This Is Us Season 6, Episode 12
Posted by Shannon
“Katoby” marks the 100th episode of This Is Us.
First, let’s acknowledge that no such milestone would ever pass on this show without complete and total intent, and then let’s sit with that for a moment. The 100th episode isn’t about each of our Big Three, or about their parents, or based in some cataclysmic flashback. Instead, it’s a deep dive on the relationship of Kate and Toby, its deterioration in marriage form, and its phoenix-like rebirth into something different. By extension, it’s about the ways all of us interact with each other. About how we carry ourselves and our families when tragedies happen – not just the earth shaking, horrific ones like house fires and sudden death, but smaller, everyday tragedies like the ending of a fraught marriage. This is a deeply specific story, with a huge amount of power in that specificity. And, in classic This Is Us form, it’s rooted in the ways our individual lives cross over into the lives of our loved ones. It’s as fundamentally optimistic as the show gets.
Oh, and it’s told backwards, forwards, and upside down. So yeah — a perfect 100th episode.
We begin at the flash forward from the end of season five, on Kate and Philip’s outrageously well styled wedding day. Just as it did in “The Adirondacks,” the future wedding acts as a bookend for this hour. We start off with Toby calling to tell Kate that he now understands what she said to him the day they signed the divorce papers — and work our way back to that same moment, filling out the in-between as we go. The zigzag storytelling works magnificently, and on second viewing, I caught reference to so many key moments in the other timelines. Everything snaps together perfectly to create a portrait of this specific branch of the Pearson family tree, in all its forms. But before Kate can get re-married, she must get divorced. Which brings us to the first of two throughlines in the hour.
The most heartbreaking thing about the deterioration of Kate and Toby’s marriage is the inevitability of it all. I don’t mean it’s inevitable because we know it’s coming. It’s inevitable because by the time Toby sat down at that table and promised to do “whatever it takes to save our family,” they were already doomed. It’s all too little, too late. No amount of counseling could salvage such a fundamental and all-encompassing communication breakdown. And maybe even more than that, Toby making himself miserable for the sake of Kate and the kids was just never going to work out the way he wanted it to. The kind of sadness that comes across his face when he walks into that new LA office is too deep, too fundamental, to be talked through without additional action.
Their efforts in 16 months of therapy are both real and half hearted. They start off falling over each other to be understanding and complimentary, and end up with Kate arriving late week after week and Toby blatantly asking, “Diane, you’ve met a lot of miserable couples. Some make it, some don’t. In your professional opinion, which kind are we?” It’s not any better outside the therapist’s office; that same walking-on-eggshells feeling we’ve had since Thanksgiving is carrying through to the kids’ second birthday. While Kate is getting kids to sing “Backstreet’s Back” for 90s week and living her best life, Toby just can’t bring himself to be outwardly happy for her professional success. (“Now if it just paid something, we’d really come out on top” is not the jab at the school you think it is, Tobe.)
Kate responds by stepping away to quietly cry, and ask her twin a question she knows full well he can’t answer. No one can tell Kate when “it’s time to end the marriage” except for Kate. This is a quietly beautiful and important scene all on its own, but all I could think about was the bookend of Kevin’s talk with Toby earlier in the season. It was so clear to Toby while he spoke to Kevin that the healthy choice for Kevin’s kids was a life apart from Madison, with clear boundaries and happier parents. And that advice, in probably the final scene we’ll ever get of Toby and Kevin learning from each other, is a version of what Kevin shares here. That “if” it comes to separation, they will “all be happy again.” All I could think of this entire time was how much pain Toby could have saved himself if he’d just taken his own advice.
The half hearted effort of a quiet dinner together blows up so fast. When I said before that Kate and Toby’s relationship had moved past the point of reconciliation, I was speaking mostly about Toby’s struggles, but the fact is, Kate’s long gone, too. Toby’s right — she IS criticizing his parenting constantly. It’s condescending and dismissive and never ending, and the thing that makes it even worse is that it’s so clear Kate can’t help herself. She just can’t make it stop. And that’s what finally pushes him to snap: “It’s not because I lost a bunch of weight, it’s not because it took me too long to bond with Jack or because I moved to San Francisco, or any of the other bs that we talk about in there. Turns out, the only crime that I can consistently find myself guilty of is not being Jack Pearson… This marriage has been a rigged game… I’m sorry that Jack Pearson died and you ended up having to marry me instead of him.”
Whew. Deep breath, folks. I’ve got some things to say about this. First and most importantly, this is the perfect example of a terrible thing that gets said in a fight that is both sort of true and also completely unfair, with each side stepping on the other and making it impossible to parse in the moment. The first half of Toby’s argument IS real. All of the day to day reasons they’re fighting have taken on a life of their own. It’s bigger than each of those things now, and again, that’s what leads to the inevitability of doom. But obviously the second half isn’t fair, and not just because it’s a fucking terrible thing to say to a person. It may have been true in the early moments of their relationship, even of their early marriage. But Kate has moved so far past Toby’s claims. And the fact that he can’t see it, that he can’t see how much she’s grown and changed and evolved — just as much as he has! — is what really marks the death knell.
