'Morning Show' recap, Season 2, Episode 8: After a crash, a lot of questions
Consider this The Morning Show's best plot twist yet: This is a very good episode of TV.
Last week's episode was very messy, narratively and philosophically: It focused on fundamentally uninteresting characters doing uninteresting things. In the meantime, it took its eyes off anything with any complexity on the show at all.
And then it came back this week, with one of its strongest episodes ever. Certainly the strongest of the season; maybe the strongest of the series? Particularly in the opening few minutes, you see what this show should be: the weird, pointy, highly-stylized dark workplace comedy-drama that we could have had this whole time. People sleeping on the couch because of their crazy hours? Cory psyching himself up in his luxe digs to a cover of "Sixteen Tons"? It works.
And the scene where Cory starts telling Stella in the elevator about how it's really been bothering him that she asked how he was doing? That's bizarre and great! This is why people fell in love with this Billy Crudup performance in the first season and why he won the show its one Emmy. Here's Cory's full elevator speech, because it deserves to be enjoyed in its flamboyant weirdness:
You asked me if I was okay. [whispered] It doesn't matter if I'm okay. [/whispered] This is the 200-meter freestyle. Absorbing other people's feelings? That's a two-ton anchor around your neck. Go ahead — care about the world, die [?], fall in love, whatever — on your own time. Here? Feelings, they drain your lifeblood, they turn your eyes gray — how I'm doing cannot be your problem. Caring about other people, it limits your ability to make self-serving decisions. And what is good for you is good for the company, because it owns you, and it owns me, and we own it, and we are all one. Circle of life. [Stella: Let the circle be unbroken!] Exactly. F***ing exactly, yes! YES! Oh, come by my office with Gerald and Linda after my call, we need to strategize about how to make these TMS bombshells work for us.
What makes this scene successful is that Crudup is completely committed, and Greta Lee looks at him the entire time like he is completely deranged, like he's explaining to her that the moon is made of marshmallow fluff. If she took him seriously, I don't think it would work. But she is clearly about to send someone a text that says "OMG my boss is chaos."
And then! There is a scene in which Chip decides to grow a backbone all of a sudden, and he gets Alex's answering machine and unloads — just unloads -- a bunch of truth bombs unto Alex, beginning with "What the [heck] are you doing, you dumb [goshdarn] [jerk]?" If I had not just quoted Cory's entire rant, I would quote Chip's, because it is also great and very well written, and it uses the excellent Mark Duplass much better than all the mopey business he's been mired in lately. Chip talks about how they've apparently drained all the humanity out of Alex's "dry [goshdarn] soul," which is amazing, and how she's relying on the "rapidly dwindling faceless masses who only think they love you because they don't know the real you." (Score!) "The real you is an emotional murderer" (SCORE!), and it just goes on and on like that. By the end I was just waving a pennant and chanting "CHIP, CHIP, CHIP!"
I know, in my heart, that Chip will eventually take all of this back and make up with her, but the people who write this show do understand at some level that they have drawn Alex as a selfish trashcan and not a flawed heroine, and even if I have no faith they will stick to this presentation, it makes me feel so much better.
Now that we've dispensed with the terrific opening stretch of the episode, let's get into some of the people who are having very bad days today and keep bumping into each other's bad days.
Chip's day starts with that answering machine, but then he gets a visit at work from Chip's fiance, played by Mark Duplass' actual wife Katie Aselton. Her name is Madeline, and she is transparently exhausted by having to think about Alex, Chip's other life partner (WHO WOULDN'T BE). But she's dutifully telling Chip not to wish Alex were dead or whatever, because that's what good partners do. These two have a really nice relationship; I sure hope he makes it a priority and doesn't throw it into a wood chipper for Alex's sake! But of course, he kills the moment by being unable to stop talking about Alex even while they're making out, and she winds up walking out on him. Chip! Less of this, and more of that voicemail energy!
Cory is chatting about The Excerpt with a couple of his besuited goons, and he really doesn't think it's that bad. (Classic Cory: "Oh, on a human level, horrible. But as far as we're concerned? I didn't see anything bad in it.") Unfortunately, right when they're in the middle of this strategy talk, a call comes in to one of the goons seeking comment about ... well, about Mitch Kessler being dead. This is news to Cory and Stella and the goons, and it sends them into a panic. Because this death news isn't actually confirmed yet, and it would sure be unfortunate if somebody broke the story other than UBA.
