The penultimate episode of The Morning Show season 2 included what were, quite possibly, some of the most interesting scenes in the series to date. Putting them all together and trying to make any sense out of them sends us, yet again, back to the idea of trying to figure out whether such things as forgiveness and redemption are possible. But even more thought-provoking was what some of these moments brought to light in terms of the complicated relationships women have when they are thrust into the public eye.
It’s kill or be killed out there, especially if you’re a woman trying to claw her way to to the top in an industry filled with so much misogyny. And so, we often hear about backstabbing or cattiness. We’re told actresses are being “difficult” whenever they stand up for themselves. Or maybe if they try to keep their private lives private, they’re dragged down in other ways. If nothing else, someone else trying to make a name for themselves might spill those private details for five minutes of their own fame.
And on and on the cycle goes.
That brings us to The Morning Show 2×09, “Testimony,” and two very different conversations with Alex Levy’s past behavior as the central focus.
Two ’90s icons interact, utterly nail it
To be honest, ever since I first flew through binging the first nine episodes of The Morning Show season 2 on the press site months ago, I’ve been dying to discuss the utter power of Julianna Margulies and Jennifer Aniston’s interactions in this episode, specifically. Laura Peterson and Alex Levy have a history that viewers have learned about, bit by bit, ever since Margulies’ first appearance as Laura. And as Laura and Alex were set to host the show together on a random Monday, with Bradley attempting to get her brother some help, all of that initial sense of discomfort made its way back.
You could see them sizing each other up before the cameras were on; it was so easy to feel every ounce of tension on the set in those very brief moments. But then something happened: They made a really good team on the air and even shared some small talk about the coronavirus news.
…which brings us to one of the most fascinating footage I think I’ve ever witnessed.
Alex, who has been content with lying to herself about who she is and what she’s done for so long, made the first moves in what could have been a very nasty conversation but was instead something like a burying of the hatchet. Alex brought up the time she and Laura went to see “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” with mutual friends, then asked why it was like they didn’t even know each other after that. And of course, people who have followed Laura’s journey on The Morning Show know exactly what happened: Alex ran her mouth. It ruined Laura’s career. And Alex wasn’t there for her. At all.
So, yeah. We experience Laura’s utter disbelief in realizing that Alex really doesn’t get why they’re not friends anymore, but we also get the gift of Laura finally sharing her truth with the very person who hurt her. We get to witness these two superb talents, both on the series and in real life, playing off of each other and poking at a each other’s scarred places.
But equally important are the two things absent from this scene: Alex in the same total denial she’s exhibited every other time she’s been confronted with the damage she’s done…and any of that “cattiness” or being “difficult” that is usually stereotypically weaponized against strong women standing up for themselves.
We can relish in the obviously bitter smiles, with doses of delightful sarcasm, Margulies serves up as Laura finally gets to confront Alex about her role in outing her. But at no point is she ever purposely cruel. This is not an attack on Alex; it is just honesty. The Morning Show doesn’t leave viewers with this idea of anyone, least of all Laura, being some kind of bitch the way so many male-gazey representations of this type of conversation normally would. Instead, it’s just everyone being held accountable and two professional adults clearing the air.
There’s no telling how, or even if these two characters might be brought together in the future, so whether or not the proverbial hatchet is truly buried is anyone’s guess. Maybe there can never be full redemption or forgiveness for Alex after she did something so incredibly harmful, but for at least Laura, there’s vindication. There’s the chance to say, “you did this. You hurt me. Here’s why and how, and this is why we did not remain, possibly can not ever be again, friends.”
It’s important to note, though, that Laura knows she’s no saint here.
“Hey. I said shit about you, too.”
Her little laugh and shrug after that line revealed so much about how messed up it all was, how all that gossip was just the culture. It wasn’t excusing Alex’s behavior by any means, but it was a little bit of a softening or opening the door to the possibility of a better relationship, at least professionally, down the road.
