As the penultimate episode of a season we’re…certainly surprised by, The Morning Show 3×09 “Update Your Priors” works. The pacing is excellent, there’s a feeling of “hey, all this shit’s about to hit the fan, but I don’t know how,” and the episode features some absolutely remarkable performances. Within the overall arc, the storytelling works. Sure, the difficulty remains in trying to figure out who some of these characters are, much less how the intent is so egregiously at odds with the results. At this point, though, it’s far too late to course correct on any of that. So, we just have to go with it.
Right from the jump, “Update Your Priors” is both a showcase of Julianna Margulies’ talent and a heartbreaking confirmation that, as far as her character’s involvement with Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley goes, there was never any plan for a positive outcome. (Or if there was…yikes.) For many, that’s been plainly obvious with the continued did they/didn’t they between Bradley and Cory. Or, perhaps, with the strange flashback episode that delivered on all the BradleyLaura relationship’s difficulties as opposed to choosing a narrative that stayed in the present, with two people actually discussing and working through those issues. And there’s always the clear slap in the face of shying away from intimacy with these characters while leaning so hard into certain other relationships.
Regardless, we must once again stress the quality of acting in some of the most dramatic moments. Not that the studios seem to want to make a proper deal with those actors, but we appreciate what they do and support SAG-AFTRA’s fight…whatever our support is worth. If only someone, somewhere, would remember that great dramatic actors can also portray stable relationships that aren’t doomed to fail. Spoiler alert: They can even deliver the same quality on day-to-day tensions as they do in situations like what Bradley and Laura face in The Morning Show 3×09.
Just saying. Anyway…let’s take a look at the specifics for not quite the last time this season.
The business side of things
The actual story about the network takeover does incredibly well in The Morning Show 3×09. It features an incredible last-minute push to shut down UBA’s deal with the devil. Certainly, this resistance would have been much easier if only Stella had been able to hear Kate out when she was still willing to talk. But the team refuses to give up. And it’s precisely their lack of leads, the way everyone who they think might talk immediately shuts the conversation down the second they get close, that lets Stella, Chip, and Bradley know they’re on the right track. Something is definitely wrong with Paul Marks and his entire business model. They just need to figure out what. (Which, again, we could’ve told you from his billionaire status…just saying!)
…but time’s running out. (Insert Chip’s whispered “fuck” here.) With no real leads, Cory’s not much help. (I’m sure we’re all shocked.) Especially since he’s living in the middle of his own rush against the clock, in terms of figuring out who’s behind the mysterious LLC that’s buying up all the company’s shares in the eleventh hour. Mix all of this together, and you actually do get some excellent outcomes in spite of it all. Oddly enough, the top hits all have to do with people confronting…Cory.
“You make people feel anything is possible. It’s really effective — it’s probably why I took this job. Paul does the same thing — that anything is possible act. But it isn’t real, Cory. It’s all smoke and mirrors, and I thought that was the difference between you two. But now, I’m not so sure.”
Greta Lee gets yet another fantastic moment this season, as Stella confronts Cory about all the things he has in common with Paul. She is right in his face and so determined, with Lee putting all the emphasis exactly where it needs to be and just…exuding confidence and conviction in a way we really all should when speaking truth to power. Even just the way she rises out of her seat to start that speech is glorious. What she has to say is so meaningful, even, that Cory is genuinely shocked. Based on the way his jaw just goes completely slack, this level of shock may even be a first for him.
Later, there’s the surprise twist of Holland Taylor’s Cybil returning as the anonymous buyer. It’s fitting, in some ways, that she gets to be the one to burn Cory’s plans to the ground. (Or at least set the spark.) From here on out, Billy Crudup gets to portray a Cory who is completely unraveling. It’s so good, and so is Jennifer Aniston’s totally stone-faced and exhausted reaction to Cory’s latest “self-righteous monologue,” as Alex puts it, that we’re almost willing to forgive the bad context.
…almost. Alex doesn’t get to be sick and tired of Cory’s bullshit, throwing barbs at him about he doesn’t care about anyone other than himself, when she’s busy engaging in actions that show she…doesn’t care about anyone but herself. Sorry, not sorry. The other obvious problem is that maybe, just maybe, Cory shouldn’t be throwing in the digs about Alex and Paul making plans while they were in bed together. Technically speaking, this is supposed to be a workplace, with him among many bosses — for now — after all.
But for the brief second where we didn’t let ourselves actually think about anything, as Crudup just rolled through his entire block of dialogue with barely a breath, we were entertained as hell. We’re also not sorry to say that, for what it’s worth.
Alex Levy is still…not working as a character, though
While the Alex/Cory stuff in The Morning Show 3×09 is enjoyable, there are still way too many bad choices made around the Alex Levy of it all. As for the choices the character herself makes, going to Paul to tell him how “ready” she is to destroy everything, just because a couple of people have actually tried to point out why what she plans to do with him is terrible, is obviously the most egregious. But “Update Your Priors” is also yet another episode of this series that attempts to paint Alex in some kind of sympathetic light that just doesn’t work. There are legitimately places where we get those “America’s sweetheart” eyes, or where Aniston brings genuinely touching and relatable vulnerability to the character…but those places are at odds with literally everything else. (You’re not Rachel Green, sweetie. Just saying!)
