‘The Morning Show’ Season Finale Reaches a Heart-Wrenching Crescendo
Apple TV Plus committed to a gamble with “The Morning Show.” For a new streaming service to tackle the post-#MeToo world right out of the starting gate was quite a feat. Early responses were mixed but with its season finale this drama proves that it is essential. Not only does it bring its plot to a cliffhanging boiling point, it also dramatizes with some boldness the implications of what sexual scandal has wrought on the broadcasting world.
Everything is coming to a head as firebrand reporter Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) is planning to subvert the airwaves of UBA network with an expose on the sexual misconduct scandal involving disgraced former Morning Show host Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), who remains secluded in his lavish home. Bradley plans to interview Mitch on the show she co-hosts with the more established Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) without Alex knowing. Bradley’s main ally remains Chip (Mark Duplass), who is suddenly targeted by station head Fred (Tom Irwin) when an internal investigation concludes Chip is responsible for an office environment that allowed sexual abuses to take place. But the story Bradley plans to tell on the air also takes on a heart-wrenching turn when she interviews Hannah Shoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a UBA employee who Mitch slept with while covering the Las Vegas shootings. When Hannah tells her story it is clearly a case of a younger employee overpowered by a man who abused his high position. Catching wind of what’s going on, the higher ups suddenly offer Hannah a big promotion in Los Angeles. As Bradley suddenly has to make intense decisions about her planned on air act of journalistic defiance, other bracing consequences will befall the entire network.
“The Morning Show” has never tried to hide its obvious source of influence. Mitch Kessler’s troubles are an obvious reference to the scandal that resulted in Matt Lauer losing his post at The Today Show. Even Steve Carrell’s wardrobe and glasses leave little doubt about who is being referenced. The show’s main storyline involving the rivalry between activist reporter Bradley and TV diva Alex was merely a vehicle to tackle the wider theme of sexual misconduct in newsrooms and the way a reckoning is now taking place. In a way this show is part of that reckoning. The season finale has much suspense, but it is generated out of very intense moral dilemmas and even debates. What Bradley is essentially fighting against is UBA’s attempts at putting the Kessler scandal in the past via a simple investigation and offering up of a head. For Fred firing Chip and luring Alex into supporting him in pushing out Bradley will do the trick. Chip can take all the hate for what was going on in the office, and Bradley won’t be around to be such a headache.
However “The Morning Show” goes somewhere else about half-way through this finale. It could have been conventional. Instead it puts much of its focus on the character of Hannah. When she describes to Bradley how Mitch took advantage of her in an emotionally vulnerable moment to force sex upon her, the scene builds to a powerful, scorching performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The dialogue becomes a microcosm of how anyone who has experienced a traumatic event must feel, questioning themselves and replaying the moment over and over in their memory. In a moment of real heartbreak, Hannah tells Bradley what it feels like to have someone you looked up to suddenly use your body for selfish gratification. It is a searing look into the very human toll of power being exploited, and how behind all the headlines about Harvey Weinstein and his ilk, real people have been shattered forever. The writing also strongly tackles how Hannah faces the sudden offer of a top level job in Los Angeles, avoiding false heroics. She seriously considers the offer, what would you do?
Everyone faces a dose of reality in this episode. Even Cory (Billy Crudup), who began the season as a cocky news division head who planned on firing Alex, gives Mitch the ultimate talk down, warning him to come down from his diva cloud and take advantage of the opportunity of taking the blame for his actions. In the episode’s final moments the show becomes both striking drama and a blunt social commentator. Hannah will make a devastating decision to deal with her sense of despair. The effect is so powerful that Alex will breakdown on the air next to Bradley as the two decide there is no turning back now, they will say everything that needs to be said to the viewing public, about the abuses that go on in the office, about those in power attempting to cover it up. Fred will come rushing down a hall, sweating with terror.
The final image of the season is fitting. Mitch sits alone by an expensive table, surrounded by shadows. Not only has his world crumbled, but through him being exposed all of UBA has now been rocked to the core. How this series continues is hard to guess. Even when the writing could be a slightly clunky, it at least had something important to say. “The Morning Show” ends on a note that will be hard to forget, and drives home the reality we must face in the wake of the Weinsteins and Lauers. If a major streamer like Apple TV Plus doesn’t dare explore these topics as drama, then who will, or can?
“The Morning Show” season one finale begins streaming Dec. 20 on Apple TV+.