Kevin and Madison finally figure out their relationship after Kevin catches her boyfriend Elijah rummaging through her jewelry.
Teased in a flash-forward when adult Jack talked with his wife about his father Toby’s big green egg that he was now using being a central figure on the day his parents’ marriage imploded, that day was now here on “This Is Us.”
After separating the Big Three for the annual “Trilogy” series of episodes, this week’s hour brought them back together at Kate’s house for the ten-year anniversary of Rebecca and Miguel’s wedding.
To juxtapose this day’s events with an appropriate flashback, we jumped back to the ten-year anniversary of Rebecca and Jack, where we got an early glimpse of the unique bond that keeps the Big Three so tight in one another’s lives — for good and bad.
Obviously, there were a lot of huge and pivotal moments in the collapsing relationship between Kate and Toby. But we also got a potentially huge, albeit small, moment between Kevin and Madison, with an assist from Randall, and a poignant but powerful moment for Rebecca.
We also spent an inordinately large amount of time with little Jack, even getting to see the world as he sees it. He’s not blind as in total darkness, but rather he sees light and extremely blurry shapes. It’s not enough to really make out anything, which is key to what happens.
As we do every week, we’re going to single out the show’s most powerful moments, scoring them by how many tissues we tore through just to watch them. Believe us, these are happy tears of anguish.
“I Think Elijah’s Gonna Propose to Me”
Watching Kate and Toby endure every parent’s worst nightmare while also fighting almost daily over their marriage had Kevin in his feelings again about Madison. Thankfully, Randall was on hand to keep him from falling victim to his own worst tendencies. After Kevin caught Madison’s boyfriend Elijah rifling through her jewelry, the truth came out. He’d brought a ring sizer so he could propose.
Later in the hour, after things calmed down, Kevin checked in on his own babies, and Madison as well. There, he tried to create that separation between them by saying he would replace her as his emergency contact. She then opened up to him that she thinks Elijah is going to propose — and she’s excited about it. In a sweetly weird moment, she also told him she would be his emergency contact as long as she needed him.
After he caught Elijah, Kevin needed Randall to take his phone away from him so he wouldn’t do something impulsive and reckless. He also got Kevin to admit he probably still couldn’t tell Madison he loved her. He’s just trying to fill this hole in his heart that’s always been there, whether the piece fits or not. In the end, though, he was able to let Madison go. That he was wistful about it speaks of sincerity.
1 tissue (sometimes personal growth is very, very slow)
Kate and Toby are at each other’s throats seemingly all the time, and yet neither of them wants it that way. Toby tells Beth distinctly that he even tells himself every time he goes into a room with her to stay light and above the fray. And then he fails miserably, just as Kate does.
It’s like they’re in this impossible spiral of frustration because they both think the other is being selfish, they both think the other isn’t listening to them or their wants and needs. And most painfully, they both fear that the other might be perfectly happy with the way things are between them right now — living separately.
2 tissues (fear unaddressed often manifests as anger)
“At Least Let Me Do That”
Bubbling beneath the surface of the ongoing fight between Kate and Toby as the house literally begins to fall apart around them — heavy-handed symbolism of the crumbling state of their marriage as the roof caves in in the kitchen, where see them most, and their bedroom, where their intimacy lives — there’s Rebecca’s ongoing struggles with her declining mental health and her children tiptoeing around it.
Finally, as everyone is up to their eyeballs in stress trying to deal with the pipes bursting in the ceiling, Rebecca snaps and demands that she be allowed to help. Rebecca has held this family together singlehandedly for longer years than they’ve been without Jack and she’s feeling cast aside and unneeded right now. She knows that time is coming, but so long as it isn’t here yet, she is here. See her, dammit!
2 tissues (frustration of feeling unwanted when you can help)
“The Difference Is You Moved for Him”
Just like Rebecca and everyone else in the family, Beth tried to tell Toby that he and Kate will get through this rough patch. She and Randall struggled when they were apart — and had us all thinking the “d” word — so there’s precedent in her mind. But there’s also the fact that as Beth and Randall grew and healed as people, they grew together. Kate and Toby are growing apart, finding value in different things.
Even in this moment, Toby’s heels were dug in, unable to see Kate’s point of view. It’s hard when you’ve worked so hard to reach a place where you’re finally happy with where you are in life and with who you are, after years of self-loathing, to think of giving that up. Instead, you want your partner to be there supporting you and happy with you. The problem here is that both have done this growth and they both want the other’s support in their found happiness. But they literally can’t have it both ways. Should one give up their happiness for the other’s?
2 tissues (not realizing you’ve reached a crossroads that’s more an impasse)
At the climax of the fighting between Kate and Toby, we got the culmination of this week’s flashback sequence. In that, Jack and Rebecca had to cut their dinner date short because the Big Three had locked the babysitter in the bathroom. It turns out they did so because she called Kate “Chatty Cathy,” and her brothers rose to her defense. In the end, they are a united front.
And so, it was inevitable what was going to happen when Randall and Kevin pulled up to the house as Kate and Toby were fighting. With instincts to protect their sister when Toby started pointing his finger in her face, they stepped in to try and calm the situation. But what Toby saw was that he was the outsider, the enemy, and perhaps in that moment he felt like he always would be.
The fight also revealed just how deep the divide between the two was when Kate called out Toby for only seeing Jack’s limitations. He countered by telling her she was irresponsibly refusing to see any limitations for their son. Both are several invested and worried about his future, but they are coming at it from totally different perspectives, with neither able to see or acknowledge there could be value in the other’s approach, too.
