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'The Morning Show' Recap, Season 2, Episode 2: 'It's Like The Flu'

Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) have a reunion that is about as tense as it looks in this picture.
Apple TV+
Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) have a reunion that is about as tense as it looks in this picture.

The opening image of this week's episode is meant to represent the hard truth that New Year's Eve revelers in Times Square are gross. Well, they were gross, back when there were any, back when people crowded together without fear. So perhaps trash nostalgia is the appropriate emotion as the maintenance crews clean up after last week's big New Year's bash. Let's get right to these warm memories of early 2020, a time we all are eager to relive.

Alex and Bradley are mad

After the New Year's extravaganza, Cory breaks it to Bradley that Alex is going to come back. Bradley is very irritated and announces that she thinks she's going to be sick tomorrow (cough cough), so he shouldn't expect to see her at work.

What seems to be a couple of weeks later, Alex arrives at TMS accompanied by her team, including her agent Doug, played by Will Arnett. (He's not playing his character from 30 Rock, but if you imagine he is, it's a lot of fun.) Up on the executive floor where her new office will be, Alex is literally given a squeeing standing ovation by some of the young staffers like she's all the members of BTS, which ... I mean, okay. Settle down, youngs.

She's not really supposed to be there, because Cory and Stella haven't announced her return yet, even internally, because the deal isn't done and because they're still trying to sort out Bradley, who's still pretending to be sick in protest (cough cough). But she wanders around anyway and winds up being seen kind of a lot.

There's a bunch of maneuvering about contract negotiations, with both Bradley and Alex still figuring out their deals, and suffice it to say: I refuse to care about contracts unless something interesting happens.

There's going to be a dinner!

Cory suggests that he and Stella and Alex have dinner at his place to discuss the future. The guest list starts to grow, since Stella points out that they should invite Mia, and Mia thinks they should invite Bradley. Bradley will only go if they invite all the on-air talent, like Daniel and Alison (remember Daniel and Alison?), because "they have to be inclusive."

I honestly cannot tell how the show means for it to be received that Bradley throws her weight around to make sure that the rest of the group isn't marginalized. It would make a lot more sense were it not the case that much of the cast of the non-fictional Apple TV+ drama The Morning Show is marginalized! To whatever degree this act makes Bradley, the fictional character, look good, it makes The Morning Show, and perhaps even its marquee stars, look bad. Have said marquee stars similarly thrown their weight around to make sure that actors like Nestor Carbonell and Desean Terry and Karen Pittman (who play Yanko, Daniel and Mia) aren't marginalized? Because this is a show that's emphatically guilty of centering a small knot of white characters played by stars over everyone else, so is this an acknowledgment? Is it oblivious? No idea.

Bradley also calls Chip to ask for advice about Alex (which seems like a very weird move, given how Alex and Chip fell out last season), and Chip warns that Alex is out for herself, as he learned last season when she helped get him fired. (Again: Weird move.)

Cory (Billy Crudup), Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and the interesting darts in Alex's dress all are hoping for a nice dinner.
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Cory (Billy Crudup), Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and the interesting darts in Alex's dress all are hoping for a nice dinner.

There is a dinner

The dinner at Cory's has expanded to include all the talent: Bradley and Alex, plus Daniel and Alison, plus Yanko, plus Ty, who seems to be the Weird Online Stuff correspondent in Daniel and Alison's bonus hour. There's also Cory and Stella and Mia, of course. Cory starts off the dinner by stepping outside to take a call from Sybil (the most major of the Major Suits), who orders him to fire Bradley. Instead of firing her, he goes to fetch her for the party (they live in the same hotel), telling her that her little "cough cough" act is going to get her in big trouble, and that Alex coming back is going to be great for her. He leaves without her, though, to return to his place.

Alex finds, once she arrives, that her reception is chilly: Daniel hasn't forgotten that she treated him badly last season, Alison makes a face over her shoulder when they hug, and only Yanko seems happy to see her. When Bradley shows up, she and Alex share a ULH (Uncomfortably Long Hug). The best part of this sequence comes when Daniel refuses to accept Alex's muttered private apology, telling her that she didn't need to make him "collateral damage" in finally doing the right thing. Or — and here's the best line — "you could have not needed a really exemplary woman to die to wake you up." Now that, in terms of responsibility and not letting characters off the hook, is the stuff. "Apology not accepted," he says. I like that scene, because it feels honest, and it makes Alex look terrible, and this show badly needs that moment of moral clarity.

The dinner party becomes a debate about covering the coronavirus and the news in general: Daniel thinks they should cover the virus, Stella thinks it won't be good TV, Yanko throws in his opinion that the impeachment trial then ongoing is a sham, etc. etc. Cory breaks it up with a toast about how great everything is about to be. I don't know whether this guy is the most optimistic executive in existence or whether he's fully delusional, but he's into the coming era.

