Is there any television show Kelly Clarkson can’t elevate? Way back in 2005, “Since U Been Gone” scored an epic Laguna Beach limo singalong. In 2018, Ms. Clarkson took her rightful red throne on The Voice, which earned her a self-titled daytime talk show. And now her favorite-best-friend energy and perfectly soundtrack-able power anthems have elevated The Morning Show somewhere within the realm of what its A-list pedigree originally suggested it could be.
In its first three episodes, The Morning Show clicked most when it showed off its firm grasp of the beats of an actual morning show: the canned banter with occasional glimpses of real chemistry, the hectic control rooms, the tension between network and talent, the complicated and competitive nature of anchors and producers and writers. As mere morning show spectators, these are the kinds of things we can only guess at — and when news breaks about the insidious real-life happenings behind the scenes with an anchor who thought his power made him untouchable, we can bellow: I knew it!
The notion that a prominent news anchor allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct is not surprising in the wake of so many horrifying #MeToo reveals. That it could have been missed by so many people — or more likely overlooked, ignored, and brushed under the rug — is a much more nuanced tale to tell.
Do I think it’s a coincidence that The Morning Show’s best episode yet was a Mitch-less hour? Reader, you will not be surprised to hear that I do not. In episode 4, The Morning Show reveals itself to be more adept at taking on the rippling-out effect of Mitch’s alleged sexual misconduct than the epicenter itself. And most of that revolves around discovering whether The Morning Show and the people who make it are as interested in telling the truth as they are in being a successful news program.
For Bradley, the two things are synonymous. Her greatest strength, and the thing that has kept her from succeeding in this industry so far, is that she cannot help but tell the truth… the whole truth… and nothing but the truth (often times, very loudly). And, if you can believe this, it’s much more fulfilling to watch this earnest but somewhat self-destructive trait of Bradley’s become evident over the course of an episode than it is to hear Reese Witherspoon say, “I say whatever I mean, I don’t play games, I don’t fit the mold,” like she did in episode 2.
There is, however, nothing truthful about Bradley’s debut on The Morning Show.
Bradley’s first day as co-anchor opens with Alex sitting alone at the desk, faux-wondering where on earth that Bradley could be. Cue Clarkson’s “Stronger,” as Bradley strides out from stage left, swapping her real nerves for charming “dreams really do come true” nerves.
Bradley has a new polished lob, and she’s smiling more than we’ve seen her smile in the last three episodes combined, and bantering back and forth with Alex as Cory watches on in horror from a treadmill, lamenting the “bland bulls—” that is exactly the opposite of why he hired Bradley. The answer to his prayers comes when Alex informs Bradley that they have a little “surprise” for her in the form of video-conferencing her mother in. While this is obviously not an actual surprise to Bradley, the content of what her mother says has been rewritten at the last minute and does wind up catching her off guard.
Bradley holds her strained grin as her mom waxes poetic about how she always expected big things for her daughter; Bradley has a flashback to her teen years of her mother yelling, “You better get your s— together, girl, or you’re gonna end up sucking d—s under the promenade.” It’s a rough memory, and Bradley can’t shake it. After they roll a montage of Bradley’s shining, smiling adolescent face that her mother allegedly made, the camera cuts back to Alex, who coos, “What an amazing place you grew up in, Bradley.”
Bradley agrees, pauses, and then says, “But you know, it wasn’t all as perfect as that made it seem.” As Alex’s eyeballs turn into stop signs, Bradley goes fully off script, explaining that she doesn’t want young women thinking that their lives have to be perfect in order to be successful. Her life was hard and she did a lot of stupid things: She got suspended multiple times, she cost her track team a championship because she was caught with alcohol…
“Heck, I had an abortion when I was 15 years old.”
And it’s really the “heck” that gets me — tonally, Bradley is still in The Morning Show headspace, but mentally, she simply cannot control her need to be honest. Meanwhile, Chip is losing his mind, calling Yanko out of the makeup chair so they can throw to weather as Bradley realizes what she’s done and starts babbling about how if this is her chance to introduce herself to America, she wants to be as transparent as she can be. When the cameras go off, though, it seems clear Bradley didn’t tell the world that she had an abortion when she was in 15 in the name of transparency. “Did you f— up just now, or was that intentional?” Alex hisses after they’ve gone to commercial, and Bradley says she doesn’t even know.
