By Jodi Walker
December 13, 2019 at 08:45 PM EST
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Improving is not the worst thing a new series could do. In fact, it is perhaps the second-best thing a series could do, just after being flat-out consistently good. I stand by my original assessment that The Morning Show is not a great TV, but it is compelling TV, and sometimes that’s just as enjoyable. But where great and compelling finally met (albeit with a nauseating rush of reality) on The Morning Show was in last week’s hourlong flashback to life before the reckoning of Mitch Kessler’s misdeeds — back when he was using his power and influence to manipulate young women, and UBA was happily sweeping up behind him.

By all accounts, The Morning Show was first conceived as a drama about the nitty gritty behind-the-scenes machinations of a morning show: poppy, soapy, boardroom-table-banging, walking-and-talking goodness performed by A-list stars who know how to eat a scene right up. But then the #MeToo movement hit, and The Morning Show creators expanded the idea of telling the story of what really happens behind the scenes of a morning show to include, well, the Matt Lauer of it all. And there were clearly some growing pains in figuring out how to tell both stories, because the thing is, when the heartbreak of a story like Hannah’s is happening, it’s difficult for anything else to seem important.

To me, The Morning Show season 1 has been Hannah’s story all along, but for a while we were in the unfortunate position of not knowing it. Alex and Bradley and Chip and Cory are all just accessories (very fun, often quite enraged, occasionally enraging accessories). And as far as performances go: Come for Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell and Billy Crudup, of course — but you sit your butt down and stay for Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

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This sure as hell isn’t Mitch’s story, but if this episode drives one thing home, it’s that Mitch — a narcissist to the greatest degree — sure as hell thinks it is. And please, oh please, let that be this idiot’s downfall. This episode picks up where the last present-day episode left off. It was alarming to see Mitch show up at Hannah’s door cooing at her that it was time to pay him back, but now that we know how Mitch treated Hannah when she was a young junior booker working through her feelings about the Las Vegas shooting tragedy, to hear him inform her that she used him to get a promotion is lunge-for-the-remote-so-you-don’t-have-to-watch kind of material.

But not watching it wouldn’t be fair to Hannah, and all the real people her character represents. When Mitch started coming on to Hannah, she felt confused, and powerless, and indebted. And Mitch didn’t care about any of those feelings. And here they are now, in the exact same situation, just minus the sex. Because in the end, these things are always about power. Mitch is trying to regain the power he’s lost, and he’ll happily use and manipulate Hannah once again to do so.

Outside her apartment, Mitch has the nerve to ask Hannah if she remembers the time she slept with him and then leveraged it for a promotion. First he tells her that he’s not judging her, he actually admires the move, then he tells her that when he first met her he was touched by her ambition, so “what [she] did” took him off guard — y’know, gaslighting! “I bet making a choice like that cost you something, and I bet you still think about that choice,” Mitch tells her, absolutely clueless. “I am being forced to examine my behavior” — quick recapper’s note: no, he’s not! — “so why is Fred the only one who doesn’t have to look at his behavior?” Mitch asks. He wants Hannah to corroborate his story to a reporter as “living, breathing proof” of Fred’s complicity.

Then this a—hole leans in and touches her just after telling her that her story is coming out either way, so she might want to control the narrative.

Stunned nearly silent, Hannah says she’ll think about it, and there’s a lot of that going around in this episode: processing how to move forward when every single path seems bad. But processing is a good thing — a sign that someone is open to taking a risk to create change.

Alex Levy is not that person. Bradley shows up at Alex’s apartment for the dinner they’d planned to talk about how they’ll address Alex’s divorce on the show. Unfortunately, Alex is fast asleep in her daughter’s bed after recently telling the teenager to f— off, but she recovers quickly and ends up having a nice little bonding sesh with her co-anchor. That is, until Bradley mistakes their chumminess for actual intimacy, telling Alex there’s an interview she’d like to do that would be good for both of them, and really good for the show, but it’s… sensitive. Alex tells her to cut to the chase.

