Smash recap: Understudy
In true Smash fashion, an episode advertised as "The Uma Thurman Show" is actually all about Karen
During last week’s thoroughly entertaining episode, Ivy asked a simple question that cut to Smash‘s core: “Why can’t I be the star?” Tonight, her answer was reinforced in a none-too-subtle fashion — Ivy can’t be the star of Bombshell because come hell, high water, Cuban Assistant Crises, or dull politician boyfriends, Karen Cartwright is going to play Marilyn Monroe. She just is. The rest of us might as well sit back, grab some period-appropriate snacks (Bugles! The rest of someone else’s ice cream sundae!), and wait for the inevitable.
Of course, since it’s Episode 10 and not the season finale, Karen couldn’t clinch the role just yet. Instead, we watched her get tantalizingly close to stardom once more — only to see it snapped away in the show’s last ten seconds, when famed, absent actress Rebecca Duvall finally waltzed into the rehearsal space.
NBC advertised Uma Thurman’s arrival as though it’d be a major part of tonight’s show. Those promos were as misleading as the ABC spots that promised Roger Daltrey would say more than three words on a recent episode of Once Upon a Time. Even so, I’m excited to see what Thurman brings to the table; though Smash is starting to get some real momentum, throwing a(nother) temperamental diva into the mix can only help. Plus, there’s a very real chance that Uma might go all Bride on Ellis, which might be just what the show needs.
Tonight’s pre-title sequence is more Waiting for Godot than 42nd Street. Though the cast, the creatives, and Eileen’s hard-won investors are ready to hear a full read-through of Bombshell, new star Rebecca is stuck in Cuba with Sean Penn. Poor thing; she’s in for so many lectures about Jude Law.
Things can’t really move forward until Rebecca gets back to the Isle of Manhattan. Still, the show — or at least rehearsals — must go on, meaning that the team will just have to find a temporary Marilyn stand-in. They need someone lively, energetic, witty, quick — someone who really understands La Monroe’s soul. But even though Bobby’s available, Derek and co. go for Karen instead. When she hears about her rival’s latest triumph, Ivy takes the news surprisingly well… especially considering her well-established moodiness. Has Ivy’s drug problem gone the way of Judy Winslow? Are the days of Prednisone hallucinations and ruining Norbert Leo Butz’s night over? Say it ain’t so!
As Karen gives Dev the good news and Julia dines on The Grilled Cheese of Sadness with her sullen son, Tom and Sam are having — pardon the pun — a gay old time gossiping about Ivy. The only problem with their chatter? It’s happening while Tom is actually on a date with Boring Lawyer John. Man, can’t anyone on this show have a functional relationship? John uses his gorgeous eyes to surmise that Tom might just be into Sporto, and he ends up quietly breaking things off with the composer. Farewell, Boring John! You were never even the slightest bit interesting, but you sure were fun to look at.
NEXT: I don’t know what we’re yelling about! Loud noises!
Ah, there’s the sulky Ivy we know and tolerate. She lurks by the rehearsal studio, watching Bombshell‘s cast and crew filing in. Her jealousy and longing are so potent that she’s inspired to… break into the theme from The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. Whatever, Ivy, it’s your fantasy. The blonde croons Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” as she imagines changing into Marilyn drag, then watching Smash‘s other characters reenact the last scene of Titanic. Everyone is applauding for Ivy, and only Ivy! They’ve let her be their star! Alas, it’s all a dream; when the song ends, Ivy’s still standing on the outside looking in.
Now that Michael Swift has been fired — incidentally, why hasn’t there been any talk about finding a new DiMaggio? — we can finally meet some of Bombshell‘s other principal characters. Well, sort of. Karen’s rehearsing a scene with the guy who plays Arthur Miller. But before he has a chance to say or do much, Derek starts screaming at Karen for getting her blocking wrong and possibly not knowing how to spell “downstage.” It’s not her fault — it’s that darned Iowa school system, which only teaches kids how to spell words like “loyalty” and “patriotism” and “hot dogs.”
The situation is understandably stressful. Karen is still on edge when she gets home that night, and things only get worse when she reveals to Dev that Derek “sexually harassed” her during auditions. Dev’s mad, which makes Karen even madder; she yells a bunch of stuff about yelling and then storms out. What Karen doesn’t know is that Dev is also upset about missing out on a big promotion. Then again, given how little I care about this development, I can hardly expect Karen to give a flying monkey.