The episode climaxes in a fight between Alex and Bradley in the hall, in which Bradley confronts Alex about quitting the show (apparently, Alex quit only a few days after their big moment) and leaving Bradley on her own. She says that if Alex is going to come back, they have to be more like equals. They proceed to argue about which of them sounds more privileged and ridiculous, and I am here to tell you, it is pretty much a tie. Bradley also throws in a jab at Alex about how she abandoned Chip, which leads to the episode's final scene, in which Alex goes to Chip's house and asks him to return as her producer. And even though she treated him like garbage, Chip goes right back to her, because of course he does. Chip, you are a doormat.

Poor Mitch (Steve Carell) just wants to eat his gelato.
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Poor Mitch (Steve Carell) just wants to eat his gelato.

Mitch is still here, for some reason

Over in another story entirely, we hear the strains of an old recording, and we are in Italy, where Mitch (still part of the show! not sure why!) is staying in a huge villa on Lake Como in the lap of luxury. The ironic use of "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" as we spin around his obscene wealth is funny, and this is the one moment when a coherent tone about Mitch — in which he is a stupendously rich, spoiled dude who is awash in self-pity — emerges.

Or so it seems. Because soon after that, we move into a Poor Mitch segment, in which a young American woman sees Mitch eating a gelato in an outdoor cafe and walks up to berate him about how he's a predator and she doesn't want to see him hanging around. She is a cynical caricature of a self-absorbed millennial, and before long, an Italian woman (played by the charming Valeria Golino) leaps to Mitch's defense and exposes Self-Absorbed Millennial for having this confrontation with him filmed on a phone by a friend so she can put it on social media later and be famous.

It is hard to overstate how much I hate this scene. It casts Mitch as a victim and any lingering distaste for him as not only misguided but insincere. This is in spite of the fact that the last time we saw Mitch, he was still smug and self-righteous! His last big move was scheming to deflect blame and gaslighting and bullying Hannah! At this point in the story, Mitch has never expressed any public regret or taken any responsibility for anything. Leaping directly from "Mitch doesn't think he did anything wrong and is trying to fling the consequences of his behavior at other people" to "Poor Mitch, the outcast who can't eat gelato in peace" without Mitch having to do anything except retreat to an enormous mansion in Italy feels narratively deranged. Maybe he felt bad when Hannah died, but it is not in the feeling that you make things as right as you can; it is in the doing.

What's more, Valeria Golino follows Mitch to reassure him that no amount of apologizing or trying to do good will make any difference to these unfair people (reminder: he hasn't tried either of those things). "I guess there's no place that's a safe space from safe spaces," she says, sounding like various op-eds you may have read. Steve Carell plays the whole thing with his hands stuffed in his pockets, emphasizing Mitch's efforts to just shrink into the earth. Poor, poor Mitch.

Anyway, it turns out the woman is a documentary filmmaker who wants to "pick [his] brain," so she gives Mitch her number. You can expect plenty more where this came from.

It's fascinating to see that this show, which so recently seemed to be trying to catch the zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement, has apparently pivoted to try to catch the zeitgeist of the "cancel culture" panic, as if the two are mirror images, the harassed and the harasser both destroyed by These Broken Times We Live In. And they've done it without a stopover at the obviously complicated question of what apology or what amends might be appropriate, because Mitch simply hasn't made any, and he's jumped straight to this anyway. His misery is not making amends, after all; exiling himself does nothing for anyone else.

This "on the one hand, on the other hand" storytelling might be a canny strategy to maximize the number of viewers who feel like you care about their cultural anxieties. But of course, as between Hannah, who suffered the consequences of harassment and the covering up of same, and Mitch, who suffered the consequences of being revealed as a serial harasser, one of them is dead and one of them gets yelled at and lives in a castle. I'm not sure it's possible to keep one foot in each of those cultural moments and go for the attitude of "look, the thing is, this has all been painful for everyone," but it sure seems like they're going to try.

Also afoot

  • Network shenanigans: The Minor Suits are arguing about what to do about Hannah's parents and their lawsuit. Cory has had enough: Just pay them, he says. The matter of an NDA comes up, and one of the minor suits (the one who played Crystal Bernard's cheesy boyfriend Davis on Wings) points out that they don't really need an NDA, since Hannah is dead and everything. Cory fires him on the spot and dismisses the rest of the Minor Suits, singing to himself the "did he ever return, no he never returned" refrain from "MTA," which suggests that Cory was raised at a summer camp or by Bostonians, so that's interesting. The Major Suits are headed up by Sybil, who is played by Holland Taylor, so Chip would probably do well not to mess with her.
  • Maggie's book: The other thing going on is that Alex is stressed out — and everybody is stressed out — because Maggie (you remember Maggie, the reporter played by Marcia Gay Harden) has a book coming out about the show and Mitch and everything, and everyone wants to know what's in it. 
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    Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.