The Morning Show 3×03 “White Noise” is, admittedly, a tricky one to review. In the first place, this series has not exactly done well with discussions of race in the past. Remember how they made a thing out of Mitch Kessler specifically targeting Black women, only to not actually make a thing out of it because then, they gave Mitch the easy way out of splatting off a cliff? Given that history, it’s difficult to put aside past disappointments and give this episode, in this season, its own chance. But, on the other hand, the good news is “White Noise” holds up to comparison. (Because, again, the bar is literally in Hades.)
The other struggle comes in realizing that, on second watch, some of the most frustrating angles — or at least those perceived as frustrating on the first viewing — simply…aren’t…there. (Hi. Yes. Spoiler alert: Your friendly neighborhood over-achiever tends to watch her shows more than once before reviewing them, whenever possible.) One’s left to wonder, then, whether the discomfort was intentional or the result of butting up against one’s own biases, hating them, and blaming the episode as kind of an “easy” way out. To be more specific, there are times when it feels like — or. Um. It felt like? — there’s at least some intent to make viewers feel some kind of sympathy for Cybil as her entire career and legacy become threatened by a disgusting, racist comment in an email.
Maybe it’s just Holland Taylor’s performance being so good one can’t help but care for her character. Or maybe The Morning Show is, yet again, attempting to expose the media’s mishandling of events. Equally possible, Cybil might remind us of someone we know — or knew — thus making it painful to watch her in the hot seat. And, admittedly, we’ve often rooted for her when she’s put Cory in his slimy, little place.
In the end, that sense of unease probably comes from some mixture of all of the above and more. So, quite frankly, it’d be lovely to get to chat with some of the creatives involved. But, you know, the AMPTP continues to be unreasonable and greedy, so the writers and actors alike are a little bit busy picketing — and rightfully so. At this point, the best we can do is just…hope to get it right.
“I never doubted my worth — I just didn’t know other people did.”
Putting Nicole Beharie’s Christina Hunter front in center in The Morning Show 3×03 is, without a doubt, the easiest creative choice to critique. Put simply, it was a genius move. Beharie manages to embody just…everything. She nails everything from Chris’ vulnerability at home with her husband, to her strength and poise during the big interview, and even just her exhaustion. It’s clear, even if she hasn’t suffered this exact indignity before, she’s still been here far too often and is tired. There are so many little moments — a sigh, a slight widening of the eyes, a strengthening of the spine even when it’s very clear it wants to collapse — that are, both in their individual representations and in their sum total, all too familiar.
If you’ve never seen a Black person in America — but especially a Black woman in America — exhibit that particular variety of expressions, you’ve probably not been looking. Or, if you’ve been looking, you’ve almost certainly not been seeing. And I say that not as someone who claims to know that experience — because I don’t. I can’t — but as someone who’s tried, is still trying, very hard to see. These are the day-to-day indignities, and they all come with the added layer of insult to injury involved in having to explain to well-meaning people that they even exist.
“Were you aware that I was cue tested more than any other person who has ever anchored this show? That I had to have eight different approval meetings,” Christina tells Cybil as the other woman has just begun to stumble her way through trying to defend her own indefensible comments. Why does she have to explain this? Because Cybil, and people like her, refuse to see. Then, of course, that’s all “in addition to the strategy discussions about [Chris’] hair…”
Oh. Hi. Speaking of Black women’s hair and television…
We interrupt this regularly-scheduled review of The Morning Show 3×03 to, again, remind you SAG-AFTRA is currently on strike. And one of the many issues…is making sure performers of color at all levels have qualified professionals on set to take care of their hair. Literally, these corporate goons won’t even be fair on that.
Ok. Back to fiction.
Notably, Christina doesn’t attack Cybil. Doesn’t really show her anger, or her frustration, even as anyone who cares to look can see those mixed with the pain — all hiding under that camera-ready composure. She just lays out the facts, with surgical precision, all while allowing Cybil to make her own cuts — to take cut after cut against her own reputation.
