The Morning Show 3×07 “Strict Scrutiny” continues the weird tradition, of taking a side trip that literally no one asked for, that began with the seventh episode of Season 2 (which we were, in hindsight, possibly too fair about). Beginning with more of Alex’s budding and inappropriate “romance” with Paul Marks — which, also, literally no one asked for — and detouring to Cory’s unsettling family drama, the episode does, somehow, still include some admirable points. But really, what universe are we even in at this point? And just…why?
From a character development standpoint, sure, there’s finally at least some answer to the constant “why is he like this” around Cory. And, ok. Sure. Fine. Whatever. If we understand that Paul’s big offer to Stella, as her friend Kate points out, is just a way to control her, then we can probably guess at whatever Paul’s “relationship” with Alex is meant to be about. (For him, at least. She seems to be utterly smitten. Gag.) However. No, we did not need so much time and story wasted on spoon-feeding us any of that. This is exhausting in a way that watching a series with all the elements of success should never, ever be.
Speaking of things that should never, ever be: The studios still have yet to make a fair deal with SAG-AFTRA. (Un)friendly reminder that this show wouldn’t exist without actors — union members! — and they deserve better.
The Ellison Family Slasher Film
So, Cory’s mom is a political bigwig, apparently. Did we know this before now? It’s honestly impossible to say, as ignoring Cory Ellison is usually a thing people need to do to maintain sanity. (I am people.) At any rate, The Morning Show 3×07 is, ultimately, unclear about whether or not Martha is looking out for her son by digging into his deal with the
devil billionaire. Possibly, she’s using her ties to the DOJ as just a means of control — a way to get him to come visit, as moms like to guilt us into doing by any means necessary — or even to show she isn’t, in fact, proud of how far he’s climbed up the business ladder. Who can say? Regardless of intent, it’s all just giving “Mrs. Voorhees” anyway.
Anyway. Cory’s decision to make Bradley come with him, kind of as a shield, is bad on a number of levels. Should we discuss the lies of omission? Maybe, instead, the real problem is that, as Bradley’s boss, he shouldn’t be roping her into his personal drama. (Then again, turnabout is some sick sort of fair play here, considering…Hal.) Third, there’s always the problem of Cory having an employee blow off her job at the evening news — which he promised her, against God and city traffic, she’d make it home for — to stay for that creep show of a dinner and serenade. And boy, does the idea of using Bradley to make Mommy Dearest play nicely backfire. Or does it? Maybe
Nancy Loomis Martha would’ve been even worse without someone else there (a terrifying enough thought). Who can say? Not us!
For his part, Billy Crudup absolutely does a beautiful job of showing just how much this visit takes a toll on Cory. He’s so good at embodying a son who is just…taking it from his wildly unpredictable and eccentric mother, in fact, that it’s possible to actually feel bad for The Morning Show‘s favorite “nice guy” of a bully. And Crudup’s performance is also excellent when Cory finally does show a lot of his negative feelings — most notably the anxiety rotting under the surface when he gets back to the office. By the time “Strict Scrutiny” ends, though, Cory’s…back to being Cory. Not just that, though. The way he lashes out at Leonard is, in some ways, even more difficult to watch after learning about how the bullied little boy became this bully of a man.
Take the Bradley of it all — or at least the lying and controlling Bradley of it all — out. Remove the spontaneous musical number, and put the “slasher film mommy” tone on the cutting room floor where it belongs. Mix what’s left together, and there’s…something there. But this episode needs some kind of trigger warning for the family dynamic (as well as all of the aforementioned noise), and it’s alarming to be able to say we’re not even entirely sure for what. Emotional abuse? A possibly mentally ill parent, maybe? Generalized toxicity, masquerading as a backstory? All of the above, yet none of the above, and more?
Whatever it is, it’s more unsettling than 99% of the things we’ve watched this Spooky Season. That’s…kind of a problem.
