Mandy Moore is working hard this week. The actress is in about 90 percent of the scenes in the Kate-centric episode of season four’s Big Three Trilogy, at three different ages, just getting things done. Sure, the moment at the end of the episode when she calls ’80s Jack a “hero” for getting their kids to sleep and he’s all like “no, you’re the hero” and it plays over Late ’90s Rebecca leading the Pearson contingent of the Avengers on their journey to rescue Kate at the cabin is groan-worthy. But if you’re still here watching This Is Us in season four, you’re at least a little bit into that sort of thing. Just own it!
Also, that sentiment isn’t wrong. Rebecca is the one holding the Pearson family together — it’s part of what makes her “mild cognitive impairment” diagnosis so tough to swallow. If you don’t believe that, just look at her present-day storyline in this episode. (Yeah, yeah, this is supposed to be Kate’s episode and, I don’t know, maybe the fact that Rebecca’s arc is infinitely more interesting is indicative of a larger problem??) After several more hours of Kate and Toby fighting — she rains on his parade about his hopes for baby Jack getting some of his sight back, he pouts about missing work to go to the retreat for families with blind children — Kate decides that if Toby doesn’t want to willingly go to this retreat, he shouldn’t go. It’s Rebecca who swoops in and offers to take his place. I never thought I’d describe Mandy Moore dressed up as a woman in her 60s as adorable, but here we are. Bec is so excited to spend this time with Kate and baby Jack, she is adorable. That whole thing about having Miguel load up her phone with music from the VH1 Divas? Adorable. When she giddily suggests she and Kate partake in karaoke and sing their song — Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” — together because it would just be “wild?” ADORABLE.
Kate, however, isn’t really looking to karaoke with her mother. She says she’s “in fact-finding mode.” Although, the woman doesn’t even bring a notebook and pen to any of the info sessions (again: bless you, Rebecca), so it’s hard to take that sentiment too seriously. Mainly, Kate’s distracted. Things with Toby are tense, and it doesn’t help that everywhere she turns, Kate is face-to-face with a family demonstrating their strong support system, couples holding hands, etc. Anyway, Kate is sad and the sky is blue, you get it.
It doesn’t take long for Kate to come clean to her mother: She’s scared about how much Toby seems to be struggling with their situation and doesn’t think she has it in her to raise Jack alone — she can’t even imagine herself being able to find enough self-esteem to take her son in the pool this weekend, so how in the hell will she be able to provide everything Jack needs for a happy and healthy life? Rebecca hears this and then is like, “aw, hell no, we’re going swimming right now.” When Kate protests, Rebecca’s response is “you’re fat, I’m ancient, we’re gorgeous.” I’d like to make that line my alarm and wake up to it every single morning for the rest of my life. This new Rebecca is amazing, mom bob and all.
What follows is the most therapeutic mother-daughter swim in history. Rebecca’s all “I can shoulder your burden” and “you’re stronger than you know” and it’s a nice moment to add to this evolving, complicated relationship. But the thing we’ve been waiting to get to the entire episode is Rebecca finally unburdening herself to her daughter. Out of the pool, Rebecca tells Kate about her diagnosis. Before Kate can get all weepy about it (LOL, actually the first thing Kate does is make it about herself, asking how she could’ve missed the signs), Rebecca tells her daughter that the knowledge that everything could drastically change has been powerful. She’s done worrying about the little things, she’s ready to enjoy however much time she has. And then Kate says that she’s only strong because her mother made her strong and they hug and we’re all just a bunch of ladies crying in bathrobes.
Thanks to Rebecca’s reminder that Kate has every right to tell her husband to “step it up,” when the Pearson ladies return from their retreat, Kate — armed with the assurance that no matter what happens, she’ll always have her mother — does exactly that. She tells her husband that he is either in this or not. It’s around this time that we get the Sad Three phone call we’ve seen in Randall and Kevin’s installments. When Kate tells Toby she’s taking Jack to the cabin with her brothers, he asks her to leave him. He wants to take care of Jack alone for the weekend. So, this is really make or break for the ol’ Tobster, huh? It’s not like I’m ever rooting for someone to fail at being a dad, but I am certainly ready for Kate to free herself from Toby. Sorry, not sorry.
The Big Three arriving at the cabin in the present day is perfect timing, because in the late ’90s, the same thing is about to happen. We finally complete the little drama surrounding Rebecca’s birthday dinner and why she’s so worried about Kate. No one will be surprised to learn that it’s all because of Marc, who has a thing or two coming for him (mostly, the Pearsons).
The incident that causes Kate to wind up on the phone almost in tears wondering why her boyfriend is mad definitely proves that this is a dynamic that seems well-worn after just three months of dating: She barely corrects him in front of a customer at the record store, and he calls her out for being “desperate to impress.” Basically: Marc is jealous, possessive, and has an anger problem. Rebecca forces Kate into setting a coffee date for the three of them so she can get to know Marc better, and her Spidey-senses are immediately set off. This coffee shop scene is one of my all-time favorite Mandy Moore scenes in the series, and it is mostly just her making facial reactions in which she’s trying to mask what she’s really feeling. She is not at all here for this clown who quits his job because his manager admonishes him for taking too many smoke breaks and wants to whisk her daughter off to the family cabin so they can write music together like John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Can you even imagine Jack in this scenario? That coffee date would’ve lasted less than a minute. R.I.P., Jack. I mean that always, but especially now.
Back at home, Rebecca tries to hint at some issues she has with Marc, but Kate completely flies off the handle, tells her that Marc is the first guy to ever be interested in her, and that Rebecca could never possibly understand what that’s like. It all goes back to the weight thing, which, ugh, fine. Anyway, Kate and Marc take off for the cabin that very night. It starts off all lovey and Ben Folds Five sing-a-long-y but once Kate says she’s definitely not going to quit her job just because he did, Marc gets angry again. It’s raining, he’s speeding and swerving, and it is scary. When he finally stops, Kate gets out to get some air, and he screams in her face and drives off, leaving her on the side of the road in the rain, in the dark. Not to be dramatic, but seriously fuck this dude.
Kate makes it to a payphone and calls her mom to apologize. Just as she’s about to tell her everything, Marc shows up with a blanket and an apology. Kate abruptly ends her call with her mom and gets in the car with Marc, but she doesn’t seem happy about it. Perhaps she’s finally seeing Marc for who he is. The Pearson Avengers squad cannot get there soon enough.
This Is The Rest
• Wait…are we setting up a Kate and Gregory romance? He’s the one she excitedly calls after the first day of the retreat and she seems happier around him than she’s been around Toby in a long time. In the flash-forward, when Toby gets off the phone with Teen Jack and says “they’re on their way,” does he mean Kate and Jack… and Gregory?! Something to ponder.
• Don’t for one second think that we don’t actually get to see Rebecca and Kate take on “Ironic” at karaoke. You don’t just dangle a Mandy Moore-Chrissy Metz duet in front of us and not follow through. It’s pretty good, but I request more of this.
• Was the story of how Kate got the nickname “Bug” a TIU mystery you were hoping to have solved? Lucky you! Apparently, Kate was super into bugs that could fly as a kid, most especially lightning bugs, who she would gingerly catch and release. Mystery solved!
• It looks like Kevin is the last to know about his mother’s condition. That should go over really well. Just like when he tells his sister he slept with her best friend. Cool, cool, cool, this cabin trip is going to be so fun.
• Of course you start with Celine. You always start with Celine.