The flurry of activity that follows actually seems, in broad strokes, like something that might happen in a newsroom! Cory demands that Stella produce Alex, because Cory has a heart made of balance sheets and he thinks Alex should be the one to announce Mitch's death for ratings and publicity reasons. Stella runs off to tell Mia, who takes a minute to be stunned and then gathers her team to work on confirmation. Because she agrees that they should be the ones to report it if it's true.
Karen Pittman is the hands-down MVP of this episode despite not having either the biggest scenes or the most screen time.
When Mia first hears from Stella that Mitch might be dead, she gets the confirmations started, then goes to Alex's dressing room to find Chip. She tells him about Mitch and sends him off to find Alex — for real, this time.
Chip calls Alex's credit card company and — this is an example of a great detail that speaks volumes about their relationship — he knows so much about Alex that he breezes through all her security questions and is able to convince the guy on the phone that he is, in fact, Alex Levy. He gets the guy to tell him where the last charge on the credit card was, and it turns out to have happened at Milan Linate Airport. There's a great moment where they're showing you that Chip is bouncing his foot the way people do when they're nervous, and when he hears that Alex was in Italy, his foot goes still. Because if Alex was in Italy, he knows that means she was probably with Mitch. And if she was with Mitch ... well, his foot goes still. A very nice piece of directing/acting/writing.
An Italian hospital administrator
Chip calls the hospital in Italy — where, of course, things are a little busy because of the pandemic currently centered there — and asks the woman on the phone about an American patient who had been in a car accident. He describes Mitch. She says that sounds like a guy they have who was brought in without ID. Chip asks, full of dread, whether there was a woman with him. The woman says yes, and the woman wasn't doing well. That's all Chip gets before the woman hangs up. (Well that is some conveniently incomplete information! P.S. This is still a soap, so.)
Chip barges into Cory's office and stammers that he's just discovered that Alex has been in Italy, and given how impossible it's been to reach her, he thinks she might be dead, too.
The owner of a UBA affiliate
There's a photo of the fancy car Mitch supposedly crashed in, and research on the license plate traces it to a guy who's the owner of a UBA affiliate. That is, of course, not good news, because for that crushed car to be possibly connected to Mitch is not the news Mia and her team are hoping for.
They finally get the affiliate owner on the phone, and he confirms — in a grave tone — that Mitch was staying at his place in Italy and was using his car. "So he's dead?" Mia says. "Yeah," the guy answers. "That's my understanding." What's more, Mitch's family doesn't know, because his lack of ID is delaying official notification.
Mia retreats to her office and pours out her heart to Rena about all her complicated feelings about Mitch, some of which feel like denial, some of which feel like grief, and all of which feel awful. It's both a very good scene featuring that exquisite performance by Karen Pittman and a very frustrating scene, because ... why is this so seldom the show? Why is the show so often shiny hair and power players arguing about nothing? When it could be about the kind of complex emotions that Mia has, or the complex relationship she has with Rena, who is attached to Chip and loyal to him, but has done nothing wrong?
Now that she knows Alex has been in Italy, Stella gets the unenviable job of prying out of Isabella the information that will help find Alex. (By the way, more evidence that Alex is a jerk can be found in how terrified Isabella is of her, and of getting in trouble with her.) This nets an actual lead: Alex booked herself a flight into Teterboro, and it's landing in half an hour. So if she's actually on it, that will be how they'll find out she's alive. Chip literally barfs with anxiety.
Down in the TMS studio, as if things aren't difficult enough, Bradley's brother has come up to the studio uninvited. (In my experience with such places, he would not get that close to the studio — outside the dressing room doors of the famouses! — without an invitation or some kind of a security-issued name tag, not even close, but let's not nitpick.) He acts embarrassing and under the influence of something, and he makes a big scene, and it's very mortifying for Bradley, who would like her brother to show a little respect for the generally grim atmosphere if nothing else.
Laura shows up in the break area while this is all going down, and she gets to see just how brutal all this is (Bradley's brother mentions that their father killed someone driving drunk with both of them in the car). Eventually, he's dragged off by security. It's absolutely heartbreaking! But it does seem like a strange thing to plunk in the middle of this episode when so much time has been given elsewhere to much less interesting Bradley drama?
