If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a helmet and hockey pads – at least if you're going with Toby and Kate. Indeed, San Francisco was no treat in Kate's solo episode, "The Hill," as the growing divide between the two was pushed even further apart on Tuesday night. And that Big Green Egg-shaped cloud hanging over the forecast is only drawing closer and closer ...
Before we get to the main course in this recipe for disaster, let's talk about Tuesday night's tense appetizer (directed by Rebecca herself, Mandy Moore, and co-written by Chrissy Metz) and my five main takwaways from the most painful and awkward thing to come out of San Francisco since "The Room." As soon as I give a quick warning first ...
1. Spoilers for "Fight Club," I guess
Important (OK, not that important) note: If you've somehow managed to go the past two decades without getting "Fight Club" spoiled, either skip this week's "This Is Us" episode or quick find a DVD of the Brad Pitt-Edward Norton movie this week before watching Kate's solo hour. Then again, considering the movie's existed for almost a quarter-century, if you still haven't made the time for it yet, you might as well just let "This Is Us" rip the bandaid off. Anyways, here's to hoping next week's Randall solo episode won't be inspired by how Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in "The Sixth Sense." Oops ...
2. Old Toby returns
OK, so one final spoiler alert for a 23-year-old movie ...
Here we go: Inspired by a late-night screening of "Fight Club" with Madison, Kate reveals to Madison (who's JUST NOW getting the movie's twist) that she's been Tyler Durden-ing recently, seeing a fantasy Old Toby popping up all over the place and cracking jokes with her like he used to. Don't worry, it's not Kate's brain breaking – no nasty homemade soap businesses or underground anarchy societies forming here. "Old Toby" serves more as a simple plot device for the episode to easily compare the Toby of old to the Toby we know now – the goofy, chubbier, care-free man Kate fell in love with versus the serious, slimmer, job-obsessed partner Kate now sees as a stranger in their relationship.
There's just one problem with this element: Old Toby ... was kind of really annoying?
If the goal of Kate's imaginary Toby was to show how much her husband's changed over the seasons, it was a success – but if the goal was to make us sad and relate to Kate's yearning for their relationship of yore ... not so much. Old Toby doesn't pop up much, not entirely gelling with the episode as a result – but maybe he didn't appear much because, even in fairly limited doses Tuesday night, it didn't take long for Old Toby's Drop Dead Fred-esque parade of obvious pop culture references and desperate pleas for attention to become tiresome.
And you know who agrees? New Toby! During the final round of their big blowup near the end of the episode, Toby tells Kate that she may have liked his former self, but he deeply didn't. That version of Toby was a coping mechanism for a lot of self-loathing – in his personal life and in his work life – and now he's become a version of himself that he likes a lot more. He's healthier. He's working at an important job that seems to like him and respect him not only as an employee but as a friend, being remarkably chummy with his workmates (though not chummy enough to trade Steph Curry in fantasy basketball. Considering Curry's currently busted ankle, I bet he regrets not making that move now! Anyways, that's been This Is Fantasy Sports, a new – and now ended – segment in these recaps.) And he feels like he's supporting his family in a meaningful way, funding a good future for their kids.
Toby grew up – which may not be the best for their relationship, but might be the best for him. And is certainly best for me as an anti-Old Toby viewer.
3. No love in San Francisco
While Kate has to come to terms with the new person Toby has become, that's a two-way trolley track (because San Francisco!) as Kate's evolved into a new version of herself as well – an evolution that grows even more in just this very episode. And while they both, as Toby points out, may really enjoy the new people they are, they may no longer be the right people for each other.
That's been apparent on the fringes of "This Is Us" for a while now, from little jabs about the new slimmed-down Toby a season ago to his passive-aggressive digs at Jack Jr.'s diet at Thanksgiving. But Tuesday night, they moved to center stage. There's no hiding the tension – or, in Toby's case, some of the secrets he's had in his back pocket.
Things even get off to a turbulent start as Kate's San Fran getaway to Toby's stomping grounds doesn't get Toby chauffeur from the airport thanks to a surprise work call. (Take a drink everytime I use "surprise work call" in this recap – actually don't, you'll get alcohol poisoning.) But after the airport snafu, their romantic reunion improves quite quickly, drinking some fancy bubbly before heading to bed and enjoying some vegan barbecue ... before Toby has to take another surprise work call. (Drink! At your own peril!) Dang it, Toby; it's business time right now, not ACTUAL business time!
Toby fails to improve things when he reveals his master plan for the weekend to Kate – filled less with relaxing and goofy adventures and more so with surprise cocktail parties with coworkers. But Kate uses the magic word – "KaToby" – and gets Toby to reconsider his schedule, resulting in a sweet day on the town riding trolley cars, strolling on piers and snapping one of those love locks to a fence like they're in a YA romance from ten years ago. Not even Toby taking another surprise work call (I warned you – drink!) can't dampen the day as he quickly recovers with some cute video call shenanigans with the kids.
What CAN dampen the day, however, is a seemingly random walk past a for-sale house – a trot that doesn't turn out to be random at all as Toby ambushes Kate with a hard pitch on buying this house and moving to San Francisco. He's even already talked to financial advisors and the realtor – all without giving Kate an inkling of a clue that he was making these big life moves behind her back. "This Is Us" is usually supportive of a BRG (Big Romantic Gesture) – but not like this, not making plans and somewhat manipulatively nudging Kate toward abandoning her own life without any real discussion or warning.
