This week’s This is Us gave us a glimpse into Toby’s childhood and the events that contributed to his depression. There were definitely a few tear-jerking moments courtesy of the acting talents of the man who portrays Toby, Chris Sullivan. This recap is full of spoilers so stop reading here to avoid them.
We start the episode with a young boy, Toby, pretending to act out a scene from Ghostbusters in his mirror. He seems happy until he hears his parents fighting in another room. He goes to his room and lies down, turning on a fan and staring into space. In the present, Kate and Toby are waiting on news from Dr. Jasper. Kate hangs an Eight is Enough sign on the fridge, with eggs replacing the faces of the eight children. They get a call from Dr. Jasper that they have three embryos. Kate changes the sign to Three Amigos, again with the eggs replacing the faces of the characters. Finally, they are left with a photo of one viable embryo pinned to the fridge. They have one chance of getting pregnant.
In the past, teenage Randall and Kevin are getting ready to go to prom. Kate tells Randall to have fun as she leaves the room, and Rebecca looks confused, wondering why Kate is not getting ready too. Randall stops her before she can say anything and explains that he already tried. He tells her to just leave Kate alone and not bother her about it.
Randall and Beth are in their room getting dressed up. Randall is about to start his official campaign for city councilman and Beth is interviewing for a new job. She holds up a pair of earrings and a necklace, asking which looks better. Randall tells her, “I like them hoochie hoops,” to which Beth responds to by immediately choosing the necklace. She tells him that he cannot cry at his campaign events and recounts the different times that Randall has broken down crying, including a story about a young boy selling lemonade in the cold. When Randall sadly says that all the boy’s lemonade froze, Beth replies, “He was stupid, baby.”
Kevin and Zoe are driving to Baltimore to meet with Donnie, Jack’s friend from his unit in Vietnam. She tells Kevin that she left her silk pillowcase at home. He mocks her, thinking it is an issue of preferring silk sheets to the cheap cotton ones a hotel would provide. Zoe starts to correct him but keeps it to herself instead.
Young Toby and his mom are shopping for clothes. His baby brother begins crying and as his mom picks him up, she begins breaking down and crying too. Toby grabs a nearby blazer and begins putting it on as his mother tells him he does not need one. He starts doing impressions to cheer her up and she watches him with wonder. Amused, she stops crying and they are able to keep shopping.
Toby and Kate are waiting for the big call from Dr. Jasper, the one that will let them know whether or not they are pregnant. Toby tells Kate that they can’t stand around waiting, they should both go to work and keep themselves busy. He tells Kate not to take a home pregnancy test but to wait on the official results. They agree to meet back at their apartment at 4:00 and Toby leaves. As soon as he walks out, his demeanor changes. He is more worried than he wants Kate to know.
Miguel shows up with a piano for the Pearsons. Rebecca thanks him as Kate says they do not have enough room. She clearly does not like him being around but Rebecca is extremely grateful to have him helping out.
Kevin and Zoe stop at a gas station and go inside for snacks. Zoe goes to the restroom as Kevin pays. While he talks to the cashier, Zoe walks up behind him and tells him the restroom is out of order. The cashier snaps at her, and when Zoe explains she and Kevin are together, eyes her disapprovingly. Kevin is oblivious as he pays but Zoe is extremely uncomfortable until they leave.
Randall is at a BBQ joint preparing for his first campaign meet and greet. He begins introducing himself to everyone but it seems like the people are more interested in the food than in Randall’s campaign. Looking at the flyers for the event, he discovers why. Chichi designed the flyers to say “Free BBQ” in big, bold print and the information about Randall and his campaign in what Randall referred to as tiny “pharmaceutical print.” Chichi smiles and tells him that he asked her to help get people to come to the event and she did just that. The rest, she tells him, is up to him.