“It’s just your run of the mill existential crisis.”
It’s almost impossible to feel anything other than torn in Stella’s situation, and Greta Lee is brilliant about showing all the ways Stella herself is torn here. We now know this character’s history with Paul Marks, so she’s right to be wary of any contract coming to her from his people. And Lee exudes this kind of…strength and message of “you won’t fuck me over again” when Stella squares off with Amanda. Then, all the nerves and insecurities just wash over her the second Amanda is gone. Again, Lee’s brilliance can not be praised enough. Just...so good.
But the deal seems, at least on paper, to be a good one — a dream come true, even. This gives us some beautiful moments filled with an element of hope, of feeling “someone has finally seen my worth,” daring to believe…even when something is under the surface, in Stella’s gut, telling her to still worry. That something is her knowing exactly how Paul operates. She just can’t quite see what he’s doing to her this time — at least partially because she doesn’t want to.
So, she confesses to Mia. And they have this excellent moment of Stella revealing another piece that worries her is, essentially, stabbing Cory in the back to get to the top. But, as Mia reminds her, it’s how he got where he is. And it’s only “us” (women!) who acknowledge the price of success. Even then, one of the most human, natural, and gut-wrenching moments in The Morning Show 3×07 is the one when Stella really sees Cory after he comes back from his (WTF. Who asked for this) trip, sees how much of a mess he really is…and offers to help. Maybe because of her argument with Kate, and maybe just because Stella does see Cory’s humanity, here’s where she also makes the choice to let him know she and Paul are coming for him. (As in, Paul is using her to oust him.)
In between her vulnerability with Mia and her incredibly empathetic moment with Cory, there is the argument with Kate, though. Much like Lee, Natalie Morales is so very good in this episode. As Kate, Morales is every bit the friend, trying to keep Stella from repeating a terrible mistake — in this case, trusting Paul and letting him use her — and pouring out not only the pain of seeing Stella do this to herself, but also the obviously unhealed trauma of bearing witness to the aftermath. But Stella’s standoffish here, then gets defensive (offensive) and tries to turn things around on Kate…and it’s jarring to see the uncertainty suddenly gone.
There are a lot of things we could take from how Stella acts with Kate. In the first place, sometimes, supporting someone you love means calling them on their shit and holding up a mirror — which Kate tries here. But sometimes, we are not ready to take a good, hard look. Or, in Stella’s case, she’s just been given a push in the direction of the dream by Mia and, likely, can’t bear to consider that the dream is tainted. And if she’s been underestimated time and again — which she has been — hearing a friend (rightly) cast doubt on her suddenly taking a big leap up the ladder both puts that leap in jeopardy and feeds the feeling of not being good enough.
But two things can be true at once: Stella is absolutely worthy, and Kate is absolutely right about why Paul has made her the offer she deserves. Weirdly, if we bring it back to Cory, the way Lee portrays Stella seems to indicate she did hear Kate out but still wants to try (valid)…just in the right way (by giving Cory that heads up). Also in that performance, there’s this sense of pride and being genuinely pleased when Cory clearly sees her as a worthy opponent. That is, after all, what she needed to hear — just not in empty platitudes — all along.
Stella’s dilemma, and her competing friends’ and colleagues’ part in it, is fascinating. Which is, of course, why the weak parts of this season are so glaring and irritating.
“ABORT THE COURT”
Like Stella’s storyline, the last-second swerve to the Dobbs leak is an easy highlight of The Morning Show 3×07. In the first place, that’s just…how these things happen. Everyone has plans, and suddenly, in a news cycle where we truly can’t keep up, it all falls apart. The rush to get a story out, to start planning coverage of the big story that replaces all others — that’s real. (Just listen to any late night host talk about how they’ve literally changed scripts at the last second before recording, and…yeah.)
