Maybe Kate Pearson should be banned from hosting family parties at her house. The last time she did, for Baby Jack’s first birthday, Randall and Kevin ended up on the front lawn hurling some of the most gutting insults you could imagine at one another. Now, it’s Rebecca and Miguel’s tenth wedding anniversary, and it’s Kate and Toby’s turn to take to the Front Lawn of Misery. That front lawn is cursed! But you know what is not cursed? This episode. This episode is blessed. I can’t stop thinking about it! So much of what This Is Us has been building this season (and throughout the series) pays off here in ways that make “Saturday in the Park” such a riveting hour. Did I have to cover my eyes during some of that Kate/Toby fight because it was so authentically brutal? You bet. Am I still in awe at This Is Us working to its full potential? Also yes, very much. What a time.
Let’s talk about how we get to that game-changing fight on the front lawn. Everyone gathers for Rebecca and Miguel’s anniversary party. It’s been a couple of weeks since Kate’s ill-fated trip to San Francisco in which Toby gave her an ultimatum — their family needs to move to San Fran, or it won’t work — and in turn, Kate applied for an opening teaching position at her school in L.A. After that big blow-up during the trip, it is clear to everyone except maybe Kate and Toby that there isn’t much to salvage in their marriage. Both are happier than they’ve ever been in the lives they’ve created for themselves, lives that do not include each other. What is there to save if neither budges even the smallest bit? And yet, Kate and Toby don’t seem to want to face that just yet; instead, they argue. A lot.
Several portions of this episode are seen from Baby Jack’s point of view. He doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, but he knows for sure that the only time mommy and daddy are NOT fighting is on their Saturday trips to the park. They sing the song Kate’s put together, set to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park,” and go to the park where Jack gets on the swings, and they all laugh. It is a rare event.
This Saturday, however, there is no park excursion because of the party. Just so much fighting! Any time Kate and Toby are in a room together, it doesn’t matter who else is there, they pick at each other. The tension at a tenth-anniversary party with coconut glasses for mixed drinks has never been so high! When Randall and Beth show up, Kate hugs her brother and immediately proceeds to weep into his shoulder. She’s about to have a meltdown, and also, she is pretty sure that Toby might actually murder Kevin — Kevin is in the process of moving out, but Toby seems annoyed by everything Kevin does, both big and small — and she asks Randall to take Kevin out of there on a long errand. The Brothers Pearson leave.
I don’t know if their timing is a good thing or a bad thing because the next thing that comes crashing down is, quite literally, the ceiling. Remember that episode last season when Toby called his dad over to fix a leak in the ceiling, and he gave his son that metaphor of a speech about not letting the pressure build up because it will be worse in the end? Well, that metaphor has come to pass. Kate and Toby’s marriage is imploding, and their ceiling is exploding, and it is chaos. The ceiling in the kitchen has opened up, and then they hear the ceiling in their bedroom explode with a water leak, too. Amid everything, Toby, who had been outside with Jack and that fucking Big Green Egg, is called in to help. He puts Jack in his room (Beth is taking care of Hailey if you were worried), and he forgets to make sure the gate at the door clicks shut. The thing that Kate has been harping on him about for days. So that’s not a great sign. Then, Kate lets the plumber in and she forgets to lock the front door. You know where this is headed.
It doesn’t take long for Baby Jack to put on his cute little red rain boots and walk out the front door while no one is paying attention. It is your worst nightmare. We watch him sing his park song, as he gets to the corner and listens for the cars speeding by before he runs across it. Sure, he makes it, but it is horrifying and I am nauseous thinking about it and I would like to send it back. Also, not one of those cars noticed a toddler alone on the street corner?! Be better, citizens of Los Angeles!! Baby Jack makes it to the park by singing that song, but when he begins to run toward the swings, he goes in the wrong direction and is headed directly for some steps before he trips and gets that gash on his head, which we have seen in scar form on Adult Baby Jack in the future. The scar has come to pass!
Back at home, everyone is understandably losing their shit. This is scary! And then there is Rebecca. We’ve seen Rebecca feeling low the whole day because she just wants to help out, and she keeps getting told she isn’t needed. At one point, she demands to help Jack put his shoes on, and honestly, thank goodness for that. In his room, Jack shows his grandma how his mom organized all of his shoes so that he’d know where they are, and he explains which ones are for what, including his red rain boots that are for jumping in puddles at the park. He also recognizes that Rebecca is sad because this kid is a genius and a gentleman, I guess. Anyway, Rebecca remembers this crucial detail and, seeing that the boots are now missing, realizes Jack must be at the park! She runs out of the house and all the way there! She finds him being helped by some strangers and scoops him up! The woman is a goddamn hero!! It’s also pretty wonderful that the show juxtaposes this big win for Rebecca with that moment in the hospital a few minutes later in which she has to ask Kevin to fill out the intake paperwork because she can’t remember any of the info. These two scenes so close to each other really drive home how frustrating this disease must be for Rebecca and how complicated her emotions must be at the moment.