Then, there are the forced conversations. Like, did I have a “too much caffeine before passing out the couch” nightmare about Alex and Bradley already having had an “oops! Accidental!” meeting at the studio this season? Or what about the visit from Maggie Brenner? Is it not a little bit too convenient that she shows up now, out of the blue, just to…warn Alex, or maybe plant some seeds of doubt, without giving a direct warning?
“I just have to say that in all my years, I have never seen an anchor have a colleague’s back the way she had yours. That was really something.”
Throwing in that line about Bradley having Alex’s back at least seems to indicate Maggie might know something and wants to lead Alex toward making the right decision by bringing that up. But it never really goes anywhere, not really. And when has Alex ever made the right decision just because someone else was there for her once anyway?
This character has always had a poorly-calibrated moral compass. The difference between this season and the previous two is, as has been the case with some of the storytelling, about a feeling of missing substance. We take no pleasure in continuing to point that out, but it is what it is. As for whether or not the character is redeemable, we’ll have to wait and see how it all ends. But simply giving Alex a romantic relationship and some moments of openness within that relationship doesn’t actually give her an extra dimension when her behavior, even in that context, fits the pattern. Her continued hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness…don’t do the character or the intended narrative any favors either.
The Morning Show 3×09, aka BradleyLaura breakup era
If you want to be gutted and just…down on the entire concept of romance and second chances, watch only the BradleyLaura scenes in The Morning Show 3×09. Even the opening moments, when Laura is having nightmares posing as happy memories — with her subconscious trying to figure out if any of it at all was ever real, and where it all went wrong — are powerful. And painful. Everything is dark. And we don’t hear much of anything, aside from the echoes of those better days. Yet, with the way Laura jolts awake, and wanders in the dark with her arms wrapped around herself for some kind of self-soothing, we know what, inevitably, must come at some point in the future.
That future comes in this episode, as opposed to dragging it out until the season finale. Small mercies? Perhaps we can say that, but…meh. We don’t care to. Because, at the end of the day, all of this has just been cruel. BradleyLaura deciding to try again after the season opened with them apart, wasting “them” time on Bradley’s visit to Cory’s mom’s house of horrors. Physically putting barriers — even tasty, caffeinated ones! — between them during their rare quality time…for what? Even the way “Update Your Priors” clearly establishes that Laura truly loves Bradley, how she isn’t sure if she can pursue the story because of her feelings, falls squarely in the realm of leading the audience on. As in, there’s teasing, and then there’s being harmful. Just saying.
At any rate, the big BradleyLaura fight is one of those scenes that one can’t help but love, even while actively hating everything about it. Margulies is terrifying as Laura turns, with all that hate in her eyes, the moment a totally-unprepared Bradley enters the scene. The sharp contrast, between that and Witherspoon’s (initial) burst of sunshine, is a knife to the gut. And it just escalates from there. The way Witherspoon’s entire demeanor just…dies when Laura finally lets on that she knows Hal is a terrorist deals its own blow, too. And, at the risk of being repetitive, it just escalates.
Laura has, for the most part, been the cool, calm, well-adjusted one. She goes to therapy; she usually tries to work things out before really getting into a true fight. Even in BradleyLaura’s previous arguments, she’s managed to maintain some kind of composure. Not so here. And it is really, truly scary. But that’s how it works with those of us who try to hold it all together, who fight so hard to remain in control: when we no longer can, watch out. So, we have Bradley begging and sobbing. But Laura’s not at all moved by any of it. As her reaction builds, she eventually lands on rage. Really, that’s the only way Bradley’s tears manage to move her at all — she just gets angrier.
…until she doesn’t.
“I thought we would get old together — I really did.”
It’s in that “I really did,” where Margulies’ voice breaks. Here is just about the only place where Laura gives Bradley anything other than disgust, or anger, or a complete wall. Without a doubt, Witherspoon and Margulies deliver a master class here. But wouldn’t it be nice to have that quality of performance without so much toxicity? Without turning the positive representation of two women, finding their way in a relationship, into whatever the hell BradleyLaura have become? And without making plot choices to bring us to this point that have never, not once, made sense based on the characterization prior to this season?
Apparently, any — much less all — of the above is simply too much to ask. And don’t even try to figure out if any of this can be saved. But hey. At least The Morning Show 3×09 put the focus, however negative, on something we care about instead of Paul and Alex. Sure, their inappropriate mess of a relationship shows up in the episode a fair amount, too. But it’s more of an “and now…this” bit than a “hey, this is the primary focus” bit. Small mercies, again.
More on The Morning Show 3×09
- Anyone else have an “I am in this photo and I do not like it” moment with Laura’s nightmares. Because, uh…hi. Been there, done that, with “nice” dreams that are actually a torment.