But the best part of this piece of “Strict Scrutiny” is…well. Basically, just call it “all things Nicole Beharie.” There is something very raw and real about how Chris responds to the news. It feels at once familiar and something entirely new, as someone who lives in that rage and pain as a woman…but can never quite know what it’s like to add being not just any woman but a Black woman hearing about the death of abortion rights in the United States.
“That’s your take? Really? Women are going to die of ectopic pregnancies, while doctors get sued trying to save lives. Rape victims will be forced to carry their assailant’s child. And the maternal mortality rate will skyrocket. Mostly for women of color. Because that is how shit rolls in this country!”
When Christina Hunter confronts the vapid, privileged white lady in that bathroom, everything about Beharie’s delivery — from the stunned horror, the escalating anger with every single word and every single sentence, and the way her voice breaks by the end — is without equal. And through her portrayal of Chris, that bathroom scene speaks for so many of us here. Many of us were that woman, crying out about the horrors to come — some of which were already common for communities of color and poor people in certain areas…but were only going to get worse — while everyone around us just reacted as if we were the ones who’d lost the plot, as opposed to reality having done so. And the optics of Chris being the “hysterical” one, the loud one — the angry one — all while everyone else just sat in their privilege adds an important extra layer of visibility here.
Black women tried to warn us. We did not listen; we never seem to. This scene, somehow in the middle of all the other (sometimes bizarre) chaos of this episode, recognizes and pays tribute to that. Will it be enough for everyone? Almost certainly not. And it doesn’t excuse…whatever that side trip was…either. But we point to these performances, and these moments of resonance, to explain why we can’t quit this series — even if, on occasion, some viewers probably wish they could.
Let’s also not leave out the movement quality as Beharie scribbles on the mirror with lipstick and takes that selfie…it pours out a whole new layer of emotions. There is a defiance in that movement, and there is a beauty in the strength the character exudes as when she delivers her message. Do those types of actions accomplish much? Not on a large scale, no. But, even for that brief moment, it’s obvious that Chris feels a certain sense of determination — to not give up, to speak out, to use whatever platform she can however she can. Sometimes, tiny actions like this are enough to get through to the next moment, thus meaning they can accomplish a lot.
Outsiders will see only a “stunt.” And, to be fair, it is in some ways. But this character refuses to be silenced. So do we.
More on The Morning Show 3×07
- …I continue to have less than zero fucks to give about Alex and Paul hooking up and having whatever weird, “man control all” breakfast after.
- “Close, close, close! Like your life depends on it!” Cory at the Board? Or Jessica Pearson yelling at Harvey Specter?
- That hesitation between hearing Bradley was waiting and actually heading in her direction was…a lot for Cory. Too bad he screwed that up pretty much immediately after.
- Am I supposed to care about the “sweet, nervous” act from Bradley when she talks to Cory about Hal? Bad news if so: I don’t.
- He’s manipulating you, Alex.
- “I think it’s why I packed that part of me away a long time ago.” “You do get used to it, though. Being alone.” I feel attacked.
- …and they’d be sweet if this was at all appropriate. It is not. They are not!
- Mia demanding news from this man in Russian. Yes, thank you.
- At one point, my notes literally say, “I LOVE YOU GRETA LEE.” This sentiment holds for the whole episode.
- Please stop wasting Tig Notaro, though.
- Cory blaring “Kokomo” before going in there…relatable AF. It’s like me finishing my Pinkshift jam session in the car before going into my office to deal with some bullshit.
- Tag yourself. I’m Bradley’s “cartoon eyes falling out of face” reaction to “hi, Mom.”
- “Hey, there. Still works.” ????????
- “Media is politics by another name.” I’m tired.
- “She got a little kooky towards the end, but that’s what happens when you’re a woman in politics. It breaks everyone. You’ll see when you get to my age. How far you’ve come and how far you have to go. The current is so strong, you’ll worry if you’re swimming forward at all.” This would resonate more if I wasn’t getting spoon-fed and didn’t have the weirdness of…everything, really…mucking it up.