The performances and content alone would have made this scene, and “Testimony” along with it, an example of the finest television has to offer. But there’s so much more to pick apart here. One always expects to use words like “effortless” in describing the way a Julianna Margulies or a Jennifer Aniston steals the show. But with these particular moments of footage on The Morning Show, there is an added layer of wondering whether working through this scene was painfully easy, painfully difficult, or just plain painful for two women very much in the public eye who have been on the receiving end of some of the worst gossip and suffered the resulting consequences.
Margulies and Aniston were major stars, on the same network, at the same time, filming “one airplane hangar away from each other.” They were everywhere back then—and I don’t just say that because I grew up obsessed with both Carol and Doug on ER (with a distinct emphasis on Margulies’ Carol Hathaway, whom I idolized) and…literally everything about Friends, Aniston’s Rachel Green very much included. They were…everywhere.
In the late ’90s, Aniston’s relationship with Brad Pitt was in every trashy tabloid, featured in magazines that claimed to be legitimate but were just less-trashy tabloids, and also all over TV. When the marriage ended, “the pain of watching this spectacle unfold was compounded by vicious rumors about” Aniston. One could even argue that, much like the fictional Alex Levy has “suffered the consequences” for Mitch Kessler’s actions as Doug put it, Aniston—and her career—suffered for Pitt’s trash behavior.
And then, there are the two prongs of Margulies getting raked over the coals for shit that was never anybody’s business: As she puts it in Sunshine Girl, her decision to leave ER, despite being offered $27 million to stay, “became fodder for gossip.” In the same memoir, she discusses people like Barbara Walters and Joy Behar, sharing their own (false) theories on her decision to leave and generally being awful—as did many other people at the time, though two women doing it on a show mostly watched by other women was certainly some of the worst of it. Then, there’s whatever happened behind the scenes of The Good Wife, which seems to be raised on Twitter, always by people who weren’t there, whenever they get bored and want to speculate.
But, as Margulies recounts in her book regarding the $27 million fiasco:
“Eventually I grew thicker skin. In time I learned not to care what others thought.”Sunshine Girl, p.185
As in, Laura “Unbothered” Peterson has nothing on the very real Julianna “My Life, My Decision” Margulies. (And yeah, I grabbed that off my bookshelf specifically to make this point. So, what? Come fight me. It’s a damned fine read from someone whom I’ve admired for most of my life and don’t see myself changing my mind on any of that.)
All this is a very long, yet grossly over-simplified, way to say watching Laura Peterson and Alex Levy discuss the harm done by Hollywood gossip was certainly yet another chance to witness the insane talents of these two women. But more than that, it’s the type of scene that just feels real in a way that can’t fully be explained. As a viewer, you wonder how much of it, aside from scripted lines, was really work at all.
It was also kind of a nice “fuck you” moment to the haters. As fans—or fangirls at the Fangirlish, if you will—we never know what people are actually going through, outside of the horribly distorted version the dirt rags and, more embarrassingly, even the “real” journalists give us. Maybe it’s time we took our cues from The Morning Show 2×09’s thought-provoking showdown between these two badasses: Let’s point out the toxicity for what it was, hold people accountable, and move on.
Because there’s a better path to success—and that’s actually being good at what you do, without feeling the need to tear anyone else down on your way up…which brings us to the next moment we’re fangirling over.
Taking the high road
Maggie Brenner’s book about Alex Levy and Mitch Kessler has been the boogeyman of The Morning Show season 2. So, when Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) had the chance to not only read every dirty detail of Maggie’s book but to also interview Maggie, she could have been the next Joy Behar or Barbara Walters, so to speak. She could’ve gone on national television to trash another woman for ratings—it would’ve been so easy.
But she didn’t. Because Bradley Jackson has been our “truth teller” on this series. Not only that, but she has seen the results of the normal, accepted culture and has rejected them at nearly every turn. As Bradley pointed out during the interview, Maggie included Alex Levy on the cover of her book about Mitch‘s wrongdoings and the network‘s toxic culture. Maggie made it a point to include a consensual affair, even though there was plenty of material about Mitch to fill those pages, and the affair seemed “quaint” in comparison.
