Obviously, we’ve known for some time now that Kate and Toby’s marriage is not long for this world, but “The Hill” — Number Two’s entry into the final Big Three trilogy, co-written by Kate herself, Chrissy Metz, with David Windsor and Casey Johnson, and directed by Mandy Moore, no less — leaves the relationship DOA, and we haven’t even gotten to the Green Egg explosion we’ve been promised. There’s no coming back from the things Kate and Toby say and the realizations they have while Kate heads to San Francisco for the weekend in an effort to fix what’s broken between them. Nor should they want to come back from it — it’s clear they’re different people from when they first met and want things for their lives that just don’t fit together. Oh, also, Toby sucks. So there’s that.
Leaving the cabin after “A Thanksgiving to Remember,” Kate decides that their current situation, with Toby traveling back and forth to San Francisco for work and being gone four days a week, is just “not sustainable.” All they do is fight, and it isn’t healthy or fun, and also it really ruined the Pilgrim Rick hat. She thinks it’s time for her to spend a weekend in San Francisco, see what his life is like up there, and begin to consider if maybe they all could have a life there, together. But let’s all be real with ourselves: Kate does not want to move to San Francisco. She loves her life in Los Angeles. She loves her job. Jack is comfortable in their home there. They have a routine that includes a song to help Jack get to the park. Neighbor Gregory is … there, I guess. Good lord, they’re going to do more with Timothy Omundson, right? Plus, Kate’s now Rebecca’s Number Two, and she doesn’t want to be that far from her mom. It’s a shame that she doesn’t fully realize that until she’s in San Francisco or a lot of mean things these people say to each other could’ve been avoided!
Even if Kate thinks she is considering a life in San Francisco, she is nowhere near where Toby is and that becomes an immediate problem. In between lots of calls and work stuff — when does Toby have time to charge those AirPods? — Toby wants to show Kate everything San Fran has to offer … and also show her a house that he is ready to put a bid on. All of it is overwhelming, from the overplanning to the presumption that they are definitely moving here. But Kate mostly goes along with it in an effort to show she is trying. It’s only when at a cocktail party with Toby’s work colleagues Kate learns her husband recently turned down a job offer in Los Angeles that she’s finally had enough.
The thing is Kate doesn’t just have a problem with uprooting their lives and moving to San Francisco — she has an increasingly growing issue with who her husband has become as of late. He is no longer the lovable goofball she fell in love with. He’s much more serious and into his job and status. Most important, it seems, he wouldn’t get caught dead in a Hawaiian shirt. That might be a pro to most, but not Kate Pearson. She misses this old Toby (not to be confused with Old Toby in the flash-forward, Jesus Christ, this show) so much so that she has apparently Tyler Durden–ed him. Kate is a fan of Fight Club, and she’s been imagining hanging out with the version of her husband she married. I don’t think that’s what Fight Club is about, but we don’t have the time. It is one of the most bizarre things This Is Us has done, and I would like to send it back, please. Like, we’re really doing “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” right now? If the point was to show us that the old version of Toby was annoying as hell and the new version is kind of a dick, mission accomplished, I guess.
The fight that ensues after the cocktail party is pretty brutal. Chrissy Metz and Chris Sullivan have lived in these characters, you know? Like, yes, I get why Toby would be offended when Kate says she misses the old him, especially because he likes who he’s become — he’s getting everything he ever wanted. He tells her he was miserable before and all the goofiness was self-defense. “You fell in love with a coping mechanism!” he yells at her, and honestly, that is the moment when they both should know there’s nothing worth fighting for here. The person she loves doesn’t exist. Of course, suppose that moment doesn’t put the nail in the coffin enough for you. In that case, there is also the bit where Toby turns things on Kate to get her to acknowledge that she is happier now than she’s ever been, that she has the life she’s always wanted — Lord, this man has to get that dig in about living with her brother, huh? — and all she needed for this to happen was to get rid of him. It’s true that Kate is happy and that she feels like she finally has a purpose, but the way he says it is just cruel. I guess we do know that the first rule of Fight Club is to drive away the person you supposedly love by saying needlessly mean things. I mean, maybe? (I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen Fight Club.)
After some time to breathe, Toby says that he’s happy that they’ve both figured out what they want and “evolved.” He then follows that up with an ultimatum: He doesn’t think there is any other option but for Kate and the kids to move to San Francisco. The problem with this is that what he means is there is no other option for him. He could’ve taken that job in L.A., or he could look for other ones, but he doesn’t want to. Kate goes for a walk because she knows what she wants to do — what she needs to do — and just needs a little push.
Throughout the episode, we’ve also been revisiting the same spots in the Pearson timeline as we did with Kevin — the first day the neighborhood pool opens, the Thanksgiving Night when Kevin, Randall, and Kate go to the empty pool before it closes down. The former story is all about little Kate not wanting to get in the pool. She’s scared and doesn’t think she can swim. She’s got a death grip on Jack’s neck. He tells her that she can do it, that he believes in her, she just has to try. She needs to believe in herself that she can do this. But no, why would she ever let go of her dad? “Today is not the day,” Jack tells Rebecca when she finds them out of the water and back in the lounge chairs.
In the Thanksgiving pool story, Kate and Randall have just talked Kevin off the ledge and gotten him to agree to go home, but when Randall and Kate walked into the pool, they didn’t leave the brick that was propping open the door. They’re trapped inside. It gives Kate time to talk about how she feels trapped in Pittsburgh, how sad her life is, but how she has no idea what she wants to do or who she wants to be. Her brothers try to assure her that she’ll figure it out, but she’s lost. Randall and Kevin decide the only way they will make it out of the pool is to climb over the fence. Kate’s scared, but the boys go first, and again, they assure her she can do it. Kate decides to give it a try. Then she falls. She’s not going to try anymore. She can’t do it, and that’s it.
And then in San Francisco, well, we have to talk about the titular “hill” situation. When Kate and Toby were headed out to the cocktail party, they found themselves waiting for their Lyft on a corner near Toby’s place. Kate knows the place they’re going to is nearby, so she suggests walking, but Toby shoots her down. She prods a little more until he explains that it would be all uphill. Kate knows immediately that what he means is that he doesn’t think she could physically do the walk. This makes me want to punch my fist through a wall for reasons twofold. First, of course, just the sentiment itself is enraging; it makes it all the more obvious that Toby, who doesn’t believe in Kate the way her family does in the other story lines, is not the right person for her anymore. Those San Fran hills are no joke but at least give her the option! Let her decide what she can and can’t do. The second reason is that it remains infuriating to watch this show continually not allow Kate to be more than her weight. She is more than her body, and yet, This Is Us goes back there over and over again. Let Kate live!!
We go back to that hill after Kate and Toby’s fight, and she is determined to walk up it, even if it is hard and she’s scared. Like the arcs from the two other timelines showed us, all Kate needed to do to succeed is believe in herself. Her family already believes in her. There must be so many other ways to show Kate believing in herself other than this. It’s meant to be an empowering moment when she makes it to the top, but it just adds to my overall confusion as to what this show is doing with its opportunities for positive fat representation. Kate is more than her weight and her body!! Anyway, at the top of the hill, she calls up Phillip and asks him to consider her for a full-time teaching position that’s available at the school. So, it looks like Kate has made her choice when it comes to Toby’s ultimatum.