This Is Us celebrated Christmas (and Hanukkah!) on Tuesday’s fall finale, but things in the Pearson household were anything but merry once Rebecca’s old adage that “nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve” proved untrue.
On Christmas Eve, Toby (Chris Sullivan) surprised Kate (Chrissy Metz), flying across the country in a middle seat on the plane to spend the holiday with her and her family, declaring that he, too, was back on the weight-loss diet -- this time, for his own well-being. The on-again couple made up -- they even had sex! -- but soon after, things went awry.
As he got up from the couch after a long day of festivities at Randall’s home, Toby -- beads of sweat on his face -- suddenly and unexpectedly collapsed on the living room table in front of the extended Pearson family, the cause a complete mystery. Toby was rushed to the hospital, where he lie unconscious on the operating table as doctors attempted to save him, paralleling what Dr. K (Gerald McRaney) went through on Christmas Eve all those years ago -- only he got a happy ending.
Will Toby make it? What was the cause of his collapse? ET jumped on the phone with Sullivan to chat about the shocking cliffhanger, what Toby and Kate’s romance would have entailed had he not collapsed and why #SaveToby is about to take over the Internet.
ET: Please assure us that Toby is OK!
Chris Sullivan: I mean I sure hope so. I guess we’ll find out. (Laughs.)
What was your reaction when you got to the moment in the script where Toby suddenly collapses and is rushed to the hospital?
It’s definitely going to keep people on their toes for a few weeks while we take a break. It was shocking. It’s a difficult thing to have to watch your character -- who I’ve come to love and enjoy playing -- have to go through something like that.
Did you get any notice beforehand that this was coming?
Yeah, [creator] Dan [Fogelman] and the writing team keep us pretty advised as far as what’s coming down the pipeline. They’re not trying to keep anything from anybody or surprise anybody.
Do you know what caused Toby to collapse?
Yeah, they give us all of that information so that we know what we’re walking into. It’s not something I can talk about yet.
What was it like filming that scene in the Pearson living room?
A lot of planning went into it and a lot of safety stuff and we arranged things just so. I’ve done a little bit of stunt work in my time, but nothing on a professional level. On top of all that, it was very well-advised, as far as how to make sure nobody got hurt, specifically me. And then when we put all the planning into it, we only had to do it twice.
Prior to that moment, it seemed Kate and Toby were back on good terms again. Were things looking up for the two of them? Where do you think they were headed had this not happened?
There are ups and downs in all of the relationships in this show and it appeared to me that Toby and Kate were coming back on an upswing. I guess one never knows. As far as episode 10 goes, it seemed like everything was back on track.
Could this change their relationship for the long haul?
I think experiences like this, both for the person who goes through it and for the people who witnessed it, I don’t think it’s possible to continue on with your life without letting something like that affect you in one way or another.
We saw Toby make the decision to get back on the weight-loss diet to better his life. Has it surprised you how much attention this storyline has gotten, as well as Chrissy Metz’s remarks about her real-life weight-loss journey?
I think it’s interesting to watch people react to something -- a topic like this -- anyway. It’s just another person who’s struggling with something in their life. It’s interesting to watch people respond to this maybe a little differently than they would say, if it was someone struggling with being adopted or struggling with alcohol or struggling with having three kids or struggling with trying to raise an adopted child. These are all just challenges that humans face along the way and it’s nice to be a part of a project that takes all of these challenges and speaks about them with the utmost integrity and honesty and sincerity.
The show certainly isn’t afraid of addressing real problems and real issues that everyday people go through that may not be the sexiest thing to talk about…
The reason that this show is so successful is that the show is making a statement that it is OK to talk about the things that don’t go so well in life and that it is OK to deal with the things that give you shame and that it is OK to deal with the things that are difficult. The best way to do that is to be honest about them and to try to connect with the people that you love and people that you care about. That’s a really important message to be hearing on television right now.
Even if Toby doesn’t survive, there’s still a chance the character will stick around, thanks to the various time periods. Have you entertained the idea of what that could look like?
This could be a perfect opportunity for a real Touched by an Angel shift in the show. Toby passes and comes back as an angel to watch over the entire family, and he’d have scenes with everybody. And then Randall won’t have to do mushrooms in order to [see his dad, Jack].
Speaking of Randall, was last week’s episode as enjoyable to watch for you as it was for the fans?
You could say a lot of things about the show but one thing that’s undeniable is that the writers’ room is just the best of the best. The stuff that they’re coming up with is just undeniably heartfelt and sincere and full of integrity and creativity. Turns like that, on paper, a main character in a primetime network television show tripping on mushrooms doesn’t seem like something that you can pull off in any kind of honest and classy way. Leave it to Dan Fogelman and his team to pull it off with flying colors.
If Toby does make it out alive, what do you hope he takes stock of from what would be a near-death experience?
I don’t think he needs to change anything per se, but events like this in people’s lives can catapult them into a second half of their life where they begin to take stock in the people they want to be and the things they want to accomplish and the reasons why they’re here. Maybe this event will have Toby looking a little closer at all of those things.
What can you say about what fans are going to be in for when This Is Us returns?
Can’t say much! We can say #SaveToby. #PrayforToby. (Laughs.)
This Is Us returns Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.