“Mitch contacted me and he wants me to interview him on the show,” Bradley says to a simply stunned audience of one. She says she know he has his own agenda, but in order for him to accuse Fred of promoting a culture that silenced women, he has to admit he was part of the problem, “and that’s a pretty stunning place to start an interview from.” Bradley is sure that they can hold Mitch’s feet to the fire and nail Fred at the same time. She tells Alex she’d never bring this to her if she didn’t think this was an opportunity for both of them.

“Oh stop saying us, there is not us!” Alex finally snaps. “There is you interviewing him, and me getting f—ed!” Alex says Mitch is miserable and he wants company, going on to say that Fred protected Mitch because he was financially beneficial to the network. “Everyone knows this silencing culture exists, we don’t need you telling how the world works — we need you to sit down and do your f—ing job, which includes just one little shred of loyalty to me!”

That’s when Bradley gets confirmation of what she’s suspected all along. “Loyalty,” she repeats back. If Alex expects unwavering loyalty from Bradley, whom she doesn’t even get along with, then what must she have been willing to give Mitch back when they were America’s favorite on-air parents? Bradley heads out of Alex’s door and into Cory’s…

And Alex heads directly to Fred. “It’s humbling to admit when you were wrong,” she tells him over lunch. “But I care too much about this show to let my bruised ego get in the way.” Oh, Alex… kindly come off it, dear. She’s referring to going rogue and choosing Bradley as a co-anchor, which has now put the whole show in a very dangerous position. And Fred is fully on the lying-to-save-face train, telling Alex there was always something he didn’t like about Mitch, and if he has one (one!) regret, it’s not following that gut instinct. “Well, we seem to be the only two people who care about this show,” Alex says solemnly.

These two martyrs hatch a little plot to start sending Bradley on more and more field assignments while Daniel fills her chair back home, and eventually they announce that Bradley is leaving after having her fire for field reporting reignited, and Daniel is named co-anchor because of the clear chemistry between him and Alex. And even though Daniel was ready to sign on the dotted line with Your Morning America, he says yes to this super-secret plan, telling his agent, “I may be a fool, but I gotta go with the devil I know.”

But Fred tells Alex there’s one more part to this cleanup plan. He says that from the internal investigation, some information has come to light about a colleague she cares about. “Charlie Black — it has become clear he knew about Mitch’s behavior and he chose to protect Mitch.” Alex meekly pushes back, saying that Chip’s sins of omission were just like theirs, but in the end, who does Alex choose to protect? I’ll give you one guess…

Meanwhile, Cory has just heard the new information from Bradley that Mitch says he has evidence Fred was silencing the women he had sex with, and he wants to be interviewed on the show. “He wants to topple the king,” Bradley tells Cory. “And if that is of interest to you, that is definitely of interest to me.” Cory tells Bradley he needs time to process, and then he asks her if she’s considered that longevity at The Morning Show might actually provide her with “something called a nice life.” Bradley looks him the eye and tells him that she has considered that. So Cory tells Bradley he’s done processing, and they hatch a little plan of their own.

That plan involves bringing Chip into the mix. “You wanna turn The Morning Show in to a f—ing nuclear weapon and drop it on the network… This is a kamikaze mission!” Chip very calmly replies when he hears that they want to bring Mitch on the show, keep it a secret from Alex, and expose Fred as complicit in Mitch’s misconduct.

“You’re using a lot of World War II metaphors,” Bradley informs him, also noting that she doesn’t want to explode the show by interviewing Mitch. “If I do my job correctly, I think I can avoid network nuclear holocaust,” she tells him. More convincingly, Cory tells Mitch that the train is moving, Maggie Brenner is researching the story on in-house complicity, Fred has already met with Chip’s chosen replacement, and there’s one more person who has a meeting with said replacement: Alex.

Now it’s a very hurt-looking Chip’s turn to process. He calls Alex and asks her how she’s doing, saying that she seemed like something was off when they talked earlier. “You good?” he asks. “Are… we good?” Of course they are, Alex assures him — all is well. Chip throws the phone to the ground, and he’s made his decision as well.