Even in the episode’s most uncomfortable moments, everything that Beharie brings to the table — and everything that the fictional Chris Hunter simply is — is just utterly brilliant. Both actor and character are admirable in a way that they should never even have to be. Because they’ve had to work 10 times harder for not even a fraction of the credit. They’ve had their qualifications questioned, suffered the micro-aggressions and even the overt racism. And they’ve just. kept. excelling. To say “oh, this shouldn’t exist. We should do better” feels utterly empty and white-savior-like. And to praise their strength and excellence in the face of such things risks falling into so many well-meaning, yet insidious, traps. So, respect where and how it’s both due and appropriate. Nothing more, and definitely nothing less.
Christina Hunter is capable of giving the type of interview that exposes a real truth, that holds the interview subject to account without seeking to catch her in some “gotcha” moment. Not because she was — is, has always been — held to a hire standard, but in spite of it. Because she had it in her all along, and all that other bullshit didn’t steal it from her. And Beharie delivers a performance of this calibre not to prove something to an industry that is well known to have treated her like trash, but because that’s just her level of talent.
Alex…the voice of reason?
Aside from the discomfort of watching the little, old white lady face consequences, the one place where The Morning Show 3×03 might falter is in how it actually sets Alex Levy up as the “good” white lady. When Cybil wants Alex to fall back on some kind of white feminism and support her as her ally — after, as you’ll all recall, betraying Alex with the Board — she doesn’t fall for it. Alex doesn’t agree with Cybil’s idea of coming on Alex Unfiltered for the opportunity to explain herself. (Because, really, what is there to explain? You said a terrible thing.) There will be no “safe” interview with her “sister,” no Alex having her back. Forget about whatever “I had yours, so now you have to have mine” game Cybil wants to play.
It’s good to see, but it’s at least somewhat unrealistic. (See also: The many, many softball interviews with garbage people who say and do garbage things that exist in the real world.) And, even in the ways that Alex’s choices are believable, her motivations are…unclear. Is it just to get back at Cybil? Or just to save her own reputation, from potentially getting yet another hit if she happens to be the rich white lady who took it easy on the other rich white lady? There’s no way of knowing. That presents both some really compelling television…and some kinda frustrating television.
She’s absolutely right here, though:
“Cybil, it’s so much more than one email. You paid a Black woman less than a white woman for the exact same job.”
Then, there’s the issue of Alex’s visit to Christina’s house. As viewers, “White Noise” leaves us wondering to what extent Alex is the “savior” here. Does she convince Christina to interview Cybil, or does she merely give her a push in the right direction? How does that conversation actually go, between Alex walking in that door and Christina crashing Mia and Stella’s night out to tell them her decision? It would be nice to know. But we simply don’t. Again, that’s equal parts interesting in its ability to force viewers to fill in the gaps…and mildly irritating.
Still, somehow, the mystery works.
More on The Morning Show 3×03
- That entire opening sequence is beautiful. The silence and emptiness all around Mia almost act as characters in their own right. A morning spent getting ready for work, alone at the top yet still in the calm before the storm. Lovely way to show us so much about where Mia is, without Karen Pittman having to do anything more than act the shit out of going through those motions. Particularly obsessed with that deep breath right before all the stage lights came on.
- “Not everybody can find love in their boss’ apartment.” Chip Black found dead.
- “Who knew getting hacked could put us back on top?” Bestie, everyone loves messy drama.
- When Layla just stands…frozen. Amber Friendly, much like her character, is an underrated gem.
- Stunning work from Beharie not mentioned in the above ramblings: The dressing room. It feels wrong to say how much I loved this scene, given its causes. But wow. When she looks up at that ceiling, that moment speaks volumes.
- “…and she’s pissed that UBA spent so much money on a two-year deal with Chris. Somebody points out that Chris would still be making less than Bradley when she was hired.” Read that again.
- “Buying her? What is wrong with Cybil?” Oh, Mia knows — we all know — the answer.
- “Thank you for, uh…stopping by. I just wanted you to know how valued you are.” “I think i’m learning how much.” That line…would bet a lifetime of earnings Cory thought Chris meant that exactly the opposite of how she did. And notice he doesn’t apologize or say Cybil was wrong. Not once. Just a bunch of empty corporate crisis “management.”
- “I don’t know what to tell you, Cybil. It’s all right there in black and white.” “Yes, I know how it looks!” Ok but you said it anyway. Sit with that.
- “It’s funny how now, all of a sudden, it becomes about sisterhood and solidarity. Because now you need something.”