At any rate, Laura comforting Bradley after this blow-up is a much better scene between them than practically anything that's come before in terms of establishing a relationship. Laura tells Bradley to go to therapy, which is the kind of thing that should happen on television so much more than it does! She also tells Bradley that she might have to walk away from her brother even though she loves him, because aside from putting him in rehab, there's not much she can do.
At the airport, Chip collapses against the side of his car with relief when Alex does, in fact, get off the plane. (Please help yourself to your own "I got off the plane" joke.) They reunite, and they're happy to see each other, and she doesn't even realize that he thought she was dead. And then he has to break the news: Mitch actually is dead. Alex calls Paola, who confirms tearfully that Mitch is in fact dead; she was with him at the hospital after the accident. (Paola is apparently the woman the hospital administrator mentioned who wasn't doing well.) That's the second confirmation (after UBA affiliate guy), so now they can report it. Alex cries and tells Paola she's sorry; Paola tells Alex that Mitch loved her very much.
Alex wants to tell Mitch's family in person, so instead of heading directly to UBA, they head to Mitch's house. But on the way there, Alex hears Chip's candid (and accurate) message from earlier in the day. Their reconciliation quickly sours as Alex gets angry at him for, I guess, interfering with her feelings by having his own feelings, and Chip unloads on her again about "flying off to Italy to rendezvous with a vicious sexual predator while in the middle of a burgeoning pandemic," which is a good reminder that Chip should really be making Alex stick her head out the car window this whole time. This is a (very) darkly (very) funny scene, with these people just mercilessly ripping into each other and Alex revealing that (and if this isn't the most Alex thing ever!) she chalks all of Chip's anger at her up to jealousy because she never wanted to have sex with him. She is the worst!
By the time this is over, they're both saying "I hate you so much" to each other, but only he is right.
Alex reaches Mitch's former house and breaks the news to his ex-wife, Paige. When Alex tries to express sympathy, Paige quickly spins from the death of her longtime partner and her children's father to berating Alex about sleeping with Mitch, and of course Alex is devastated, which seems like a very strange way for this storyline to be spun back around to being about Alex's feelings yet again! Paige tells Alex that she's just like Mitch and closes the door in her face. I'm sure that they intended for this to be a very sad story of how Alex was trying to do something kind by informing Paige, buuuuuut Alex, you just have to be really careful about assuming your act has fooled everybody and maybe tread lightly when you're telling the wife of somebody you slept with that he's dead.
Alex gets back in the car with Chip and keeps panting her germs all over him. She calls Mia and tells her that the show can air the news of Mitch's death now that his family has been informed. Bradley announces it on air and remembers Mitch as a great journalist who had to stop journalist-ing when he was discovered to be a harasser.
You guys, that's a really good episode. Really solid. The treatment of Mitch's story was terrible all season, and it's true that killing him shuts down all the interesting questions that they ever could have asked and didn't — like whether there's anything Mitch could have done that would have really earned forgiveness, a question they didn't explore since he never really made any amends or took any responsibility publicly. It makes him tragic, which he sort of doesn't deserve, and it makes him someone other characters are compelled to eulogize in a gross way. So the impulse to bring him back, do this story for all this time, and then kill him and make a big sad out of it is one that should not have been indulged, it seems to me.
But with that said, this episode, taken on its own, played to the show's strengths. Bradley's family story is really sad, even if it's very similar to a lot of other "embarrassing family member you still love" storylines that have been playing out on TV at least since Kelly Taylor's mother got high in the bathroom at the mother-daughter fashion show on Beverly Hills, 90210. This Chip — self-destructive, funny, furious, absolutely at the end of his rope — is how you use Mark Duplass correctly. They let Crudup be the good version of Cory again (which is to say the morally vacant but electrifying one). They let Karen Pittman ground the episode emotionally. They sent Greta Lee tearing around to do work in a way that makes you believe she might have been an effective leader in online media.
This frenetic, darkly funny, well-controlled tone has been missing from most of this messy, unconvincingly moralistic "oh no, cancel culture" season, and it's not an accident that the show thrived much more when Mitch was gone, Alex was mostly gone, Bradley was a secondary character, and the issue at hand was a news story.
It's always fun when things surprise you.
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