- “Alex, we’re not burning anybody’s house down.” Dude looks bored AF. “Really? I mean, we kind of are. We’re killing a company that has existed for 80 years. And I’m like standing there holding a match.” Weird how she acts like she has no choice in the matter, yet she does. And she makes the wrong choice, as always.
- “As a recently-fired employee of…how do I put this? A, uh…challenging? Boss? I speak from experience?” And then, the muttering with the “painful fucking bitter experience.” Utterly superb delivery from Mark Duplass here.
- Where do I make black market friends to get me fancy coffee? Need coffee now.
- The way Paul just helps himself to Stella’s personal shit on her desk when they’re talking business…Even that is predatory.
- Stella tells Paul the rumor about Cory “hanging around Bradley.” Paul plants a story. Stella…confronts Cory at the end without wondering whether or not Paul’s “managing” things again. Girl, come on.
- Tag yourself. I’m Stella’s look of loathing when Paul leaves her office.
- “I don’t know if it’s real, but if I chase it…” And then, the Julianna Margulies eyebrow raise. Art.
- “Afterwards, she accused me of betraying her. Which, well, I had. Because that’s what we do as journalists. We shatter one moral code to uphold the other.” Girl, what.
- The way she barely gets that “thank you” out and the barely there “oh, fuck.” Hurt me.
- Also a huge fan of Cory’s fake AF smile just melting away the second Paul leaves.
- Nowhere near enough Chris here. All I know is everything about Nicole Beharie’s portrayal in this scene with the “favorite sports network” offer makes me want to know more about this entire dynamic. Alas. We’re not getting it here.
- “I just wanted to say that the things you’ve done, the changes you’ve made and undergone…have been impressive to watch.” Changes? In this economy?
- “Regardless, I think you will do great things here while you can. And I mean that. When the storm comes for us all, let’s hope we’re both on high ground.” Maggie knows something, right?
- “People suck.” Spoiler: You’re both “people” in this situation.
- Alex’s puppy dog eyes so very much do not work in this conversation with Bradley. No, Bradley’s not going to validate the terrible thing you’re doing. Even this weird body-snatched version will not. Stop it.
- But also: Bradley can’t effectively be anyone’s conscience — even Alex’s — when Hal.
- The way Laura’s voice changes when she says Hal will love the fireworks. There it is — the point where she can’t deny the truth anymore.
- Also: Her hair.
- “I…should’ve taken a harder stand against him from the beginning of all of this. I didn’t trust myself. That’s on me.” Stella…no. This disaster of a deal is not your fault!
- “He’s infected you. He does that. He’s like a…a virus. And I have already survived the plague. So, yeah. I’m gonna be fine. Because after the deal goes through, I won’t be here. I just want you to know that.” Stella’s power. (And I think she should have also had this conversation with Alex, honestly.)
- “Cory. You should’ve just fucked him. At least I could wrap my head around that.” No, ma’am. Do not want.
- That little gesture with her chin.
- “Don’t — don’t! I will lose my shit. Back the fuck off!” When people attempt to speak to me before I’ve had my coffee.
- “Fuck fair! You fucking broke every rule. How do you sit? In that chair every night! It is obscene!!!” I mean…
- “Hello, Kyle.” “Is he expecting you?” “Not at all.” It’s a comedy.
- “Normally, I avoid her. I mean, who cares about her horses and her ridiculous blonde highlights?” Score one for Cybil, even if she’s way behind for that shit she pulled.
- Cory losing his shit on that elevator button is legitimately the only legitimate response to the current state of the (real) world.
- “Hey. When Paul stood up in front of the news division, and he said that he would keep his hands to himself, you were all fired up. You wanted to protect democracy, preserve the fourth estate.” He’s correct.
- “Oh, fuck me. Couldn’t you have just…slashed my tires? Any goddamn thing except killing the entire fucking company.” Here, too.
- 100% here: “It is time to smash and shatter. Let’s burn it all down because who gives a fuck.”
- “Don’t you fucking dare. Pretend like you give a shit about anybody else in this building but yourself. I’ve seen the books. There is nothing left to save. You’re right — nothing to save. Can you take responsibility for one fucking thing that goes on in this building?” Pot, meet Kettle.
- “I want to go home.” Doesn’t work. Again. Not Rachel Green, not actually America’s sweetheart. “Save me, Mr. Rich Man who’s helping me stab everyone in the back to get power! You love me!!!” Girl, no.
- …ok. It’s probably actually giving Rachel Green a bit. But, like, the one who was gonna marry Barry Farber and who relied on Daddy’s credit cards. Not the one who we actually came to love.
- Another major problem here: We can’t tell if Bradley actually decided to do the right thing or if she just caved to Paul’s threats. Or maybe it was her thinking Laura would take her back if she finally did the right thing? (Uh, good luck with that.) Either way…selfish reasons or real accountability? Choose your own adventure!
- Great performance from Witherspoon with Bradley’s resignation speech and from everyone else reacting to watching it, though.
- The way Kyle just freezes. Justice for Kyle for having to deal with Cory and his messes, actually.
- …not y’all making me want to root for and defend this slimy man. I hate it here.
Thoughts on The Morning Show 3×09? Discuss it with us in the comments!
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