman to be proud of me, and to think something I write is funny." We wrote different acts and then we compiled it all together, and then it was sent to Dan and he wrote notes. He didn't know who wrote what. He wrote about the jokes. I was like, "Oh my gosh! He likes my jokes! That was very validating, because I just revere him so deeply.

The final installment in the trilogy is Randall's episode, airing next week. What's your cryptic tease?

Rebecca's influence is so strong, which goes to show just what a great mother she was to everybody. He's making a very big decision that's going to change his life in many regards.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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This Is Us - Season 3
This Is Us

NBC’s beloved era-hopping drama tells the story of the Pearson family through the years.

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