It was finally happening. After lighting the fuse many episodes ago, "This Is Us" had finally reached the moment the entire hour – and much of this final season thus far – was building to: Toby and Kate's already fractured marriage exploding for good. The anniversary party at the center of "Saturday in the Park" was constantly full of tension – our host couple sniping at one another, a blind toddler rambling alone around busy streets, Miguel making Annabelle the demon doll's even more possessed sister – but when Kate tersely told Toby to take their talk outside, we knew that tension was about to burst.
And then, instead of a Los Angeles yard, I suddenly found myself looking at a news desk and an empty podium.
Yes, just as "This Is Us" reached its emotionally intense climax, the local NBC affiliate cut away for an update on the Milwaukee mayoral race. All these years of advancements in lower-third crawl technology, FOR NOTHING! And the winning candidate wasn't even making his victory speech at the moment, therefore making the update: "Breaking news: News will eventually break tonight." Of course, in fairness, in grand scheme of things, the fate of Milwaukee's politics for the next two year is SLIIIIIGHTLY more important than a fictional couple's bad grill-out – especially one with a historic result, Brew City electing a Black mayor for the first time. But the timing could not have been more perfectly designed to infuriate – down to cutting back to the show just in time for Toby to walk away and cut to commercial. It became "The Room" of news cutaways: so disastrous it became comedy genius.
Anyways, that's why god invented Hulu.
Thanks to the streaming service, which loads up the new episodes very early the next day, we got to see what we really didn't actually want to see: Katoby going kaboom. Much like Randall and Kevin's nasty front yard spat capping season four, it was ugly in a painfully real way, bypassing the day's disasters to hit deeper issues and leave deeper scars. Even the other two Big Three members got in on the conversation – for better or worse. Maybe our NBC affiliate was trying to protect us from seeing it by cutting into this no-win argument – a noble effort.
Anyways, let's get into the five biggest takeaways from the latest "This Is Us" ... just after I pick up some holy water. Can't be too careful with Miguel's evil doll hanging around ...
1. The roof finally caves in on Toby and Kate's marriage
It was meal time once again on "This Is Us," which as Beth knows all too well could only mean one thing: nightmares. And indeed, the anniversary party for Rebecca and Miguel was anything but a party – particularly for the already frazzled Toby and Kate, still recovering from their trip to the Golden Gate City that was anything but golden.
The episode didn't start entirely hopeless, however. Sure, things weren't exactly peaceful, with the audience overhearing yet another Toby and Kate fight from Jack Jr.'s blurry perspective. And yes, their walk to the park – soundtracked by Chicago's "Saturday in the Park," remixed with new lyrics by Kate to help Jack Jr. safely learn the way there – featured some grumbly moments between the two, with Toby seeming a bit annoyed. But when they reached the park and got Jack Jr. giggling on the swings, Kate and Toby seemed happy for the first time in a while.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't stick.
Cut to the party, and things are tense again. For one, Miguel is crafting his creepy Chucky doll of Rebecca at the kitchen table, probably bringing evil into the house. But more pressing, Kate and Toby are tense again with the two snapping at one another about Toby's lax gate-closing habits in the house. Kevin tries to lighten things up by making some jokes with the devil doll – but even that goes sideways when Toby pops in, and Kevin says they were laughing because Kate needed cheering up, which very much does not cheer up Toby. Not even a "smoking Miguel's meat" comment can lighten the mood that much.
So Kate's complaining about everything Toby's doing and breaking down in Randall's arms from all the spite while Toby's acting paranoid and getting easily perturbed about tensions in the house – famously an excellent combination. At least there's a giant green grilling device in the backyard, perfect for causing accidental bodily harm and trauma!
The biggest problem isn't in the backyard, though, but in the ceiling. Remember that leak from a while ago that Toby fixed? Well, about that last part: It turns out he didn't actual fix the leak but made it worse, with the kitchen suddenly dribbling water all over the place. Hmm, a small problem in Kate and Toby's foundation seemingly amended long ago but actually just growing and growing until hitting a breaking point? I wonder if this might be a metaphor of some kind ...
While the plumber runs late (because of course the plumber is running late) the bedroom decides it wants to get in on the fun too, so the floodgates break open right above the mattress as well – all while Kate and Toby bicker and complain about the mistakes that led them to this supremely soggy point as well as what they're not doing to help the situation. It's annoying but realistically so, little jabs collecting over time. Kate seems ready to pounce on all of Toby's shortcomings, while Toby seems distracted, defeated and passive aggressive about everything at all times.
It's a recipe for disaster – and indeed disaster is on the menu as during all the chaos, Toby leaves the baby gate unlatched and Kate leaves the front door unlocked, a perfect path for sweet little Jack Jr. to bop out of the house. We feel you, kid.