Watching Alex realize over the course of this episode that in an effort to take control of her own situation, she has created a different situation over which she perhaps has even less control, is fascinating. Because, in Bradley, Alex not only has a loose cannon, but a loose cannon she is inexorably tied to. When Bradley messes up, it reflects poorly on the woman who guerrilla-marketed her into the co-anchor chair, but when Bradley succeeds — well, that doesn’t really feel as much like a win to Alex either. But we’ll get to that.
The next morning, Alex is waiting in Bradley’s car to go to the studio. Bradley asks if this is the part where Alex has her whacked. “Worse,” Alex says. “I’m taking you back down to the studio, you’re gonna get back on that horse, and you’re gonna do the show like yesterday never happened.” In a moment of vulnerability, Alex tells Bradley that she needs this to work. America may not know that Alex impulsively picked Bradley as her co-anchor, but everyone on the inside does. “Chip, Cory, Frank, those motherf—ers!” Alex exclaims. “I am not going to let them walk away thinking they were right — I would die first.”
And dying before being proven wrong? That Bradley understands. She can’t keep her mouth shut for herself, but she can if it means sticking it to the metaphorical and literal Man.
So Bradley apologizes on air for speaking so causally about such a serious issue, and she keeps waking up every morning at 3:30 to run this race, and the one shining light is the interview with Mitch’s accuser Ashley on Friday. Frank wants to pull Bradley off it after her screwup, but Alex goes to bat for her, saying that Bradley will bring authenticity to the interview, which is what they need. But when Cory gleefully adds that “in one day, Bradley Jackson rebranded morning news as personal, unexpected, exciting,” Alex looks like she wants to say, Well, I wouldn’t go that far.
But she doesn’t say that. She says, “Well, that’s why I picked her!” And oh, for the first time all series, you can actually smell Alex’s desperation. The more she tries to take control of this Bradley situation, the further from her it slips.
But Cory is right: For every person who was appalled by what Bradley said her first morning on air, there’s another one who was inspired by it. We see Bradley and Alex watching a news story in their respective beds that shows teen girls all over Mississippi staging walkouts because their governor is trying to enact old legislation that bans abortions after six weeks following Bradley’s Morning Show comment. The girls carried huge signs reading “WE’RE WITH BRADLEY,” and marched for over six hours — the amount of time it would take to drive a proper clinic if the legislation passes.
As the anchor explains that the girls heard Bradley’s story and thought, “That could be me, and I want to make my own choice about my future like she did,” Alex and Bradley both watch with the same sad smile on their face. I appreciate these glimpses that show Alex doesn’t necessarily quantify Bradley solely as her competition. She sees value in Bradley’s mission as a journalist — unfortunately, it is very often going to be in conflict with the armor Alex has built around herself as a beloved Morning Show anchor.
In order to protect herself, Alex needs to protect a show and a network that have little to no interest in her well-being. But Bradley has no such loyalties — her loyalty is to the truth.
And once again, watching that play out in the way Bradley handles her upcoming interview with Ashley is wildly more fulfilling than Bradley telling us she’s “on the side of humanity” in the premiere. But here, in episode 4, we see that because of Bradley’s now nationally known commitment to telling the truth, even Kelly Clarkson is a fan. “You’re a truth-teller, Bradley Jackson,” Clarkson says when she pulls Bradley on stage while performing “Heat” on The Morning Show. And getting praised by Kelly Clarkson because she spoke her truth…
That Bradley can do — but there’s no reverse button. If Bradley is going to be herself on The Morning Show, she can’t just be herself part-time. Cory certainly wouldn’t want her to be, cooing that she’s “Kelly Clarkson’s truth-teller” when he comes into her dressing room as she’s preparing for the Ashely interview. He looks around the room, wondering what kind of awful things went on in there when it was Mitch’s. “And between us,” he whispers, about as transparent with his intentions as Bradley’s beloved journalism, “I also wonder who knew.” It’s just so interesting how two people can have the same goal with completely different motivations. (Cue Alex in the dressing room across the hall, assuring Mitch that she’s happy for Bradley’s bonding moment with Kelly Clarkson. “I made her, right?” Alex says. “I’m Dr. Frankenstein, she’s my monster.” And either that is some dark foreshadowing… or Alex super has not read that book.)