So the lines have been drawn: There are the people who claim to care about the show but really just care about protecting themselves, and there are the people who care about doing something good — or at least interesting — with the show over their own general well-being. (Cory, of course, lives in the chaos between those two camps.) And then there are the people like Claire and Hannah who don’t even get to be part of the conversation, just whipped around by all the powerful people above them playing god.

The two go to drinks, where Claire finally tells Hannah about her relationship with Yanko, and how in love she is with him, but how she’s still unsure about going public with their relationship. And Hannah does… not react with the excitement Claire might have expected. “I know you feel like you love him, but at the end of the day, it’s a transitory chemical feeling that’s not worth losing your career over,” Hannah says matter-of-factly. And then she tells Claire that she’s the one who reported them to H.R. “It needed to be done,” she insists. “I have a higher-up position at work, I have a responsibility!”

Hannah tells Claire she reported her precisely because they’re friends: “You’re so young and you have so much potential… There are a lot of men who care more about their own power than they do about you.” Claire storms out, saying that whatever Hannah’s experience was, that’s not what’s going on between her and Yanko.

But by the time she arrives to her first-ever public date with Yanko, she’s clearly given a lot more thought to the consequences of all her co-workers — and even the public to whom Yanko is a famous reporter dating a much younger assistant — knowing that about her romantic relationship. She can’t control how they would see it, and there’s no chance it would work in her favor. On the verge of a panic attack, she tells Yanko that she’s just starting out and she doesn’t want to be defined by who she’s dating. “You will always define yourself, Claire, you know that,” Yanko pleads with her, knowing a breakup is on the horizon. “That’s a beautiful, optimistic, and very naïve statement,” Claire responds. Because as sweet as Yanko is, and as much as he might also be judged a little for dating a much younger woman from work, he’s not the one whose career would suffer the lasting effects.

And we’re back to where we started. Now with Hannah standing in front of Mitch’s apartment, clearly a little drunk from the bar where Claire last left her, telling Mitch that she’ll anonymously corroborate the story, but she needs to tell him that she doesn’t remember things the way he does. She didn’t use him for a promotion, he used her. “I thought you believed in me, that you were mentoring me — I looked up to you!” she exclaims. Misunderstanding, Mitch says he’s sorry if he hurt her feelings, but Hannah cuts him off with what she’s really been trying to say: “I tried to leave.”

It’s really a marvel to watch all Mitch’s false empathy and warmth shutter off the moment Hannah says the one thing he refuses to hear from the multiple women who have come forward to say it to him. And what’s worse, he’s just had his ignorant stance reinforced by Alex, who came to his apartment begging him not to blow up The Morning Show’s spot, and when he refused, spun a little tale about how she could very easily say that he’s coerced her in the past. It’s the most monstrous Alex has been, using the very real experience of very real women — women she knows — not only to get her own way, but to reinforce the idea that women falsely accuse men of misconduct to get ahead, when that is so rarely the case.

But Mitch heard it loud and clear — much louder, and much clearer than he’s heard any of his real accusers. When Hannah tells him that it didn’t even cross her mind what he might want when she went up to his room that night, he sneers, “Did you freeze or did you try to leave, which was it?”

“You’re a strong woman, you’re empowered,” he yells at this person who was maybe 24 when he told her how talented she was, and how dedicated to the show, and how she should come up to his room to watch a movie to shake off the trauma of the day. “When Mitch Kessler decides he’s having sex with you, you feel pretty f—ing powerless,” Hannah spits back, finally putting the right words to her complicated feelings. Mitch says that from what he can tell, she’s a smart woman: “A smart woman knows what it means when a lead anchor who makes 20 million a year is hanging out with an assistant booker!”

So help me, I will pledge my allegiance, and 20,000 words’ worth of recapping to The Morning Show season 2, if this a—hole just gets his in the finale. See you back here next week for the final reckoning.

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Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon star in the Apple TV+ series that gives viewers an in-depth look at what goes on behind the scenes in the world of daybreak television.
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