Eventually the adults realize someone's gone missing, and the search begins. Thankfully everyone's so worried that Kate and Toby have no time to be upset at one another – but we'll see how long that lasts, especially while we watch Jack Jr. make his way safely to the park but take a wrong turn to the swings, running giddily toward a stairway rather than a playground. Someone please stop that blind child! Gratefully gravity accepts the call and instead of falling down some terrifying steps, little Jack falls on the sidewalk – still resulting in tears and stitches, but nowhere near the tragedy that could've occurred with stairs and a smoker all ominously in the background.
There's no time for relief after Rebecca scoops up Jack and everyone takes him for a traumatic first hospital visit. Remember before how everyone was too stressed and worried in the moment to be mad? Well, we're out of that mood now – so after Toby mentions that he thought the gate locked, Kate and Toby step outside to have the blowout the whole episode's been building toward. And it doesn't take long to quickly escalate far beyond unlatched gates and unlocked gates. Kate accuses Toby of pulling away from the family as soon as he found out their child was blind, only seeing his limitations as opposed to his potential. Toby snaps back that Kate's idealistic to the point of naivety with Jack Jr. – and her job has given her a sense of superiority over Toby that's blocked him out of contributing to their family, getting only blame and guilt for what he's doing wrong.
To make matters somehow worse, Kevin and Randall pull up right then, with the former deciding to try and settle Toby down and the latter joining in when Toby doesn't appreciate his couch-surfing, guitar-mangling brother-in-law chiming in once again on his marriage. By the end, it's Toby alone on one side of the yard against three Pearsons – just like he's secretly always felt, calling back to seasons ago when Miguel, Beth and him hung out and confided in one another about being the Other Three to the big Three. But now his fear of being on the outside looking in at the Pearsons has become reality.
In the end, no one wins the fight – though, with the three teaming up against Toby and the timeline-spanning theme about the siblings standing tall together, the show seems to land on Kate's side. Which ... should it be on anyone's side?
Both Toby and Kate screwed up with Jack Jr.'s escape – the former leaving the gate open, the latter leaving the door unlocked – and both bring up valid points from their perspectives. Kate has been ultra-critical of (a not-undeserving) Toby; when he missed the gate failing to latch, it was amid Kate condescendingly yelling at him across the house for not helping them enough with the bedroom downpour. Kate's not exactly making a lot of room for Toby in their current life in Los Angeles. But then again, as we saw in the Kate solo episode, Toby's not making much room for Kate in his either, laying down ultimatums about leaving her life in Los Angeles for him and acting easily distracted – which can lead to things like unlatched gates at bad times.
They're both right and wrong – but since this is a show about the Pearsons, it does feel a little like the show's sympathetic needle nudged toward Kate by the end of the night rather than both parties equally. When the family gathered around Kate, it was a little heartwarming – but I also felt for Toby suddenly getting ganged up on while (admittedly loudly) airing legitimate issues.
The sad reality is the one they both came to in San Francisco: As much as the sympathy needle might nudged toward Kate in the big fight (mainly because this is a show about the Pearsons) there's no blame or bad guy here. They're just both completely different people from the ones who fell in love with all those seasons ago. Not worse people, but defintely different ones – and certainly ones who are no longer compatible in their current form. Tuesday night sure felt like a fatal blow to their relationship; now it's just a matter of pronouncing an official time of marriage death.
2. Big Green Egg innocent!
I guess that product placement check came through – because after weeks upon weeks of waiting for another appliance apocalypse, the Big Green Egg turned out to be a big red herring. No wonder Jack Jr. kept the thing long into the future: The smoker was the only thing seemingly working right on Tuesday night while the world was literally falling apart around the Pearson family gathering. (Then again, considering Jack Jr. says the barbecue smells like "apples and pants," maybe it wasn't working after all.) If he really wanted some symbolic representation of his parents' collapse, his house should've had some visible pipes or maybe a rickety baby gate or some ominous steps. In conclusion, the Big Green Egg: good at cooking, bad at public relations.
3. Rebecca Pearson: master detective
Of all the people to figure out the mystery of the missing Pearson, who would've guessed that it would be the one suffering from mental decline!
Before Rebecca solved the case, she was first key to the episode's most unexpectedly emotional moment. While Kate, Toby and Miguel snarkily debate the drippy state of the ceiling, Rebecca preoccupies Jack Jr. with seemingly mindless chat about his shoes and park-approved boots. What starts as simple conversation, however, quickly turns tearful as little Jack – played by the world's most guileless and precious little toddler, another quality casting job by "This Is Us" – asks Rebecca why she's feeling sad. She sweetly explains that she feels useless right now, to which Jack Jr. responds that he too is feeling sad because he knows his mom and dad are fighting all the time. It's a devastating little moment – made even more devastating by how innocent and precious he sounds about the growing chaos around him.
