Tuesday, November 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'This Is Us' - Kate Struggles to Talk About Her Feelings to Toby After a Tragedy in 'Number Two'

NBC's This Is Us - Episode 2.09 "Number Two"

Kate and Toby's lives take an unexpected turn. Rebecca encourages Kate's singing aspirations.

"Number Two" is already a vast improvement over "Number One." Kate's story works in this format between than Kevin's did because it actually reaches some sense of resolution by the end of this hour. That was the biggest issue with last week's episode. It felt like the narrative was just sulking in Kevin's story without providing any clarity on when it was going to end or how it was adding new depth to him. Of course, "Number Two" probably doesn't reveal any new depths to Kate, Toby or their relationship either. It's not a perfect episode. There is just naturally going to be a lot of compare and context across this three-episode arc the show is in the middle of right now. It has a conceit that the audience just needs to accept as well. We just need to be perfectly fine with all of these big life events happening to Kevin, Kate and Randall in the same amount of time. Their stories across these three episodes are happening concurrently. So, Kate is having a miscarriage while Kevin is seemingly hitting rock bottom with his alcoholism. Meanwhile, young Kate is having a serious conversation about her musical aspirations in life during the same time that Kevin gets his infamous knee injury. This has always been a narrative of convenient connections. It's always asked the audience to go along with a lot in the name of thematic symmetry. The audience doesn't even know what will happen in Randall's story next week. In the past, he's doing a college visit with Jack. His present story is a bit more of a mystery. It's clear that he won't be isolated like Kevin was because he has Beth and the girls. That creates a similarity with Kate as well because her spotlight episode also features a lot of Toby and Rebecca. This is a story that seemingly strengthens those relationships even in the face of tragic circumstances.

Of course, there better be a point in the show getting Kate and Toby pregnant only for her to have a miscarriage a few episodes later. It can't just be a narrative trick in order to emotionally manipulate the audience during this episode that focuses on that tragedy. If that's what the case ultimately becomes, then the appreciation for this episode will sink significantly. And so, there needs to be an overarching purpose. Perhaps it builds a new connection with Rebecca for Kate because they can now relate through shared experiences beyond music. Perhaps it leads to the tragic reveal that Kate can no longer get pregnant. There are many different story potentials for the narrative to explore in the future. This action just needs to have significance within that larger story arc. The show is sometimes aware of how it comes across. Sometimes it isn't - like most of the time with Toby. This really could be it for this pregnancy storyline this season. And yet, there's the sneaking suspicion that it isn't because of the place Kate and Toby find themselves in by the end of the hour. Again, that's probably a false moment for anyone in the audience who doesn't like Toby. But the show is still going for that big swell of emotion that says that the two of them belong with each other. Plus, the show is aware enough to know that because it teased Kate's miscarriage at the end of "Number One" it can't delay the inevitable throughout this episode. As such, "Number Two" spends most of its time dealing with the emotional aftermath which is exactly where it belonged.

All of this is so tragic because it's something Kate was predicting the moment she got pregnant. Yes, that's depressing and tragic in its own way. Getting pregnant is suppose to be a happy occasion but Kate was incapable of finding joy in this news until Toby got her to accept it as such. That was another case of Toby going for the big reactions and forcing Kate to do things she's not exactly comfortable doing. That continues to be a trend throughout this episode. There was power in the subtlety with which the show revealed the circumstances of this miscarriage. Kate went into the bathroom to measure the tub and the shower curtain fell down on her. She felt some pain and cried out for help. All of that was understood the moment the show immediately cut to the two of them in the hospital getting the news. It was a little too melodramatic to later on show the two of them staring at the curtain and having traumatic flashbacks to the previous night. Seeing Kate in the bathroom like that probably wasn't all that necessary. But it does highlight how the two of them want to grieve differently. The two of them have always had polar opposite reactions. Sure, they can be blunt in their interactions with other people. But Toby is the one who wants to make a big deal about things while Kate would rather internalize her feelings.

