– “Whatever it takes.”
I have to admit, when I heard that This Is Us was planning to do yet another Kate and Toby centric episode, I worried the show might be running the well dry. How many more new angles could the series possibly find on a brutal breakup that’s been a long (long) time coming? Thankfully, the writers seemed to have sensed that it was time to shake things up; especially in honor of the show’s 100th episode. “Katoby” makes a bold choice to not just look at Kate and Toby’s inevitable split, but to explore the next few decades of their lives too.
While Kate jokes about how much simpler it would be if you could live life backwards, “Katoby” takes an even less linear path than that. It hops around in time between the aftermath of Kate and Toby’s brutal lawn fight from last week and her wedding to Philip about four years in the future, which we first glimpsed in last season’s finale. Like that shocking wedding flashfoward, “Katoby” lives in an intentionally discombobulating space as the show casually reveals major information about the fate of its main ensemble—like the fact that Madison winds up having a baby with Elijah.
It makes for an episode that’s both exciting and a little bit unnerving too, like too much life coming at you too fast. We watch Philip propose to Kate before we’ve even seen their first date, only to jump back in time to Toby and Kate’s couple’s therapy session 16 months into their rough patch. To some degree, the disorientation is intentional. The time jumps mirror the sense of bewildered confusion that Kate and Toby feel as their marriage ends and they start new chapters of their lives.
But the episode’s structure is also a little bit of a cheat too. For instance, the time jumps allows the show to reintroduce Philip as Kate’s dream man without really doing much of the legwork required to actually flesh out his character or their relationship to one another. Philip’s big monologue about his complicated marriage and the death of his first wife is a lot to take in, even before he swoops in for his big romantic first kiss with Kate. And even the closest-to-the-present scene of him cheering up Kate with karaoke feels pretty out of character for the grumpy, reserved Brit we know him to be. It’s only Chris Geere’s charms that hold the character together.
Still, it was probably smart to use a twisty narrative device to soften the blow of Kate and Toby’s eventual breakup, which is still pretty brutal in its small, realistic accumulation of petty squabbles and small hurts. Last week, some savvy commenters pushed back on my idea that the show was putting more blame on Toby than Kate. And it’s true that for as much as Toby can be self-centered when it comes to balancing his job and his family, this week really highlights how Kate’s impulse to pick fights leads to a lot of unnecessary tension between them too. Even after Toby agrees to take a less-than-ideal job in LA in the hopes of keeping their family together, Kate tends to live in a place of frustration more than peace or gratitude.
In the end it’s clear that they’re just not in a good place to be good partners for one another anymore. And once it becomes apparent just how much of a toll that tension is taking on their children, they realize it’s time to call it. Better to try to be happy apart than to go on continuing to be unhappy together—a reality that Kate accepts much easier than Toby does. While Chrissy Metz largely zeroes in on Kate’s strength and self-possession this week, Chris Sullivan does great work fleshing out the despair and disbelief that fuels Toby as he and Kate officially head toward divorce.
“This cannot be the way that our story ends,” Toby tells Kate in a moment of desperation, before nearly breaking down at the thought of having kissed her for the last time. But like Madison last week, Kate is able to see that just because their marriage is over doesn’t mean their story is. It’s a point of view that Toby won’t fully take to heart until many years later, when he calls Kate on her wedding day to explain that he finally understands what she meant when she gave him those words of comfort after signing their divorce papers.
Indeed, this being This Is Us, the show leans as much on warm sentimentality as it does emotional upheaval. We get some early reassurance that everything is ultimately going to be okay in the sweet scene where Toby teaches Philip about American football. But the real catharsis comes in the rush of a final montage that jumps decades into the future. It turns out Toby really finds himself as a post-divorce parent, just as he and Kate eventually find their way to a happy co-parenting equilibrium. Toby even winds up with a perfect pun-loving partner too. And she, Toby, Kate, and Philip eventually enjoy happy nights out together at Jack Jr.’s concerts.
Watching Blake Stadnik’s adult Jack Damon finally interact with Metz and Sullivan is a big full-circle moment for the series. And for an episode that’s somehow both too much and not enough, I found it genuinely quite touching to hear adult Jack echo his toddler self as he beams at his parents, “You’re both here.” By zooming out in time, This Is Us loses some of the specificity that makes it so special. But it at least finds a welcome sense of hope in its central thesis: Sometimes our biggest, scariest challenges can seem so much smaller in retrospect.
- I guess it would’ve made co-parenting harder, but I feel bad that Toby didn’t even get to keep his dream job in Seattle.
- Now that we finally know the whole timeline, it actually seems a little weird how strongly Jack Jr. associates the Big Green Egg with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. They stayed together for over a year after that!
- This episode does a nice job of hinting at some future events for the rest of the Pearsons without really giving anything away: Kevin dates his way through a series of vapid actresses, while Randall seemingly spends at least a few years working towards a Senate seat, which is at least a little more realistic than him just immediately winning an election.
- We also learn that by the time of Kate and Philip’s engagement party, Rebecca is still largely functional, even if her memory issues are more pronounced.
- Another reveal: Sophie really did go through with marrying her fiancé from “A Hell Of AWeek: Part Two.“I thought maybe she’d call off the wedding and go back to Kevin. Even so, she’s still my pick for the person he ultimately ends up with.
- This is our first time seeing Chrissy Metz in old age make-up, and she rocks it!