Mitch doesn’t show up in this episode, but his presence is felt everywhere. A woman named Vicky has arrived to conduct interviews for the internal investigation into “the culture at The Morning Show that allowed Mitch Kessler’s inappropriate behavior to go unchecked.” In those interviews we find out what was hinted at last week: Bradley’s producer Mia had an ongoing affair with Mitch that she says she eventually broke off, and there were no repercussions. She insists though that when she reported it to HR, she had no intention of Mitch getting fired: “I just couldn’t stand watching Mitch report on #MeToo anymore with that empathetic dad-next-door smile — that had to end.”
Vicky, of course, reports her findings directly back to Frank because this is not an internal investigation to create internal change; it’s an internal investigation to prove that Mitch’s bad behavior happened in a vacuum, and to gauge who internally poses a threat to UBA. But that person, Frank, is probably the only employee not being interviewed…
Because she never worked with Mitch. The time has finally come for Bradley’s interview with Ashley, and she goes into the sit-down with a roadmap that has been planned, crafted, and vetted within an inch of its life. But have you met Bradley? She’s Kelly Clarkson’s truth-teller — that is not a role that involves protecting anyone or anything but (Kelly Clarkson’s) truth.
In an interview that we watch unfold from beginning to end, Ashley shares her story. When she worked at The Morning Show, it was her job to mic the talent, and Mitch liked to tease her when she would slide the mic down his shirt. She liked the attention from the start of the show at first, until one big production meeting in 2009; Ashley says Mitch made sure to be seated by her, and in the middle of the meeting she felt a hand on her thigh under the table, squeezing her in a sexual way. She was shocked, but also excited, and mostly confused. Ashley tells Bradley she didn’t do anything about it at the time because they were surrounded by people and she didn’t have time to think… but it opened a door. “That flirty thing we had, it increased… a lot.”
Ashley says that things never crossed the line with Mitch, but she became so overwhelmed by wondering what he would say or do next, and consumed by whether she should give into him — and what would happen if she didn’t — that eventually, she felt like the only solution was to quit. She never told anyone, and she never reported it to HR.
Watching the interview from his office, Frank sighs in relief. Yeah, hold onto that feeling, buddy.
Bradley asks if Ashley didn’t report Mitch’s behavior because she felt like it might get back to him. Everyone in the studio tenses up, including Ashley — because that question wasn’t vetted. Bradley clarifies, asking if there was “something about the culture at this network, at this show, that made it feel… impossible to complain.” And that’s a pretty leading journalistic question, Bradley, but whatever, I guess, because she certainly must be onto something if Alex, gasping NO from the control room, is anything to go by.
Bradley assures Ashley that she doesn’t need to say anything she’s not comfortable with, but she’s asking because the truth matters: “Sometimes it’s the only weapon that we have against the powerful men who are trying to shut us up.” Alex hisses into the mic for Bradley to stop it right now, but Bradley takes her earpiece out, and suddenly Alex is seeming quite in line with those men she was calling motherf—ers earlier…
Except Cory, of course, who looks like he’s watching a cage match and prohibits Mia from cutting Bradley off. Through tears, Ashley admits that she and Mitch did cross the line: “He would call me into his office, we would start kissing, and I would give him oral sex.” Ashley says Mitch didn’t force her, but she also didn’t “know how to not go through with it.” She never told anyone, but everyone knew.
In his office, Fred is now singing a new tune, and that tune is, “F—!”
Ashley says she could feel people looking at her differently, losing respect for her, and eventually she saw herself as they did: “This slut sleeping with Mitch to help her career.” He branded her, and he stole her confidence, and she was drowning. “And there was no one to throw me a lifeline,” Ashley says. “I was all alone… surrounded by people.”
As Bradley thanks Ashley for speaking her truth, Cory looks thrilled, Hannah the booker looks concerningly nauseated, and Alex looks like she’s about to burst every blood vessel in her face. She’s waiting for Bradley when she walks offstage to whisper angrily in her ear: “I brought you in, I bet on you, I dragged you up out of nowhere… You just put the show and everyone who works here at risk.”
Oh, Alex… I don’t think Bradley’s the one who did that.
Plus, Bradley told Alex on the very night that she dragged her up out of nowhere that if she was looking for someone to be beholden to her, she’d come to the wrong gal. Bradley reels back, looking Alex in the eye, and whispers, “Did you know… about Mitch? About what was going on in is dressing room?”
Alex sputters out a “How dare you?” but Bradley is already walking off the Morning Show stage the exact same way she came in: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger / Stand a little taller / Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone…
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