The scene would be useful on its own to show how the household turbulence is affecting Jack Jr. – but it turns out to be essential to Rebecca's tiny episode arc as well. Later on, as the house tears itself apart trying to find the missing blind boy, Rebecca finds a criticle clue in his room: his tennis shoes laying on the floor and his rubber boots gone missing. Put that bit of evidence together with the fact that it's Saturday, and Rebecca cracks the case: Jack Jr.'s on his way to the park.
From there, things don't exactly get better for the Pearsons – but Rebecca at least knows that she's not just in the way but still very useful. (She also knows that she raised a family that protects one another, so that's another silver lining to the vicious storm cloud parked over their day.) Enjoy this small victory while you can, because considering where the show's leading, I'm not sure we'll see many more of them from here on out.
4. The babysitting job from hell
Rebecca was significantly less useful several anniversaries ago, at least according to what we saw in the episode's flashbacks showing the Pearson matriarch pounding six years worth of going out into one dinner.
In the past, Rebecca and Jack are heading out for their big ten-year anniversary and making all the necessary precautions for a perfect night – aka loading up the Big Three with as much tryptophan and heavy foods as possible to knock them out until morning. You see, after year of raising triplets, these two are thirsty for a fun night out – bold and underlined emphasis on the word "THIRSTY" considering the dirty talk going on between these two. Unfortunately for their sexy plans, Rebecca is also thirsty in the literal sense, ordering pretty much the entire left side of the restaurant's cocktail menu and having no intention of savoring her drinks. (In fairness, that blue one in the goblet she was knocking back looked awfully tasty.)
While Jack tries to help prevent a future mess by getting Rebecca some soaker-pad bread, he learns of another mess-in-progress back home. As it turns out, the Big Three are nightmares. (Just ask Toby – oh no, too soon?)
Back at the house, Jack and a half-aware Rebecca discover their babysitter locked in the closet with a chair like she's a horror movie slasher. After freeing her and bribing her with a bonus $20 to keep quiet, Jack and a snack-happy Rebecca get down to finding out what happened. As it turns out, the kids rebelled after the babysitter was mean to them, calling Kate "Chatty Kathy" for motor-mouthing about her parents' plans and grumping at Kevin for refusing to go to bed. So they locked her in a closet and then kind of pulled a preschool "No, I'm Spartacus" routine on Jack when he's trying to find out what happened. Jack and Rebecca find it hard to be mad at that, so they all go to bed together, with Rebecca saying this is her favorite anniversary ever, seeing the kids band together and defend their family. Considering all those Fluffy Ducks and Dirty Bananas she knocked back, though, we'll see if her opinion changes the next morning.
It's a cute tangent – if not entirely necessary, considering how well the show has already cemented the protective bond between the Big Three over the years. There is potentially something interesting here, though, considering ... I'm not sure the babysitter deserved to be treated like the second coming of Michael Myers. We see the babysitter call Kate the name and groan a little about the kids refusing to go to sleep, but it all seems like standard issue playfully put-upon babysitter behavior, not something worthy of a closet prison sentence. Put in the same episode as Kevin and Randall helping gang up on Toby – who, again, does not NOT have legitimate points – and it all comes off a little less sweetly heartwarming and a little more blind loyalty. But that's family.
5. Kevin takes another step toward maturity
While Toby and Kate grew further apart on Tuesday night, Kevin might've further grown up ... with a helping hand from Randall (literally).
To get at least one annoyance out of the house, Kate tasks Randall with getting Kevin just ... anywhere that isn't there. So the two jet off to Madison's house to check on the twins early – but while they're there, Kevin makes an alarming discovery: Elijah sneaking and snooping around Madison's jewelry box. Thankfully we don't have a "Kevin: neighborhood watch" plotline starting here (though remember when he randomly saved that guy in a burning car? What a weird thing that happened!) as Elijah reveals a ring sizer ... and his plans to propose to Madison.
The news sends Kevin spiraling. Now facing the news that someone's marrying Madison, potentially altering his life a little, Kevin starts convincing himself that maybe he and Madison are actually meant to be, that they've been right for one another all along and that he should text her now about his deep, passionate love (that he's discovered approximately four minutes ago). Thankfully Randall is there to physically smack Kevin's phone out of his hand and verbally smack some sense into him: He is a 40-year-old reckless romantic whose decisions leave collateral damage for days. Take a breath, Kev, and think about what you really want and how you really feel.
And that's exactly what Kevin does, eventually returning to Madison's house and not making a ill-conceived declaration of love but instead realizing he needs to TRULY move on. And when Madison confides in him that she thinks Elijah's going to propose – and that she's going to say yes – Kevin seems genuinely happy for her. That's what we like to see: growth. He's even moving out of Toby and Kate's place into a new house complete with a bidet ... just in time to leave his sister's house in literal and emotional shambles. OK, so maybe he's not quite a finished product yet.
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.