Viewers have known for a while that something was off with Kate's boyfriend Marc on This Is Us, and the Feb. 11 episode began to delve into just what that was. During the Kate-focused episode in the "Hell Of A Week" trilogy, Marc was verbally and emotionally abusive to teenage Kate, shaming her about her weight and her interests, calling her names, and even kicking her out of the car in the middle of the woods one night. All of that is a lot to deal with as a teenager in your first real romance, so it's no surprise that Hannah Zeile, who plays teen Kate, thinks that Marc and Kate's relationship affected Kate's future relationships with people like her husband Toby and her mother Rebecca.
"The person that defined her first relationship [was] Marc who verbally abused her and called her 'fat face' and pushed her down and made her feel insecure," Zeile tells Bustle. "That's her first experience with a relationship." Zeile says she now sees those insecurities coming back up in adult Kate's marriage with Toby.
Kate's struggle with her weight existed before Marc, but her insecurities about it are certainly further exacerbated by him. Now Kate, seeing Toby losing weight and talking to another woman at his CrossFit place in the present timeline, is feeling insecure again. "You can see [her] starting to kind of spiral," Zeile says. "I think she's having those same feelings resonating again that she had when she was a teenager."
Kate, like many survivors, appears to feel at fault for Marc's abuse, as if anything she does actually causes it. "Kate [feels] like, well, if only I was thinner, if I was prettier, if I was more interesting to him, if I was funnier maybe he wouldn't act this way ... and it's just not true," Zeile says. "It's not anything you're doing, it's actually the other person." It's similar to where she and Toby are at the moment; Kate seems to think that she is responsible for Toby's feelings about Jack, or at least that she should be able to fix it. It's Rebecca who eventually reminds her that it's up to Toby to step into fatherhood and work out his feelings and that Kate is more than strong enough to walk away from the relationship if it's not serving her best interests.
Tuesday's episode ends on a cliffhanger of Rebecca, Kevin, and Randall heading to the cabin to help teenage Kate, acting on a hunch that something just isn't right. Seeing how confrontational Marc can be, their arrival is not likely to be warmly welcomed. Zeile couldn't reveal what happens next, but she did say that when the storyline eventually wraps up, "viewers will feel rewarded" and "feel fulfilled," even if they've been frustrated by the teasers and flash forwards this season.
For Zeile, her reward is just getting to play this teen Kate and fill in some of the missing pieces for fans about why adult Kate is the way she is, especially with regard to this romantic past. She says that she knew portraying this story would be "challenging and heartbreaking," but that it would also serve to help contextualize some of Kate's struggles and "ongoing issues." Zeile says, "I think that this just was another layer to peel back and it makes you feel like you know the character Kate Pearson more as a whole. We see with [actor] Chrissy [Metz] where Kate ends up, but it's really fun to be able to play the missing puzzle pieces and to fill in the blanks."
And some more blanks should be filled in when This Is Us returns Feb. 18 on NBC.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.