Somehow, though, the worst for KaToby – nope, can't do it; Kate and Toby – is still to come. Toby apologizes for the misjudged grand house gesture, but at his boss Amir's big shindig, after enduring some awkward conversations feeling distant from Toby, Kate learns something alarming: Toby got a job offer by Kate and the kids in Los Angeles but turned it down – all without mentioning it or discussing it with her. (A side note: Right before this reveal, Kate looks like she's about to dig into the dessert table. She's not comfortable here and seems to fall back into bad habits to cope, as opposed to back home when we see her passing on cake at a class retirement party earlier in the episode. San Francisco may be home to Toby's best self, but as this hints, the Bay Area might not be the same for Kate.)
Anyways, after finding out Toby turned down a way to get closer to her and the family – without even mentioning it to her, which is the bigger crime – Kate is very much not in the mood for partying and our unhappy couple heads home for the main event: a sad argument where everything is wrong because everyone isn't wrong.
Kate's right that it's crappy that, on top of all of his not-so-subtle San Fran nudges, Toby didn't discuss the L.A. offer, much less even mention it – and still won't tell her the money amount that was supposedly the dealbreaker. Toby, however, is right that she's stuck in the past, refusing to acknowledge that they're new people – new people who are both, as much as neither of them wants to admit, thriving in their new lives. Toby's got his cool workplace life, while as we see in an opening montage, Kate has her sunny life in L.A., rocking it as a mom with delightful neighbors (I was nervous we wouldn't get an appearance from the terrifically testy Gregory; thankfully I had nothing to worry about, as he grumbles about not getting residuals for her impromptu walking-down-the-street songs) and a job that she loves with a passion. Toby's also not wrong about needing the money to afford the life they want to give Jack Jr. – though, considering he STILL won't disclose the amount the L.A. job was willing to pay, that might just be a well-argued smokescreen.
"We grew apart" may sound like some trite cliche when it comes to explaining why a relationship didn't work – but as Toby and Kate proved on Tuesday night, it's a common cliche for a reason: It's often accurate, with people growing into their best selves but maybe no longer the best partners for one another.
4. We never like an ultimatum
Toby makes a lot of accurate points during Tuesday night's big blowup – but unfortunately, as happens in a lot of arguments, he doesn't always go about making them in the best way. For instance, when arguing that they're different people now, he points out Kate's changes with a tinge of bitterness that makes his good point come off sour.
But worst of all, he ends things with an ultimatum – rarely ever the right tool for the job and certainly not how he utilizes it.
After the initial fight and surely a sleepless night, Toby and Kate return to his apartment's kitchen table to discuss things more. Toby officially apologizes for not mentioning the L.A. offer – no matter if it was a good deal or not – and further explains how much it means to him to be valued at work, to have a purpose and to have people recognize that purpose. All fair, all valid. He also talks about how much he loves that they've found their best selves even if under not-the-best circumstances. But then he lays down a gauntlet: If their family is going to survive, she's going to have to "get on board" with moving to San Francisco. And somehow, no matter how much I dislike Old Toby, this is Toby's worst moment in "The Hill" – pretty much announcing he's not moving from his position and that it'll be up to Kate to sacrifice her happy new life as opposed to him. (But mainly it's his worst moment because of using the corporate speak of "get on board" in this situation. Yuck.)
Kate takes to the ultimatum by taking a break outside – and taking a walk up the nearby hill, one that Toby didn't think she would be able climb before. But here she is, conquering something others and she didn't think she could – something that's always been a challenge for her, as we see in the flashbacks to the pool refusing to swim as a child and refusing to not only scale the fence but also to see a positive future. And after proving that she can, she decides to take another bold step: calling Mr. Grumblypants McBritish to apply for the full-time teaching position back in Los Angeles. Oh dear, it appears two are now playing this game.
Gosh, I sure hope a popular grilling implement doesn't roll onto the scene like a giant grenade and officially blow this all up! Or actually, considering how unhappy these two have been together – and how happy they seem apart – maybe I actually hope it does.
5. A sneak peek at Randall's chapter
So that leaves Randall's chapter to wrap up this final Big Three trilogy of solo episodes. And while we haven't seen much of him recently – even during the Thanksgiving episode, which was more focused on Rebecca and Miguel's pesky dating life in the past, Toby and Kate's increasing tensions, and Kevin annoying everyone, all the time – there have been hints to what Randall's hour will focus on.
For instance, in the childhood flashbacks, we see him briefly splashing around alone in the pool while Rebecca and Jack tend to Kevin and Kate – something that'll almost certainly play into Randall's current sense of disconnection from his mother during this critical time. He's watching Kevin build her a cabin and Kate become the next-in-line decision-maker behind Miguel while he ... he's not even in the same state or time zone as Rebecca. For one who's regularly wrestled with being the "othered" Pearson, surely he's got some concerns about where things stand right now.
But will he have time to even feel bad about that when he may have to feel bad about Deja and Malik – and his impact on their relationship. Last we checked, they're suddenly rocky as Malik's gone silent after Randall's big speech to him over that awkward dinner earlier this season. (I know: WHICH awkward dinner earlier this season? There's so many to choose from ... ) Maybe Malik is just bogged down with exams and college life ... or maybe he took Randall's terse suggestion to heart, which I imagine Deja will have thoughts about – loud, angry, storm-out-of-house thoughts. And that's all before we get to his senator's newfound interest in Randall's political career.
Kevin and Kate's episodes mostly focused on small but substantial shifts in character – the former learning to accept life rather than force it, the latter learning to truly believe in herself. As for Randall's solo hour, though? The way things are lining up, it might make some of those bigger moves Rebecca was talking about Thanksgiving night – for better and worse.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.