So, what was the reason? It goes back to that idea of how women tend to get punished harder for their mistakes than men ever do; and often, women even face more consequences for men’s actions than the men ever do. And it goes back to the concept of all of this trampling one another to get to the top, which all people seem to do…But somehow, with women always being pitted against each other for precious few spots in comparison to men, some are often utterly terrible to one another. Maggie didn’t want to include the story about Alex forcing the network into a corner to hire Bradley because of some cop out about not being able to include everything…but she was more than happy to include something that would tear Alex down and sell more books in the process. Because of course.
“Ok. But it was a mistake. That happened 10 years ago. And she was in major distress. And she asked you to take it out, and you published it anyway? Who’s the worst person you ever slept with, Maggie? I’m just curious. How terrible of a person are you?”
For Bradley, it was simply a matter of fairness. Sure, she had her problems with Alex. And certainly, she wanted most of the truths in Maggie’s book to be exposed. Just…not like that. Not in a cheap, unfair, sort of way.
We can make our choices about doing the right thing and doing it in the right way. Often, The Morning Show has highlighted all sorts of wrongdoing. At best, it’s been about doing the wrong thing for what you think are the right reasons…But Bradley Jackson? She’s not about that life.
Bonus thoughts on The Morning Show 2×09
- “It was pretty goddamn impressive. You are impressive. In a lot of ways.” If I had Julianna Margulies telling me this, I might actually believe it. But that’s never happening, so I don’t have to.
- That laugh when Bradley really thought Laura didn’t want her woman working…Bury me.
- “Wow. Really? That’s timing.” Seriously, though.
- Is there a new Alex Levy? Can she change? Jury’s still out.
- “But if you just spend all of your time wanting more, striving for more, you don’t spend any of your time…living.”
- “He was really starting to understand the effects of his actions, He was remorseful. He wanted to do better. He wanted to be better. And I know that’s not enough. And it will never, ever be enough—ever. But I just wanted you to—to know that. And I also wanted him to be remembered for that, too.” I mean, was he starting to understand? Because I seem to recall Mitch’s reaction to the news he targeted Black women being so bad, even Alex—with all her Mitch-shaped blind spots—couldn’t stick around.
- “I’m glad that he’s dead! I should only hope that Fred Micklen and his $119.2 million aren’t far behind!” They can take Dick Lundy and his wildly inappropriate speech at that clownery of a memorial service with him.
- “Boy, gossip seemed so much less vicious back then.” “Well, that’s because nobody was gossiping about you yet. And I imagine that you had no ill intent, but we are our actions.” I just. Truly, hats off to The Morning Show for everything about that scene…but this part.
- Ok but like. Gossip is no better or worse now than it was before. It’s just coming from so-called “fans,” who claim to “love” these celebrities, but then feel entitled to photograph and/or film their every fucking action and plaster it all over social media for attention and gross speculation about private business.
- And yeah, people in the public eye still have a right to privacy and to go about their daily lives and do their jobs without that mess.
- Broken record? But that was some Carol Hathaway energy with the way Laura just didn’t take any bullshittery from Alex…I don’t know how to explain it. It just was.
- “Well, we were close enough to go see ‘Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.’” Just…the “fuck you” dripping from every part of that. Iconic.
- “That’s for kids, Hal.” “We never got to be kids.” Oof.
- But this part, though: “I can’t make you go to rehab. I hope you do. I want you to get healthy. But I can’t make you do anything. You are a grown man.”
- The Morning Show really gave me Jennifer Aniston and Julianna Margulies singing about handwashing. What a time to be alive.
- “You know, in ’89, Ebola hit U.S. soil, and we never knew about it. It was in Richard Preston’s book.” Julianna Margulies, as Laura Peterson, talking about the inspiration for Nat Geo’s The Hot Zone—which starred…Julianna Margulies. (What I’m saying here is I choked.)
- Just saying if Julianna—or, uh, Laura—asked me to quarantine with her, I wouldn’t have to think about it.
- Alex flopping facedown on that bed at the beginning is such a mood.