Can Derek learn how to compromise with his collaborators -- and can Tom learn how to say "no" to his?
Credit: Will Hart/NBC
S2 E8
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When tonight’s edition of Smash begins, both Tom and Derek are precisely where they want to be: helming their very own musicals, preparing to turn their visions into reality. But as a wise man once sang, “Having just a vision’s no solution /Everything depends on execution” — and as the night wears on, both men find themselves majorly struggling with this second step. (Insert line about Smash‘s insistence on meta-commentary here.)

Tom has brought a figurative lightness to Bombshell‘s already bright rehearsal room, lavishing his cast with praise and free, meticulously pronounced croissants. “Ding-dong,” he seems to be saying, “the Wills is dead!” But there’s a downside to this “Let Me Be Your Star” routine: Tom also feels compelled to agree with any suggestion he’s given, okaying everything from a break for Ivy in Act II (reasonable) to some rando’s wish for a standout monologue (um, not so much). Darryl “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking” Zanuck would not be impressed.

Derek, naturally, has the opposite problem. While Tom’s too quick to please, Derek is too quick to reject any idea that didn’t come straight from his pretty British brain— especially if the source of those ideas happens to be Jimmy Collins, Human Sour Patch Kid. To be fair, the songwriter hasn’t yet learned that one tends to catch more flies with honey than steaming bile. Every time Karen’s two leading men speak, their conversation quickly devolves into squabbling. Derek/Jimmy shippers might find these scenes invigorating; to anyone else, they’re increasingly tedious, though at least this dynamic seems to be shifting as of the end of the episode.

While Good Cop and Bad Cop are worrying and fuming, respectively, Eileen’s doing her darndest to get Bombshell some good press, for a change. She’s aided by cutthroat publicist Agnes, played by Rent‘s Daphne Rubin-Vega. Agnes instantly becomes my favorite character after lobbing this barb at her frazzled assistant: “I’m aging here, Shawn! I just hit menopause while on hold!” Meow!

Eileen’s new media strategy: Stalking into the New York Times building and bewitching its editors into telling her why they won’t write a story about Bombshell. Obviously, this sort of thing happens at EW all the time. Upon questioning, arts editor Richard — apparently an old friend of Eileen’s, which means they’re going to sleep together sooner rather than later — tells her that there’s just no there there as far as Bombshell‘s concerned. “It’s been done to death in the gossip columns,” he says. “Feuding actresses, oversexed director, divorce, betrayal.” Waaait a minute — did a character on Smash just tell us, the audience, that he doesn’t think the events on Smash are worth our attention? Viewer retention: You’re doing it wrong, NBC.

NEXT: That’s more like it — Nat King Cole!

Oh hey, look who dropped into town — it’s Sporto Sam, who is somehow unhappy touring the country with The Book of Mormon. How can this be? Has he seen his own show? To Julia’s chagrin, people pleaser Tom wastes no time telling his ex that he’d be happy to find a place for Sam in Bombshell. And at an impromptu cast party that night, Tom realizes what that role could be: Nat King Cole, a singer who didn’t know Marilyn Monroe but did moonlight as a big Kennedy supporter. Thanks to an aborted ’60s Vegas musical, Tom even has a fully-written song for Sam to croon in the show.

The tune, a jazzy faux-standard called “(Let’s Start) Tomorrow Tonight,” is great — especially when accompanied by a little makeshift soft-shoe. (Of course Tom just has a bunch of hats lying around, waiting for a moment like this.) Unfortunately, it’s not right for Bombshell. As Julia points out, JFK already has a song; there’s no need to turn this show into the musical equivalent of The Aviator. Tom just can’t bring himself to break the bad news to Sam, so he meekly enlists Julia to do his dirty work. The problem: Though it’s been just about 12 hours since Tom offered Sam the part, Sam has already gone ahead and quit Mormon. Ruh-roh.

Derek and Jimmy, meanwhile, keep doing the same old dance. They fight, they break up, they kiss, they make up, minus the last two. Their latest battle is over Derek’s proposed Hit List set. He wants to line the stage with giant Japanese LED screens — an idea that does, honestly, sound fairly terrible. (Have we learned nothing from The Woman in White?) Jimmy — surprise! — hates the whole concept, snarling that Derek must lavish his shows with fancy, expensive trimmings because he doesn’t trust the material to shine on its own. Somewhere, Andrew Lloyd Webber shrugs his assent and counts his tiaras.

Though he’s made his point in the most obnoxious way possible, Jimmy does end up getting the last laugh. Derek convinces Tom Collins Scott to let him try the screens; they turn out to be a malfunctioning disaster. Adding insult to injury, Karen confesses under duress that she, too, isn’t a giant fan of the electronic set. And oh, here’s that extra wound salt Derek ordered: Tom and Julia have just showed up, ostensibly because Julia wants Derek to teach Tom how to make hard decisions. There’s a dick joke in there somewhere, but frankly, I don’t feel like reaching for it.