Back at home, Kate wants to talk to Toby outside. You guys, it is time — the Lawn of Misery is getting its big moment. Both begin to point out what the other did wrong, but what really stings is Kate screaming at Toby for only seeing Jack’s limitations, for wanting to fix him since he was born. She says he’s been pulling away from their family ever since then. Toby fires back with how Kate refuses to see any limitations and how that’s unrealistic. They are screaming about how Toby feels judged all the time, how it feels as if Kate doesn’t even want him back, and how Kate feels like the only parent here. Just all around, some extremely hurtful things that you’re unable to take back. On top of it all, Kevin and Randall have pulled up outside to see this whole thing go down, and they refuse to let Toby speak to their sister that way. It is heated!! Kevin hops in first, which really pisses off Toby, who starts unloading on Kevin, which causes Randall to step in. That shot of the Big Three facing off against Toby all alone on the other side? It gives me chills, it is so good. “There it is,” Toby says, seeing what’s happening in front of him, “[…] the way it’s always been.” Toby feeling like there was no place for him within the Big Three and that Kate’s relationship with her brothers was her top priority has always been an insecurity for him, and here it is coming to fruition right before him.
This moment hits so hard because we’ve also been watching Rebecca and Jack’s tenth-anniversary story throughout this episode. Rebecca ends up getting hammered drunk at dinner, but that’s not the thing that ruins Jack’s hopes and dreams of getting laid; what ruins those hopes and dreams is the call they get from their babysitter telling them that the kids have locked her in the bathroom. At home, Jack interrogates the Big Three until they confess that the babysitter was mean to Kate, so Kevin was defending her, and when Randall saw this, he jumped in to help Kevin, and Kate sits there defending both her brothers as they relay the story (familiar, no?). When Jack tells them that they can’t go around locking people in bathrooms because “they hurt Kate’s feelings” — which, fair — the boys ask, “why not? She’s our sister.” It is very sweet, and Rebecca declares it the best gift she could’ve gotten: Even without them there, the kids banded together and took care of each other.
Back in the present day, at the Worst Anniversary Party in History, Rebecca gets an unexpected but familiar gift. She finds Kate sitting between her brothers, each of them holding her hands as she cries, telling them that she doesn’t think she and Toby are going to make it, and they try to be there however they can for her. If Rebecca had been worried about what might happen to her kids after she dies, this scene she watches from a distance is a reminder that they’ll be okay because they have each other. They are still taking care of one another. It’s fine. It’s not like I started crying the moment Randall said “Katie girl” and then didn’t stop. Anyway, what is the traditional tenth wedding anniversary gift? Tears?? It sure feels like it.
This Is the Rest
• Kevin’s subplot about finally closing the door on any romantic relationship with Madison wasn’t as compelling as the rest of the episode, but you can see the This Is Us machine working to set him up for whatever awaits Kevin in this final run of episodes. Elijah is proposing to Madison, and she is beyond excited about it. Kevin feels weird about it because Kevin has to make everything a thing, but he sees that Madison is happy and in love and has fully moved forward, and he knows he still does not love her in that way, and he, too, decides to move forward. It seems healthy.
• After the big fight, Toby ends up sitting over Baby Jack as he sleeps and just begins quietly weeping. Chris Sullivan is, uh, very good in this episode.
• What do you think Rebecca whisper-promised Jack for their next anniversary? Was it a blow job or, like, a really good sandwich, because I think it could go either way.
• When Kate asks Randall to get Kevin out of the house, he asks if he should take Beth, too. Her response: “No, she’s like the least stressful person in this family.” You know, when Kate’s right, she’s right.
• Rebecca’s guttural laugh at the restaurant is such a great drunk person detail, and once again, Mandy Moore is really working her butt off in this episode.
• Kevin’s impression of Rebecca!! I want more!! Adding that “bug” onto it was perfection.
• “We’re twins, it’s that ESP thing. Plus, I heard her tell you.” Justin Hartley’s comedic timing was on display tonight.