Eileen’s also in trouble. Her elderly investors are getting antsy because of Rebecca’s absence and Bombshell‘s general air of uncertainty. The producer decides to solve her problems the old-fashioned way — by ignoring them and drinking. But as it turns out, The Bushwack may hold the key to everything. As many commenters guessed, Bartender Nick has a stack of cash that he’s perfectly willing to give Eileen. More importantly, he also knows an aging rocker named Randy Cobra (ten points for this name, Smash) who might want to invest in her show.
Ivy has realized that she might catch more flies with complicated manipulation and schemery. She and Derek are lounging around, looking like a perfectly normal couple. (T-minus two episodes until the relationship ends.) Though Ivy’s spent the past nine episodes calling Karen everything from a “little usurper” to a “Midwestern moon face,” as soon as Derek declares that Iowa is “useless” as an understudy, she immediately shifts gears. Ivy advises Derek to go easy on Karen. Her reasoning, of course, is based on Marilyn psychoanalysis: According to Ivy, directors who babied the star were the only ones who got her to perform.
NEXT: New original song alert!
Accomplished Tony nominee Christian Borle hasn’t had many opportunities to sing on Smash. So tonight’s new Bombshell number puts him in the spotlight using the flimsiest of premises: The guy who actually plays Darryl Zanuck in the musical is… somewhere. Somewhere that is not here. You know, the same place where JFK and Arthur Miller and New DiMaggio hang out all the time.
No matter: The new song, “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking,” is another peppy number that sounds like it may have originated in Shaiman and Wittman’s Catch Me If You Can. Tom handles the song’s lighting-fast patter lyrics with aplomb, and the choreography involves cute guys wearing towels, albeit over their regular clothes. I’m not sure why Zanuck keeps referring to Marilyn Monroe as a “tomato,” but I love the sequence all the same. Would that Smash could be as consistently great as these staged originals!
After the number, Derek grabs Karen and — to the cast’s surprise — speaks to her softly and kindly. She’s thrown for an even bigger loop when Ivy crashes post-rehearsal drinks with the rest of the cast, bearing seemingly sincere congratulations and a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones she tossed in the trash last week. Though Derek is making a real effort to be nicer, Ivy’s warmth is a giant ruse. She tells Karen that she shouldn’t let Derek treat her like an object, hoping that Karen will raise the director’s ire by talking back to him. I think Ivy and Emily Thorne might get along.
Extra plotline alert! It’s Tom and Julia’s friendiversary, and they’re celebrating the same way they do every year: by
trying to take over the world seeing a production of Three on a Match, the cheesy WWI musical that was their first collaboration. Though Julia’s not really in a celebratory mood, she goes along with Tom to a high school’s staging of the show. At curtain call, things get emotional when Tom bounds onstage to present Julia with an anniversary gift. But all this talk of stability and commitment is too much for the woman who just destroyed her marriage. She races out of the auditorium; outside, she finally confesses to Tom that Frank is gone. He intertwines his scarf with hers in a show of sympathy.
As Eileen’s trying to convince Randy to give her his money, the wacky rocker reveals some tantalizing info about Bartender Nick: “He got me into this situation that was completely illegal, but the money kept pouring in.” Eileen, a woman who has raised money for dozens and dozens of shows, doesn’t consider this admission red flag. She happily accepts the Cobra’s funds, then ignores Ellis when he tries to tell her more details about Nick’s shady past. (Excellent, more sensitive information that only His Terribility knows.)
Julia steals Leo’s phone so she can trick Frank into picking up one of her calls. She tells him that she’ll die if he doesn’t talk to her. It’s all very “you have to forgive me!” But unlike Aidan, Frank apparently doesn’t budge.
NEXT: Has Derek been sneaking Ivy’s hallucinogenic steroids?
Karen is once again practicing that pesky Arthur Miller scene. But this time, when Derek brays at her, she pipes up and tells him that she thinks the dialogue is lacking: “I just can’t believe he says that. It’s so dumb.” And as she’s yakking, a light bulb goes off in Derek’s brain and damages his visual cortex. He has a vision of Karen as Marilyn, speaking in a breathy voice and saying things like “Your blocking stinks!” It’s entirely ridiculous, but it gets its point across: Derek is going to end up fighting for Karen to play the part, because she is practically perfect in every way.