Young Toby is standing in the doorway to his dad’s bedroom. His dad is packing his suitcase and explaining to Toby that he needs to get control of his feelings because he will not be able to act the way he’s acting once he becomes older. Toby stares but says nothing. Adult Toby is at the pharmacy attempting to get back on his medication. He explains to the pharmacist how he threw out his medication in order to give himself and Kate a better chance at getting pregnant and now, if they get pregnant, he needs to be able to get back on his medication right away. The pharmacist tells him that he has to speak to his doctor, and asks if someone can come and get him. He walks away muttering, “She can’t know”, referring to Kate. He is spiraling and fast.
Kate, dressed in a blonde wig and a fancy dress, is in an office building. She walks up to the receptionist and introduces herself as an Adele-a-Gram. Soon, a man in a tux comes out to get her. He is very excited about her being there as he takes her back.
Randall, Kevin, and Sophie go to Randall’s girlfriend Allison’s house to pick her up for the prom. Allison’s father walks into the room and attempts to tell Randall he is pleased to meet him but struggles with his words until he admits he is unable to act like he is okay with Randall dating his daughter. He rushes out of the room as Allison chases after him. Her mother apologizes and follows them, leaving a stunned Randall staring after them.
At the BBQ, Randall begins telling the people about himself as they eat. He talks about how he and Beth decided to take up where his father William left off, helping people. Despite his intentions, the people are uninterested. Councilman Brown has been their friend for many years and Randall is a newcomer who does not know any of them. They see him as intruding on their lives and he realizes this will not be an easy campaign.
Kate, at the office party, begins singing Adele’s “When We Were Young” as several scenes are intercut: young Randall alone, Kevin and Sophie going to prom, Toby attempting to get his doctor on the phone, Miguel fixing Rebecca’s refrigerator, Randall almost alone after his failed campaign speech, and Kevin and Zoe arriving at Donnie’s home.
The young man from the office party follows Kate to the elevator and asks her what she is doing. He tells her how impressive her performance was, telling her that she was amazing and should be on a show like The Voice. Kate explains that when sad things happen to her, which is a lot of times, she shuts music out of her life. This is why she never pursued music more than what she is doing now. He tells her that he hopes things stay happy for her.
Young Kate walks into the living room and sits down at the piano that Miguel brought them. She begins to play and hum but stops herself. As she goes to close the piano, Rebecca walks up behind her and stops her.
Kevin and Zoe are sitting around a table with Donnie and his wife, looking over pictures and laughing. Later, Kevin and Donnie are alone, discussing what happened in Vietnam. Donnie offers Kevin some bourbon but Kevin explains that he is now sober. He tells Donnie that he wonders if Jack’s alcoholism stemmed from what happened to him during the war. Donnie explains that Jack was not the mechanic that Kevin thought, but instead, he was actually a staff sergeant, a squad leader, and he saved Donnie’s life. In the kitchen, Zoe and Donnie’s wife are talking. Zoe tells her about Kevin’s reaction to her needing a silk pillow and the cashier being racist. She says that Kevin does not understand what it is like to be black and she does not know how she can explain it to him. Donnie’s wife tells her that she needs to decide if she can handle explaining it to him and if she thinks he is worth the effort to do so.
Randall and Beth are cleaning up after everyone has left. Randall is upset over how people say they want change but they continue to vote for a councilman who fixes nothing. The owner of the BBQ joint tells Randall to go back where he belongs. Randall says he cannot understand why the people will not stand up for themselves and what they need, instead choosing to follow Councilman Brown out of blind loyalty. The man explains to them how Councilman Brown helped them when they almost lost their restaurant. He explains to Randall that the people owe him more than just their loyalty. They owe him their lives.
Toby is lying on a bed as his mom walks in the room. She tells him she is worried after his brother told her things he had said. She explains that he has to keep going even though his wife, Josie, left him. Toby tells her that he can’t but she refuses to listen. She tells him that he can keep going just the same as she did. Toby helped her when she needed him and now he needs to find something that will help him. Toby starts going to therapy and begins making progress. Heavily bearded, he jokes that no one is going to want to date someone who looks like they ate the Unabomber, to which the therapist asks if he is ready to take care of that. Back home, Toby shaves his beard. This is when he meets Kate. Back in the present, Toby has zoned out while playing an arcade game. A girl complains that he has been playing too long and when she tells him the time, 3:45, he realizes he is going to be late getting home for the news from the doctor.