As such, it's powerful to sees the echoes throughout Kate's life in which she typically kept to herself and quietly noticed the world around her. She has always felt the desire to perform. And yet, she always felt like the middle child as well. She never got the same amount of attention that her brothers got. Nor did she get it in the way that she needed for a long time. She always felt defined as being Kevin's twin sister. He was the star and she was in the background. She needed to be there for him - first in the aftermath of his football injury, then after Jack's death and then once he became successful as an actor. Kate is finally forging her own path in her life. But it's still a journey defined by a man being by her side. She is happy with Toby. It may be disingenuous to certain members of the audience but she does love him. She wants to marry him and have a family with him. But she doesn't want to grieve in the way that he thinks she should. She would rather deal with things her own way. That's completely fair as well. She still has the strength to not break and binge on a ton of food. She still has the conviction to remain healthy despite this setback. But she's also not reaching out to the man she loves to let him know what's going on with her. She believes she has failed him and pushed him away.

However, the most rewarding conversation between two characters throughout this episode is Kate and Rebecca. Sure, it's a little cheesy and forced when they are in the hospital in the past and Rebecca is talking about holding her arms open for her daughter waiting for that love to return. But it was obviously setting up the resolution of Kate needing love from her mom right now more than anything else. It's significant that Rebecca comes to Kate instead of the other way around. She got the news and immediately jumped on a plane. It would have been a firm statement to make if Kate flew to Rebecca and abandoned Toby. The relationship between Kate and Rebecca is just so much more nuanced. This season has shown just how careful they are around each other. Their walls are up because they don't have an open and honest relationship. But Rebecca is still there for Kate during her time of need. There's power in their shared experience of losing a child. They can relate to the feelings they are having of doing something wrong and not knowing if they can be open about that with their partners. As such, it's rewarding that Kate is having this conversation with her. It makes it that much easier to believe that everything is alright between her and Toby in the end. She is finally able to express how she's feeling. How she believes she failed this baby and Toby. Her sharing that with Rebecca means she doesn't need to with Toby. Of course, she does. That relationship needs to be mended. But it's also perfectly fine for the show to make that a minor moment in the end. Toby has gotten in the way of Kate and Rebecca in the past. It's important that he doesn't here. And so, the show does successfully find closure even though this is still just the start of Kate and Toby's story together.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Number Two" was written by K.J. Steinberg & Shukree Tilghman and directed by Ken Olin.
  • One of the recurring problems with Toby is that he always needs people to know that he did something. When he proposed a big wedding to Kate, he needed to tell her that he consulted Jack's ashes first. And so, it's very appreciated that he spends a lot of time dealing with the baby tub without needing to mention it to Kate at all. That was one of the first times where he was truly selfless.
  • There is just so much truth during that big fight between Kate and Toby. She's criticizing how he always needs to do everything as big as possible. Of course, the show is ultimately taking Toby's stance in that moment because he gets his big moment in telling Kate that he lost just as much as she did because of this miscarriage even though it wasn't actually happening to his body.
  • Because these three episodes are happening at the same time, there is a lot of repeated scenes in the past. So, there's still lots of talk about the coach coming over to meet Kevin and his parents, Kate needing to care for the dog and Kate having to call Jack and Randall about Kevin's injury. As such, those scenes don't seem as significant as they did last week. But the symmetry still needs to be seen as well.
  • It's perfectly fine for Kate to want to go back to work right away after suffering a miscarriage. Toby wants her to have a typical depiction of grief in not being able to get up off the couch while watching old sitcoms. Both reactions are completely valid. And yet, Kate's perspective of the world is forever changed because she had and lost a child. That makes her view kids differently now.
  • It was important for Kate and Toby to get a shower curtain in their bathroom because they both need to shower. They just can't avoid that room forever. It perhaps may not be the best idea to dig the old one that feel out of the trash through. It was there overnight. Plus, it had to have fallen for a reason. Or did it seriously only take a small push from Kate to send it down?
  • There should always be the constant reminder in the back of the audience's mind that Kate blames herself for her father's death. Before, we were led to believe that it was her pushing for him to prove his love to Rebecca that led to her carrying that blame. But now, it's important to see Kate looking outside the hospital and seeing Jack and Rebecca hugging and consoling each other despite this latest setback in their lives.