That night, an elated Karen hears a knock at the door and bounds to open it, wearing only a tiny negligee. Karen, Karen, Karen, why would you assume that the person knocking is your boyfriend, who lives with you and has a key to your apartment? Anyway, of course Dev isn’t on the other side. It’s Derek, and he’s come by to let her know that her week as Marilyn is over; Rebecca’s going to step in, starting tomorrow. Derek also takes this opportunity to apologize for the way he treated Karen in the pilot. St. Iowa benevolently accepts the apology, for Derek knows not what he does.
As Derek exits Karen’s building, he runs into Dev — and, after exchanging threatening Britishisms, the two get into a full-blown scruffytumble (that’s imaginary British slang for “fist fight”). Karen manages to break things up before either one suffers more than wounded pride. But now that tensions have bubbled to the surface, they may never simmer down again.
Inside, Dev tells Karen that he doesn’t want her anywhere near Derek. “What, am I supposed to quit?” she asks in exasperation — and Dev asks if she’d really consider leaving Bombshell. Though he doesn’t come right out and say it, Reporter RJ has told him that there’s a job opening at the White House; if he takes it, of course, that would mean leaving New York. Karen rails against Dev, asking if he’d hypothetically give up everything he ever wanted for her. She expects his answer to be “no;” unfortunately, unlike Karen, Dev cares more about his relationship than he does about his dreams. He walks out on Karen. Maybe he’s going to hang with JFK and Arthur Miller!
Eileen gathers her old investors at The Bushwack and informs them that Rebecca Duvall will begin rehearsals the next day. Unfortunately, the folks she’s assembled won’t be able to enjoy the theoretical fruits of Bombshell‘s labor. Eileen announces that Randy Cobra is her primo investor now, then hands over the old investors’ contracts to Nick — who promptly burns them in a bucket. Okay, Would You Rather time: Play Big Buck Hunter with Anjelica Huston, or play pyromaniac with Thorsten Kaye?
Karen gets one last, lingering Marilyn moment at rehearsal, singing a song I thought the show forgot: “Never Give All the Heart.” The tune underscores a montage of sad staring, starring Ivy and Julia. But the number ends when Rebecca Duvall swans into the rehearsal room, clad in a giant pair of shades and — yes! — a handsome scarf. Yes, Ms. Duvall, you are definitely in the right place.
– Ivy’s keeping busy by defacing Rebecca’s face on the covers of magazines like Gabster and Patois. Obviously, I’d read both of those magazines.
– Tom and John see a terrible Broadway show called End of Daze. Is it to Hell as Heaven on Earth is to Heaven?
– Bobby really is my favorite. He bets the other cast members $10 that Derek will make Karen cry, and $20 that she’ll get fired.
– Oh, silly NYU student who interviewed Tom and Julia: The first rule of interviewing is that you absolutely don’t mention Wikipedia, even if you used it as a reference. Instead, you mention the sources that were cited on Wikipedia, so it looks like you did your research. Tricks of the trade, people.
– Okay, so the dancing in the “Don’t Say Yes” number involves guys in towels who are supposed to be in a steam room. But will the dancers be clad only in towels? Because right before Zanuck entered, they all put the towels around their shoulders… meaning that stage would be filled with an awful lot of naked boys singing. Not that I’m complaining.
– Leo’s extracurricular is wrestling. We can see him practicing during his scenes with Julia, in which he often wrestles with the English language.
– After reading a venomous review, Tom scoffs: “Why be a critic if you despise the theater?” Counterpoint: Why be a critic if you like everything?
– How did you think Karen’s Marilyn voice compared to Ivy’s? Ivy’s is more over-the-top, but I also appreciate the effort she made; Karen just sounds sort of uncomfortable when she tries to ape the star’s voice.
– That last Derek/Ivy scene implied that Derek’s got real feelings for Karen. I hope the show doesn’t bear this out, though; I’m starting to really love Divy’s relationship.
How did you like this episode, Smashers? Were you disappointed about the lack of Uma? Were you cheering for Eileen as she played tonsil hockey with Nick? And how long do you think it’ll be before Dev pulls the plug, sleeps with RJ, and moves to DC, never to be heard from again?