- “I won’t be canceled over this.” “It happens to the best of us.” Don’t make me tap the “there’s no such thing a canceled. Mel Gibson still has a fucking career” sign again…
- It takes Stella several times asking Mia how Chris is doing before she actually asks her herself. Anyone else feel some kind of way about that?
- Cory talking all the “shuffleboard” and “dead man walking” ageism bullshit…Why. I mean, ok. Because he sucks. But also…between the ageism and Cory just using all this to get Cybil out of the way so he can get back together with his billionaire bitch boyfriend, it really does put the viewer in a place to side with Cybil. Temporarily, sure. But…why.
- “And given how UBA covered up Mitch Kessler’s behavior, not to mention the racial issues behind that behavior, our best move is get ahead of this ourselves.” On the one hand, yes. But on the other, neither this statement nor this episode absolves this series of its past screwup with that whole plot point.
- “It took the leak of an email about a famous person — a rich and famous person — to make anyone care about the inequality that’s baked into this place, and we’re pissed.” Love Layla pointing this out, adore every time Friendly and Pittman square off, so to speak, in this episode. More of this energy when.
- If looks could talk, Layla’s would say “fuck you forever.”
- “Oh, fuck it. Of course, you can’t fire us for speaking out. But you know what you can do? Ice us out of assignments, pass us over for promotions, make it so unpleasant that we’ll quit on our own. That way, you stay clean.” There it is.
- “They’re not here because they don’t have to be here. Look: they’re betting that we’re either going to just shut the fuck up and…you know, remain in our place. All the talent that comes in here who’s Black? And vocal? They either quiet down. Or they leave!” I see you, too, Julia.
- Every. Single. Performance. Shari Belafonte: Also golden.
- I just need Yanko to shut the fuck up forever. All those “boxes” he said he checks? White supremacists want him dead for each and every one. But sure, repeat their shitty talking points about “woke” being the problem to try to side with them. See how that works out in the end.
- …and personally offended, as a Jew, that he brought Sephardim into it. Asshole.
- “How fucked up is it, Stella, that I’m supposed to be running the machine and I am a goddamn cog?!” Gut instinct is to relate this to the dual strikes. Mia’s plantation line that follows it proves it’s about even more.
- (But AMPTP: Make a fair deal already. FFS. You’re making all this money off of these people’s many talents! They deserve the world!)
- “I watched him spend his entire adult existence waist-deep in the putrid detritus of other people’s lives. But he did it, without complaint, so that I wouldn’t have to be a bin man.” There we go. Workers! Unions! Support them!
- Drunk Stella is everything. More Greta Lee cutting loose, please.
- “Does she want her white guilt assuaged?” I—.
- “No. I know she means well. But after Yanko’s genealogy lesson, I can’t do another after school special with the talent.” Noted.
- Stella trusting Mia with that tidbit about Paul…interesting.
- “The only way UBA can sell trust is by putting it in all caps under Alex Levy’s face on a billboard.”
- “I look like I’m in the witness protection program, so.” My entire aesthetic.
- “I especially love a hail mary where a network CEO leaks an embarrassing email to knock out his Board Chair. And, you know, casually weaponizes 400 years of racism to close a deal with a billionaire.” The way she stares him down and dares him to lie.
- “It’s time for you to stop behaving like some…fragile…white woman.”
- “What if I embarrass myself? What if I do this, and all anyone sees is an angry Black woman, beating up on a defenseless little white lady…and…?”
- The literal hand-wringing and terrified looks from Holland Taylor…again very unsettled over feeling bad for this character here. Angry at times on first viewing, even. Like, “why are you making me care about this racist old lady” kind of angry. Perhaps should be more angry at myself?
- “The irony of your joke is that the Pearl Milling Company used the image and likeness of a Black woman to sell a brand, I’m sure with no profit participation. My question is: What brand am I helping UBA to sell in your eyes?”
- “That aside, I don’t understand why you used a racialized image when discussing me. Is that how you see me? Is that…how you see us?”
- “Shhhhhit.” Same. And it made me miss Suits for a second there. (J/K I always miss that show.)
- “You’ve got some pep in your step. Recharged after sleeping in your coffin all day?” Me when I look in the mirror after grabbing my Saturday evening coffee.
- “But yes. We will move on from institutional racism. Right after this break.” Dead.
Thoughts on The Morning Show 3×03? Leave us a comment!
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