This is Us fans have always been aware that Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) have a complicated mother-daughter relationship, but the exchange between the two on tonight’s episode was downright brutal. (Spoilers ahead!)
Rebecca decided to surprise Kate by attending her first singing gig—but rather than appreciate her mother’s support, Kate lashed out and unleashed years of anger in the process. “You still make me feel like a stupid, fat little kid,” Kate admitted after Rebecca said she sang “incredibly beautifully”—a word choice that set off Kate. Dumbfounded by her daughter’s accusation, Rebecca asked what she had ever done to make her feel that way, and all Kate could could say was, “You existed.” Ouch.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Kate followed it up by telling her mother that she only wanted a daughter like herself, and she was never going to be that. “No, you wanted me to be the you that you never became.” Rebecca remained impressively calm and collected, telling her daughter that she had nothing to say because, “I can’t think of anything that would be quite that terrible. You and your brothers are my entire life.”
So what provoked Kate to lash out like that? With too many questions and not enough answers, we asked executive producer and co-showrunner Isaac Aptaker to fill us in.
My jaw was on the floor with some of the things Kate said to Rebecca. Did you discuss how far you were willing to push their conversation? Or what damage this could do to their relationship?
Isaac Aptaker: We’re very fortunate we have a lot of brilliant female producers and writers on our staff who have wonderfully complicated relationships with all of their mothers. [Laughs] So, we had a lot of personal experience and real stories to draw from. Dan Fogelman wrote that episode with Bekah Brunstetter, who is one of our writers, and they did such a good job capturing how much love is there, but how much pain these two women have caused each other over the years and continue to inadvertently cause each other. It’s a long scene, and there’s a lot to it. These episodes are only 42 minutes, [so in editing] we wondered if there was any where to make a cut, but Mandy and Chrissy are just so good and we found it so compelling that we left it pretty much untouched. I think that was the right decision.
At the end of their exchange, Toby tells Rebecca he doesn’t know the full history between Kate and her mother. Is it safe to say that for us, as viewers, we don’t know either? Because what we’ve seen so far of Kate and Rebecca’s relationship doesn’t indicate there’s this much bad blood.
IA: Yeah, definitely. The relationship between Kate and Rebecca is going to be a big one that we’re really unpacking this year. Kind of how in season one it really focused on the dynamic between Randall and his mother and the secret of William that she kept from him for so long. This season we’re really diving into the mother/daughter relationship and what it was like for these two women growing up over the years and how they drifted apart and how they can hopefully come back together as adults.
What do you think was the worst of Kate’s accusations?
IA: Oh man, I think the saddest and truest thing that she says to her there is, “When I look back on this day that is my first time singing in front of a crowd, this is what I’m going to remember.” That breaks my heart because Rebecca just wanted to be there. She comes from such a place of pure intention; she just wanted to be there for her daughter and celebrate what should have been this really joyous occasion. And totally, inadvertently—through no fault of Rebecca’s—her presence turned it into this loaded thing for Kate, and it had the exact opposite effect. That’s why their relationship is so poignant and powerful. Rebecca just wants to be a good mom to her daughter. She just wants to do right by her, and it feels like every time she makes a move, it just ends up exploding in her face.
I know. I was like, what did she do that is that bad? She didn’t kill Toby!
IA: [Laughs] Right, right!
Do you worry about having these two female characters pitted against each other?
IA: We never talk about them as pitted against each other. Again, we really try to draw from our own experiences and the experiences of the women on our staff, particularly in this case, and also Dan’s family experiences because Kate’s a lot based on his family. We believed these are two women who are trying to repair and to do right by each other, and there’s a lot of baggage there and history there. At the end of the day, as you saw at the end of the episode, they have that small little repair in the car, where Rebecca tells Kate that she really loves Toby. So even moments after they said these pretty cutting things to each other, there is that effort to get through it and still be there for each other. So no, I don’t think we ever look at it as Kate and Rebecca pitted against each other. It hopefully captures the realities of what is a very complicated, fraught, but ultimately love-filled relationship.
Will we ever see Kate in her 20s in order to get more of that backstory?
IA: That would make our casting department’s head explode! It’s something we talk about a lot, just from a production and practical standpoint: When do our teenage actors transform into our adult actors and do we need another person to bridge that gap or is it something that we can do with our wonderful hair and makeup department? We’re very, very interested in visiting Kate in that time. In terms of whether it’s going to be Hannah [Zeile; teen Kate] or whether it’s going to be Chrissy, you’ll have to wait and find out.
Some fans haven’t gotten on board with the character of Toby, but I thought it was so funny and sweet that he told Rebecca he’ll always be team Kate.
IA: Honestly, we are baffled why anyone wouldn’t love Toby. We adore the character and Sully as an actor! We’ve heard every now and then there are people out there who aren’t on board with him, and I don’t get it. If I had a daughter or a sister, that’s exactly the guy I’d want them to be with. He’s just such a funny, fresh, genuine guy who we all love, and it felt like a very Toby thing to say. But no, it was not a pointed comment to anyone out there who doesn’t think he’s the guy for Kate. [Laughs] We don’t understand that.
Heading into next week, will Kate and Rebecca pick up from where we left off?
IA: Next week is Sylvester Stallone’s episode, so that’s the big focus there, but this is a bigger season-long arc that we’re going to explore their relationship over the years. We don’t dive right back into [what happened in the club], but it’s going to be a big part of the season. We’ll definitely hit on many more moments over the years of Rebecca and Kate, both at each other’s throats and being there for each other in really beautiful ways.