The Morning Show isn’t quite adding up to the series its star power suggests it could be just yet, but hot damn, can it roll out a string of compelling moments. Mostly, they involve watching Jennifer Aniston play Alex Levy as her blood pressure rises right up to the line of causing us to wonder whether Alex is completely losing her mind or just now finding her power.
And that’s a promising direction. Because isn’t power exactly where The Morning Show’s two main themes — behind-the-scenes drama of broadcast news and exposure of rampant sexual impropriety in the entertainment industry — overlap perfectly in a Venn diagram of ruthlessness? The Morning Show premiere had impassioned outburst after impassioned outburst about the state of news and the #MeToo movement, and while it was very fun to watch Aniston and Reese Witherspoon do their impassioned thing, and it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to showcase female anger, none of it ever reeeeeally added up to any substantial point of view on… well, the state of news or the #MeToo movement.
But one scene in this second episode gave a quick glimpse into the exact point of view The Morning Show is uniquely equipped to tell. Head booker Hannah gets wind that The Morning Show’s ratings rival, Your Day America, has booked one of Mitch Kessler’s victims to tell her story, so she shows up at the woman’s hotel room to try and convince her to come on The Morning Show instead. Clearly, it would look bad for The Morning Show to have the victim of their former anchor go on a rival show to tell her story, but that wouldn’t be a very convincing argument for the woman, Ashley, who just wants a safe space to tell her story, now would it?
So when Ashely immediately says no to going back to the place where she was allegedly assaulted, Hannah gives her a more compelling reason: “This is television, not a woman’s study seminar at Vassar… How you tell the story is the whole f—ing ballgame, and if you do it on YDA, you’ll be the angry person.” The thing is: Hannah is both correct and trying to intimidate this woman into coming on The Morning Show. Or is it possible she really could have Ashley’s best interest at heart?
Hannah tells Ashley that going on the enemy show will make it look like she’s scorned and bitter, just trying to get back at The Morning Show by aligning with their enemy. She’ll look weak and manipulated by YDA: “Trotted out like a piece of meat and discarded when you’re not needed anymore.” Finally, Hannah plays the bravery card, telling Ashley that if she’s going to blow the whistle on Mitch Kessler for being a predator, she has to have the guts to do it in his own house. “It won’t mean anything otherwise,” Hannah pleads, nearly in tears. “Come on The Morning Show. Come back to the killing floor. Show everyone you have the nerve, but especially — show him.”
Wow. Hannah is good. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw is so good playing her, because at the end of Hannah’s impassioned speech we’re actually left with a substantial quandary. If everything Hannah saying is right, can her intentions still be wrong? Can Hannah truly care about protecting Ashley when it’s also for the benefit of The Morning Show’s ratings? Does anyone at The Morning Show actually care that they created a space for women to be harmed and promoted the man who was harming them to become one of the most powerful men on television, or do they only care about the Morning Show legacy? Can it possibly be both?
Weirdly, Cory is the only person who seems to openly talk about the show’s wrongdoing in the matter of Mitch’s misconduct. I say “weirdly” because Cory seems like a hella creep, so that is a surprising perspective from him. I am obsessed with the off-putting cadence and inappropriately timed smiles Billy Crudup is constantly deploying as Cory, but those aren’t the only things suggesting the guy is a creep — it’s also the jazz singer crooning “Creep” as the episode opens on the meeting he set up with Bradley at the end of the premiere. The camera pans over the crowded club, finding Cory and doing a nice, long push in on him as the woman, sings, “I’m a creeeeep.” And as Bradley walks in, looking nervous: “What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”
Bradley is an outsider, see, and the writers will make sure you know that by basically making her deliver Jughead’s “I’m a weirdo” speech from Riverdale. Bradley explains to Cory that she hasn’t had a big break because “I don’t think like other people, I say whatever I mean, I don’t play games, I don’t fit the mold.” It is very embarrassing to listen to! It’s made a little less cliché by the show having the self-awareness to have Cory laugh at this explanation and respond, “Oh, right — a weirdo.”
But still: Bradley is someone who waxes poetic about her own uniqueness a lot. She does at least back up some of her big talk about “ideas — things that matter” when Cory sends her for an interview with Chip to be a correspondent because he wants to reinvent The Morning Show by hiring “smart people with fresh perspectives.” Bradley comes equipped with ideas for stories she thinks she would be a good fit, even though Chip tells her that correspondents don’t generally write their own stories.
Bradley’s story ideas — a mom-and-pop shop who want to be bought by big business, a memorial to the immigrants who died in the Triangle fire of 1911 — could make for interesting segments, but Mitch is barely listening to her because he thinks this is a waste of time in their current crisis. “I don’t’ know how to say this without being rude,” he eventually snaps, “but your stories aren’t right for us, and it’s not even ostensibly what you’re here to discuss, so…”
Oh, Bradley does not like that. She’s sure her stories are good, and she thinks the Morning Show is bad, so she screams as much at the executive producer. He attempts to get away from her threatening to call security, until she’s down the hall and says, “You know what, people like you are the reason broadcast news is what it is — thanks for your time, Charlie-Chip, whatever your f—ing name is!” (Chip’s “What the f—?!” said to an emptied hall is also pretty priceless.)
But as Bradley storms out of the building, she also seems to realize that she just yelled her way out of any chance at becoming one of the people who could create the change she seems to think broadcast news needs. Of course, it’s unlikely the meeting ever would have gone all that well because Chip’s brain is about to start leaking out of his ears if he gets anymore stressed.