So Toby moves out, and into a miserable, tiny apartment nearby where he slowly starts to make a new life. There are fits and starts – painful ones, culminating in a final, desperate attempt to reconcile after things really do start to turn around. But they’re turning around because both Kate and Toby are happier people apart, and the only reasons Toby lists for trying again are coming from a place of fear. (“I am terrified, I don’t want to be alone, I don’t want to start over, I don’t want to live half of my life without my kids.”) Kate can see right through that fear and – just as Kevin said she would – knows that she’s made the right call. She signs the papers, and tells Toby the thing I’ve been saying for a season and a half: “Just because our marriage is over, doesn’t mean our story’s over.”
I love seeing the kind of life Toby sets up for himself after the dust of the divorce settles. I love that he sets his new, substantially lighter house up so the layout matches Jack’s, and I love that he eventually can casually join Kate and Phillip for dinner, and I love the very punny woman he eventually meets and marries, and I love the contentedness that comes over his face in the later flash forwards. But if I may nitpick, one thing? I wish we’d also seen him thriving in a better, more satisfying job. Because he deserves that just as much as anything else.
Zagging throughout the scenes of Kate and Toby’s marriage devolving and evolving are scenes of Philip and Kate falling in love. And the timelines overlap in such a way that breaking them up into vignettes works a whole lot better than they would have chronologically; the whiplash of knowing that Kate and Philip’s first deeper emotional moment came hours after signing the divorce papers would have just come across as disorienting if we didn’t already know that this dear British man would join Kate on stage during their engagement party to sing a rousing and bizarrely sentimental version of “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba.
Suffice it to say, Philip has a whole lot of emotional work to do in a short amount of time. (I’m thinking specifically of the agitation many viewers had against Miguel in the early years. We’ve only got six episodes left, we don’t have more time for a slow burn!) But the hour is scientifically arranged to get us on this man’s side immediately, and it works. He’s a sweetheart: he gets the kids to hold up signs when he proposes, he jumps up on stage without a second thought during the aforementioned engagement party.
The thing that struck me the hardest was, of course, the scene with Toby in the sports bar. The whole thing is a tightrope walk; Toby’s clearly still been hoping he and Kate would reconcile, and I really felt for him, even while I know it would be a bad idea. His intention with asking Philip to meet for a drink was to have “a real conversation about what I expect from you regarding the way you behave around them,” and all of a sudden he finds himself preparing for Kate and Philip’s imminent engagement. While Toby’s demands that Philip never yell at or around the kids seem ironic, he has every right to make them, especially given the circumstances. But the thing that struck me the most here was Philip’s response to that very claim; that he’d only heard good things, as of late.
Because again, it all comes back to Kate’s certainty that this was not the end of their story. That she and Toby could successfully co-parent from separate households, and that the best and most respectful way forward was to divorce. To set them up for a world in which she only had good things to say about her ex and his parenting skills, a world in which Toby CAN settle into that role in a real, grounded way. Despite Toby’s initial response to Kate’s guarantee that “we were meant to be together, and now we’re meant to be apart, and I know that one day you will see it,” he DOES come to see it. And the phone call he makes during that beautiful wedding day is thanks to every step they took to get there.
Colors of the Painting
- Pour one out for the running gag of Kevin’s various flash forward spokesperson girlfriends. I’m sure condom girl, State Farm girl and Verizon girl are all lovely women but it’s obvious none of them are endgame. And with Elijah and Madison clearly happily married in the future timelines, she’s officially out of the Kevin romance picture.
- Kevin in that blue henley when he’s consoling Kate. That’s all, that’s the bullet.
- “How do Toby’s feelings about his feelings make you feel?”
- “I had absolutely no follow ups to ‘How about those Rams?’”
- Every SINGLE dress Kate wears in this episode is gorgeous. Shout out to the costume department this hour.
- “Good God man, do you not even understand the objective of this game?”
- “I thought I did until just now!”
- I guess I do have to take a moment to talk about Philip’s past, but all I really want to say is that while I’m sure it will be very important to Kate’s connection to him that he also has had massive loss in his life, I am exhausted by the whole “she got hit by a car moments after leaving me” thing. Dan Fogleman at his worst tbh.
- I know I swore off predictions and that this is probably jinxing it, but …. I feel like the rest of the season is gonna happen in the flash forward time? At least mostly. We’ve skipped ahead in too many plots too late in the game to spend a lot more episodes in what has been the modern timeline.
- This song playing in the elevator after Kate and Toby’s first meeting with the divorce lawyer was inspired, as were both of their reactions. And three cheers to Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan for carrying this hour with grace, real pain, and gentle humor. What a way to go out.
- I can’t believe this show is making me write about Chumbawamba, and yet, here we are. When’s the last time YOU watched the “Tubthumping” music video?? Leave a message in the comments if you have any idea why they’re singing into a megaphone.