Kevin and Donnie are talking. Donnie says that he can’t tell him much about what happened to Jack in Vietnam but that “sometimes the answers are so dark, you’re better off not having them.”
Randall comes home and sees Miguel outside. Miguel asks why he is home so early and not at the prom. Randall explains what happened at Allison’s house. Miguel begins telling him about how when he came from Puerto Rico, all he wanted to do was blend in. He worked extremely hard only to be called Ricky Ricardo on his first day of school. He explains to Randall how he played along with it, making a joke out of it, but that Randall is stronger than he was. Randall is not interested and goes inside.
In their hotel room, Kevin tells Zoe that he feels like he learned a lot but at the same time he feels like he did not learn anything. A delivery arrives. Kevin tells Zoe she should get it because it is for her. He has ordered her a silk pillowcase because it was important to her to have it. She decides to explain to him why it was necessary (for her hair) and also tells him about the racist cashier. He asks her why she only just decided to tell him now and she says because she thinks he is worth it.
Rebecca and Young Kate are sitting down at the piano. Rebecca tells Kate how she put aside music due to sadness and being afraid, and how even though Kate didn’t think there was room for the piano she feels like there is so much more space now that it is here. She begins to play and sing Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.” She asks Kate to join her and for a moment it looks like she might, but she says that she can’t. Rebecca tells her it is okay. She may not be ready now but one day she will be because that is what she is meant for. Adult Kate is at home, playing piano and singing. She is choking up as Toby finally arrives home. She explains to him the doctor already called her with the results. They are officially pregnant. Overwhelmed, Toby begins to hyperventilate. He rushes to the kitchen sink for a glass of water as Kate follows him, worried. He begins to break down and sob uncontrollably, grabbing onto Kate for support.
Beth and Randall are putting the campaign signs in the back of Randall’s truck. They discuss how the meeting went and Beth tells him how proud she was that he did not cry at all. He remembers Beth’s interview and asks her how it went. He is excited for her. She plays it off and leaves to get in her car, where she thinks back on her interview. Just as it seems to be going well, the interviewer asks about her previous job and how it must have been difficult leaving after being there as long as Beth had been. She struggles to talk about what happened, fighting to control her emotions and eventually excusing herself as she walks out in tears.
As Toby lies in bed with a fan blowing on him, Kate talks on the phone to his doctor. She walks into the room and tells Toby that his doctor is going to adjust his medication so he can get back on it. Toby stares into space.
After prom, Kevin’s friends drop him off at Miguel’s house. He is drunk and passes out on Miguel’s bed. Miguel calls Rebecca to let her know Kevin is safe and refuses to let her come and pick him up, saying she should just let him stay and sleep. Rebecca tells him that they do not deserve him. Miguel flashes back to a moment between himself and Jack where Jack asks Miguel to take care of his family if anything were to ever happen to him.
As Kevin and Zoe prepare to leave the hotel, Donnie is waiting for them. He tells Kevin that Jack may have actually wanted Kevin to know more about his time during the war. He hands Kevin letters that Jack wrote to him and leaves. As Kevin pulls one of the letters out of its envelope, a picture of Jack and a Vietnamese woman falls out. The woman is wearing the necklace Jack gave to Kevin.
One thing I love about This is Us is how we are able to see the characters from a young age and how different events or moments effected who they are in the present. Getting to see the events that made Toby who he is, and showing how early depression hit him, made his eventual break down even more heartbreaking. Chris Sullivan knocked it out of the park this week.
The other heartbreaking moment for me was courtesy of Beth, played by Susan Kelechi Watson. It was hard to watch the usually strong and sassy Beth lose her composure as she thought about being unexpectedly let go from her previous job. The more she attempted to stay in control, the less control she actually had, eventually leading to her leaving the interview. This was a complete role reversal for her, as it is usually Randall who struggles with his emotions and Beth that stands strong to support him. I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out the rest of the season.
This is Us airs Tuesdays at 9/8 central on NBC.