Earlier that morning, 90 seconds before she was supposed to go on air, Alex got a call from her agent Sarah saying that UBA is still refusing to agree to her contract renegotiation, specifically the clause that says Alex gets to approve any new co-anchor hire. It’s the one thing Alex won’t budge on, telling Sarah, “I just need to be able to control the narrative so that I’m not written out of it.” So when she hears UBA isn’t interested in letting her do that, she storms off stage, finds Chip, and tells him that she’s not going on until he promises to help get her co-anchor approval.
The woman takes her earpiece out — she means it.
Staring wide-eyed at his watch, Chip tells her that pulling a stunt like this won’t make the network promise her anything: “It’s just gonna make them think that you’re f—ing losing it.” Alex counters that sometimes you have to lose it to get people to take you seriously as someone announces they’re 30 seconds to air. Alex crosses her arms.
Chips huffs that he’s trying to protect her, but she’s putting him in an impossible situation. “I don’t want you to protect me!” Alex scoffs. “I’d like you to respect me.” Chip rolls his eyes, asking if she got that off some card, but in the end it’s pretty on point. Chip does seem to want the best for his anchors, but only if what’s best also falls in line with The Morning Show’s preordained mold. He finally promises Alex cohost approval, and she hurries to her seat with five seconds to air, but we never see him do anything to back up that promise. Chip tells a younger anchor, Daniel, that he’s in a prime position to get the co-anchor job, but he needs to — hold onto your hats — be more like Mitch, and stop being so serious all the time (including not calling the now thrice-mentioned Gilmore Girls musical “neo-pro-life-rights propaganda” in the halls).
And finally, Chip shows up to Mitch’s house and tells him he has to stop calling reporters to try and tell “his side of the story.” Ah yes, Mitch, the (allegedly) prolific sexual predator, who can be heard all over New York City complaining about his morality clause and how he’s being burned at the stake (coincidentally, a thing that historically happened when men insisted women were liars!), and who hilariously asks Chip how long he’s supposed to sit around while he “takes [his] punishment like a man.” Is that what he’s doing??
Steve Carell has proven he can act his ass off in any character and genre (including just… randomly getting really hot in real life?!), but at times as Mitch he sounds so much like Michael Scott… presumably because Mitch is being purposefully portrayed as a buffoon of comical proportions. Like when he says to Chip with absolutely no self-awareness: “At first they came for the rapists, and I did not speak up because I am not a rapist, and then they came or the powerful men and you did not speak up because you are not a powerful man, but what are you gonna do when they come for the everyday, run-of-the-mill creep like you, Chip?”
Hey, Mitch — is the premise that you should have spoken up for rapists when you had the chance???
Thus far, the goal of following Mitch after his firing seems solely to be showing him as a pathetic narcissist. I sure as hell hope the goal is not for us to feel sorry for him, or to root for him when he makes the rare right decision to not to go cause a scene at the ceremony where Alex is receiving a Leadership in Journalism Award that night as he was original planning on doing…
For the last two episodes, Alex’s estranged husband has reminded her that they’ll be attending “the event” together, which turns out to be the award ceremony. Alex is receiving the honor, and she can’t skip because then everyone would know that she’s actually very afraid of what’s going to happen to her in the wake of Mitch. And fear can make you do a lot of crazy things — especially when you get to your table and realize that Cory has invited Bradley Jackson to attend your event, and has inexplicably arranged for her to be seated right next to you at your table.
Bradley looks stricken when she realizes why Cory invited her to the event — well, she doesn’t really realize why, but she gets that it’s not good. But Alex knows why: Cory is declaring war. And what better battleground than the women’s bathroom?
After excusing herself for a breather, Alex first runs into her rival anchor on Your Day America, Audra (Mindy Kaling, whaaaaat?!) who’s all fake sympathy for “everything” that’s going on. “Why, Audra?” Alex laughs. “I didn’t f— anyone!”
In the premiere, Cory said something about Alex coming alive in the midst of a controversy; he meant it as an insult to her being otherwise complacent, but he’s right. Alex is living in that bathroom, which seems to be a magnet for her enemies. As Audra exits, Bradley enters, terrified when she spots Alex. She tells Alex that she doesn’t know why she’s there, but she feels really stupid about being jerked around by the men of the Morning Show all day.
“He sat you at my table to f— with me,” Alex informs Bradley matter-of-factly. Then she asks Bradley, if she was so uncomfortable, why didn’t she just leave? “I don’t have the right to tell the head of a network to f— off,” Bradley says sadly. “I’m a nobody; I’m not you.”
Correct — Alex has leverage in this world, but there’s no man out there who’s going to turn over some of their power so that she can have it instead. That much is clear when she exits the hell bathroom to discover her own personal devil, Cory, just outside (it’s also when I discover that Alex’s red gown is actually a jumpsuit with the widest, flowiest of legs).
Alex tells Cory she’s ready to cut through all the middle men — she’s telling him right there that she’s not closing on her contract without cohost approval. He says that’s too bad because she’s not getting it. Then he tells her they bought this award for her.
Alex has just stared Bradley in the eyes, a woman paralyzed into submission by her own lack of power, and realized that is not her own position. Alex has a platform, she has leverage, and if no one is going to give her the power she thinks she deserves in the form of co-anchor approval, she’s going to have to take it.
Alex marches up to the podium to accept her award, she dedicates it to the women UBA failed to protect, and she announces a new era for The Morning Show, and for women. “So I would like to take this moment to announce my new Morning Show cohost,” Alex says, sweeping her arm out toward the crowd: “Bradley Jackson.”