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Why I’m Glad ‘This Is Us’ Brought Back Kate’s Abusive Boyfriend

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can predict where a This Is Us storyline is going. I’ve learned that the writers have the distinct talent of weaving together multiple plot points through various decades while finding ways to link seemingly unrelated characters. In other words, This Is Us makes other network dramas look like child’s play. When I watched episode 4 of season 5, I wasn’t surprised when Kate revealed she kept a huge secret from…everyone. “I never wanted to tell anyone. I mean, not my mom, not my brothers, and not you,” she told her husband, Toby. I soon realized that her toxic ex-boyfriend, Marc, would make another appearance this season, and I surprisingly felt relief.

Why was I relieved that Marc, Kate’s abusive ex, is getting more airtime on the show? It’s simple: Kate not being “over” her teenage relationship is a realistic depiction of the lasting effects abusive relationships leave on people. In season 4, we watched Kate’s mom, Rebecca, and her brothers, Kevin and Randall, come to her rescue after Marc cruelly locked her out of her own cabin. Her family made it through a snowstorm to literally save her from freezing to death. After that, as far as the audience was concerned, Marc was no longer a part of the show—he was no longer a part of Kate’s psyche.

"This Is Us"

Image: Ron Batzdorff/NBC.

But, the problem is that it’s not likely Kate would endure domestic violence and not still struggle with some trauma. If writers chose not to address that, then they shouldn’t have introduced the storyline. Don’t include a topic you’re not willing to tell authentically. So, yeah, I was happy that we got to see Kate learn that she was pregnant, and in this week’s This Is Us episode, hear her explain her reasoning for deciding to have an abortion. And better yet, we got to witness her verbalize the pain that her relationship with Marc caused her.

At the beginning of “A Long Road Home,” we watch Kate tell Toby about the abortion and her relationship with Marc. Of course, Kate’s admission to Toby was compounded by the fact that they tried to have a baby for two years. You could see his bewilderment after learning he hadn’t been privy to such an important part of her past. “I’m just trying to wrap my head around…why did it take you so long to tell me this?” he asked.

Kate not being ‘over’ her teenage relationship is a realistic depiction of the lasting effects abusive relationships leave on people

“I was 18 years old,” Kate responded, before delivering a line that you could feel through the screen. “That decision was wrapped in the darkest, lowest, most painful time of my life. It was like the most painful relationship of my life, and all I wanted to do—I wanted to just lock it up, and I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to think about him. He was so cruel to me.” Toby was understanding and not the least bit judgmental, but after their conversation, Kate began Googling Marc. I immediately wished I could stop her, but her internet search was also super relatable. She realized that Marc lives in San Diego (just a two hour drive from L.A.) and before long, she and Toby were on an impromptu trip so she could confront her ex.

"This Is Us"

Image: NBC.

“It’s a really important episode in learning a little bit more about the whole psychology of this woman,” executive producer Elizabeth Berger told Entertainment Weekly. “This is just a really important puzzle piece. When you step back and you look at Kate Pearson as a whole, this episode sheds some light, some clarity on everything that she’s been through.” She really has been through a lot. Losing her father at age 17, being in an abusive relationship, struggling to get pregnant, raising a baby who’s blind, and also having an abortion that she never even told her family about impacted who she is as a person. 

Kate got the last word, and it was a damn good one at that.

However, on Tuesday, Kate closed the Marc chapter in her life and found closure, recognizing that he was always the problem. She figured out quickly that his memory of their relationship wasn’t accurate. He told her that “she was broken in all the right places” and called his manipulative actions just “intense” teenage problems. “You held my self-esteem in your hands, and you decided to crush it,” Kate told him outside a sad little music shop (much like the one where they met decades ago). She ended her long overdue speech explaining that she swallowed her pain (both figuratively and literally), and she ultimately gave him “back the disease” that he infected her with. She got the last word, and it was a damn good one at that.

"This Is Us"

Image: NBC.

The domino effect is a huge element of This Is Us. The show is built around Jack and Rebecca’s epic love story and how each character has coped with Jack’s death after a tragic house fire. Soon after his death, Kate began dating Marc, and well, we know how that turned out. This entire time in the show, until now, Kate’s great trauma was her dad’s death. But, that was only one component. Her real trauma was the events that followed and how she didn’t feel like she had anyone to lean on. She didn’t attend college after her dad died. Instead, she began working at a record store where she met Marc, survived an abusive relationship, and had a secret abortion. That’s how she began adulthood and the turmoil she endured stole years from her life. 

The episode gave “people a greater understanding of the role that that seminal relationship had, and the impact it had on Kate over the years,” Berger added. We now understand why Kate’s dominoes fell the way they did. She’s carried heavy burdens all her life, and she finally set one down.

This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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