3 tissues (despite everything feeling like you’re never good enough)
The most terrifying moment of the night came in the middle of the ceiling collapse. With chaos erupting all around them, Toby quickly put Jack in his room but neglected to “click” lock the baby gate. Then, Kate let the plumber in and neglected to lock the front door. When Jack later made his way out of the house to go to the park, there was enough blame to go around.
The episode opened from little Jack’s perspective as once again Kate and Toby were fighting about her not wanting to move to San Francisco and going for that job at her school. Then, we got to see Kate’s song ritual with Jack to help him start to learn how to navigate to the park. Unfortunately, she perhaps taught him too well.
Jack navigated himself perfectly to the park, remembering the counts, the direction, the sounds and even the safety tips she’d taught him. It’s great for independence, but not when no one in the house knew that he’d gone. And just like that, an already strained relationship found itself in the midst of every parent’s worst nightmare: losing their child. To make matters worse, both parties were at least partially to fault, with the biggest culprit being that they’d lost their ability to meaningfully communicate and were living constantly under stress and on edge.
4 tissues (so many ways this could have ended in disaster)
Rebecca may be feeling useless at times, but she came through in a huge way. While helping Jack get his shoes on earlier, he told her all about his different shoes, and how the red boots were for going to the park. So in a way, it was Rebecca’s memory that saved the day. As soon as she noticed he’d switched shoes to those boots, she knew right where he was going.
She told Kate as she ran by, but it was Rebecca who made it to the park shortly after Jack took a tumble. He perfectly nailed every step of the journey until the final one. That’s where Kate and Toby let him run to the swing set. Only without their guidance, he took off in the wrong direction and tumbled down enough steps to give him the scar his wife talked about in the future.
Later, Rebecca came face to face with how she’s changing when she realized she couldn’t remember Jack’s information to fill out paperwork at the hospital. But for that moment, she came through and saved the day. She held the family together — even if for just that moment.
4 tissues (the cruel give and take)
“Mommy and Daddy Are Mad a Lot”
Rebecca was more than the heroine in finding Jack, she was also the much-needed voice to help soothe him. Parents like to think that their kids don’t see what they’re doing or understand what’s going on around them, but kids pick up on everything. In fact, Jack’s limited life experience makes him even more keenly aware of what’s going on between Kate and Toby.
He doesn’t know why they’re mad all the time because he doesn’t have that capacity, but it was heartbreaking when he sat down on that kitchen floor in the midst of the chaos and began to cry. He knows pain and hurt when he hears it, even if it’s masquerading as anger and shouting. His mommy and daddy are hurting and that hurts him.
4 tissues (they catch everything)
“Do You Even Want Me to Move Back to L.A.?”
In the middle of their front yard fight, Toby took a jab that proved how much hurt and fear is lurking behind all that anger. All the while, he’d been urging her to move to San Francisco because that’s where he’s found his happiness, but nobody had spoken the other side of that. Kate had never pleaded with him to move back to L.A.
So, he put it in words. And she never answered the question. The truth is, in that moment she may not have known the answer. Certainly, her own emotions were heightened. On top of that, the awkwardness of Kevin and Randall pulling up at just that moment only made things more uncomfortable for everyone involved.
The bottom line, though, is that Toby was finally angry enough to put words to his biggest fear. What if it’s not just that Kate has built this life in L.A. that she doesn’t want to give up, or that she doesn’t want to give up her happiness to move to San Francisco? What if it’s that she’s built this happiness specifically because he’s not there? What if that’s what she really wants?
5 tissues (putting voice to fears is the hardest thing)
“I Don’t Know if Toby and I Are Gonna Make It”
Kate may not know the answer to this question, as she sits with her two brothers toward the close of the episode, but we do. We know that not only are they not going to make it, but the events of this episode are the catalyst for the end of their marriage. Yes, Jack was fine, but it was their disastrous communication and dysfunction that set the stage for what could have been so much worse.
We love to see the brotherly support, even as Kevin and Randall could offer no real words of encouragement or support. Gone were all the platitudes that Rebecca and Beth had said earlier that they would get through this. Kevin and Randall were there. In the yard. They saw.
They know that she’s right. That wasn’t just a disagreement or a failure to communicate. It was a failure to really dig deep and look inside to see what the actual truth of the matter is. Can either of them compromise themselves enough at this point to find their way back to one another or are they too far apart already?
5 tissues (the realization often comes before the actual end — and hurts as much)
“That’s Where Mommy and Daddy Are Happy”
Perhaps that moment of realization came for Kate when she learned why Jack had gone to the park. Why had their son, who loved them and whom they loved more than anything, taken himself out of the house where his entire family was to go on his own to the park?
He did it because, as we saw in the opening scenes of this episode, Kate and Toby are happy when they’re there. Sure, there were still little snipes at one another, but mostly they were doing their best to be in sync. And that’s because they were united on the one thing they could agree on at this point: they love Jack.
Unfortunately, once a marriage is reduced to little more than a mutual love for the children, it’s in a very dangerous place. You can’t stay together when that’s all that’s holding you together. As we said earlier, children pick up on everything. Jack knew that the park was happiness and home was not. It’s a limited understanding of everything, but enough to be heartbreaking.
6 tissues (out of the mouths of babes comes truth)
“This Is Us” is bringing new episodes non-stop until the series finale, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.