- “You’re an icon, Bradley Jackson. A true feminist.” Ok but wait until you hear about her iconically shitty choices. There’s nothing “feminist” about covering for someone who pals around with the very regime that is setting us back.
- “I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone. This isn’t happening.” Same.
- “This doesn’t happen, right? This isn’t normal.” ME, at least 100 times a day.
- Why is that basement so…dingy, compared with the rest of the place?
- “We played dominoes and listened to the rain. That was such a nice night.” It’s giving “spoken word track on an emo album.” Except that’s an insult to emo.
- “It’s strange. You look just like your father right now. You’re about the same age he was. When he left us.” Easy to tell she’s tossed this at Cory many times.
- “This is garden variety mom shit.” And Cory did not even consider that not only would Bradley not want to be a part of her boss‘s mom shit…she’s also probably still working through losing her own mom.
- “There are studies that show…power actually changes the brain. Erases the ability to empathize? It makes me wonder: What does Paul Marks really care about?” Wealth, power, and himself.
- Very much here for the “fuck ’em” line.
- “Sometimes, they thrash a little. Cory doesn’t mind. He never has.” WTAF?
- “It is a little barbaric. Poor things. Powerless to fight back.” The delivery here is giving “definitely the killer in a slasher.”
- Everyone wants to know about BradleyLaura. So true.
- The pink dress!!!!!!!
- “We want to give a voice to people who do not always have one.” And the establishment will never let you.
- Alex is just…obvious about the lingering looks and being preoccupied with Paul’s every move during this party. It’s sad to watch.
- “Please. You already stepped over a few bodies to get here. I think the only difference between us and them is that we let the ghosts torment us. They don’t.” Love this line, love this entire scene with Greta Lee and Karen Pittman. Love. (Can we cancel the Cory family WTF and Alex/Paul and just have this?)
- “Pink all day.” Exactly. Throw in some black, and you have my brand.
- “They’re the ones that outed Bradley. They don’t give a shit.” Weirdly, Alex is not talking about Cory. Also: Are we really redoing “invasion of privacy” and making me temporarily defend this trash relationship?
- “You should be investigating him. You should be looking into what he’s doing. But you’re never gonna do that now. Are you?” BINGO.
- Kate essentially screaming into the void, trying to help someone she cares about who’s just refusing to listen and treating it like it’s an attack, is so very relatable right now…
- This is an abuse of both Crudup’s talent and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Just…so out of place.
- Tag yourself. I’m Bradley just…constantly on “WTF” in the background.
- Why is a mother saying all this shit about her son to a stranger? Especially one she was just fishing for relationship details on???
- “You should stay away from him. He’s alone because he should be alone. I know because I have tried, and tried, and tried with him.” Uh…is this “trying” of which you speak in the room with us now? This is abusive. The whole thing is abuse.
- “You only came to see me because you wanted something. And you won’t come back until you need something again. You really are just like your father. There’s something very wrong with you.” And she’s claiming to not have something wrong with her? Ok then.
- “Well, we’re friends. It’s ok. This is what friends talk about.” “We are two people who use each other, Bradley. That’s it.” I mean…
- “What the fucking fuck?” Indeed.
- And Alex, sweetheart. The vile phrase was “domestic supply of infants”
- I literally have a selfie like that from when Dobbs became official.
- “When i sleep, I dream of…being at the office.” Something is legitimately wrong with this man. Unless they’re nightmares.
- “If he came to you with an offer behind my back, it’s because he thinks he can manipulate you. Let’s let him think that. It won’t be the first time you were underestimated around here.” Can’t believe I’m saying this, but uh. Cory, go off!
- Could do without the handmaid references. Get literally any other comparison.
- Same, Chip. Same. Legit. And not just for the “what the fuck, man” bit about Dobbs.
Thoughts on The Morning Show 3×07? Leave us a comment!
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