Against all odds, Tom and Derek do end up having a mutually beneficial conversation. Bad Cop tells Good Cop that having his team’s respect is more important than getting them to like him. Good Cop tells Bad Cop that he should maybe consider listening to what Jimmy has to say. And as they’re trading advice, Julia sets off to do what she really came downtown to do: confront Scott, who hasn’t returned her calls since their awkward encounter last week.

NEXT: Even Jimmy’s kissing is aggressive

So, is Scott another jilted lover? Surprisingly enough, no: Julia didn’t screw him. She did, however, screw him over.

When she and Scott were in grad school together 15 years ago, they were best friends planning to collaborate on a production of Julia’s first off-Broadway play. Everything changed when Lincoln Center came calling, offering to mount a production of the play directed by Mike Nichols. Julia said yes to the counter-offer, accepting an opportunity that effectively launched her career. As a result, Scott found himself effectively blacklisted, relegated to regional theater until he slowly worked his way back to New York. It’s a juicy bit of backstory that’s totally plausible, given Julia’s history of selfishness — and I love that it has nothing to do with another tired romantic complication, even if the saga is a little too similar to this episode’s Tom/Sam situation.

Anyhow, Derek’s Tom talk convinces him to reconcile with Jimmy. First, though, he takes some time to reminisce about his own start in low-budget theaters — they were just like this one. Actually, they were worse. The audience had to walk across the stage to get to the toilet! And the stage went uphill both ways! And the kaiser had stolen their word “twenty”! In any case, Derek admits there’s a “slim possibility” Jimmy may have been right, and he agrees to nix the screens. Derek also agrees to try some “out of the box” staging that ends up looking a lot like his inside the box staging. (How many Jesus lifts did you count?) Still, the new song — “I Heard your Voice in a Dream” — is catchy. And even if the choreography isn’t exactly breaking any new ground, there certainly is a lot of it.

Hit List has officially had one successful rehearsal. The next step: Everybody drink! The downtown gang heads to a cool downtown bar, which is retro enough to resemble something from Smash‘s first season — this appears to be the first stage-equipped bar we’ve seen in 2013. But before Karen can try out her new Adele cover, Ana snags the mic and belts her way through a powerful rendition of Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy.” The performance is impressive enough for Derek to overlook some of the song’s more problematic lyrics — “I’d make out with who I wanted / And never get busted for it” — and offer Ana a better part in the show. She’ll now be playing The Diva, “the biggest superstar in the world.” Originally, Derek had wanted Lea Michele for the role; it seems fitting that he’ll get one of her old Spring Awakening costars instead.

Just as Derek has learned to be more flexible, Tom has learned to be more rigid. He calmly and firmly tells Sam that he can’t put “Tomorrow Tonight” into Bombshell; he tells Ivy that he isn’t going to change any of her costumes; he asks Julia to rewrite some scenes, though it’s more of an order than a request. So much for the days of croissants and roses. Tom also okays Eileen’s decision to formally ask Ivy’s own Mama Rose (BERNADETTE!) to play Marilyn’s mother — without first checking in with his star. Careful, Tom — you may have just taken your Dereking too far.

And in the latest love triangle news: Karen asks Jimmy if he like, likes her likes her, though not in a note (“check box yes or no”). She immediately follows by asking Derek to walk her home. The two of them get close to a hookup, but Karen dodges it… only to find Jimmy standing at her front door moments later. Cue these two finally doing the Horizontal 20th Century Fox Mambo. Man, even his kissing is aggressive.

NEXT: Tonight’s cheesiest line


– So Hit List doesn’t need any”bells and whistles,” but Bombshell is going to rely on the gimmick of a real-life mother/daughter pair playing mother and daughter onstage. This prospective Tony race isn’t looking very close, guys.

– Also, how did it take this long for Bombshell‘s team to think of casting Leigh Conroy? Ivy, at least, has to see this one coming. Right?

– Eileen: “Ivy’s got her mother’s face.” Agnes the Publicist: “And her rack.” Marry me, Daphne Rubin-Vega.

– Miracle of miracles — did the woman who raised the creature that is Leo just give Tom some decent parenting/directing advice?

– Karen steals one of Jimmy’s old shirts, probably because her sniffin’ pile is getting weak.

– Aww, look at how happy Bobby and Jessica are to get a little crumb of screen time!

– Kyle and Jimmy walk past La MaMa at one point. Think the theater’s fictional counterpart is following up last year’s Bruno Mars extravaganza with, say, a conceptual Ke$ha jukebox musical?

– Tonight’s cheesiest line: “It’s some kid walking across the stage to tell a girl that he loves her! If we can’t get an audience to think about that on its own, one of us isn’t very good at his job.” This must be why all of Once is just a guy slowly crossing from stage left to stage right and back again.

– Kyle hooked up with that cute lighting designer! Four for you, Kyle!

– Hey, remember how you just can’t get enough Jimmy? Well, you’re in luck, Smashochists — next week’s episode is all about our favorite even-tempered leading man, according to the preview. What a fitting note for Smash‘s last Tuesday night broadcast to end upon.

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