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'The Morning Show' 2.08 Review: Confirmations

Everyone scrambles to confirm whether or not Mitch Kessler is alive or dead in this manic episode of 'The Morning Show'.

Karen Pittman in 'The Morning Show'.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

'The Morning Show' takes a full hour to confirm the obvious in an episode that spins its wheels.

For

  • - This episode effectively captures the mad scramble to report breaking news
  • - It doesn't move too slowly

Against

  • - This show's self-involved nature is its worst enemy
  • - It's hard to care about whether or not Mitch is dead when the answer is so thuddingly obvious
  • - The characterization of Alex remains muddy and confused
  • - The big fight scene with Alex and her producer Chip is shrill and obnoxious

This post contains spoilers for The Morning Show. Check out our last review here.

Is Mitch Kessler actually, for-real dead? That’s a key question that you would think last week’s episode of The Morning Show answered, seeing as it climaxed with Mitch’s car literally sailing off a cliff because he chose not to steer around a swerving car in the middle of Italy. But seeing as we didn’t see his mangled corpse and because every character on this show is incredibly self-involved, there’s the whole matter of confirming that his death is truly a thing. And so we get this episode, fittingly titled “Confirmations,” plural because the various members of the media on this show need more than one confirmation to prove Mitch’s death to be true.

Of course, Mitch (Steve Carell) is on everyone’s minds when the episode begins, but not because he’s dead (or because they know he’s dead) — right before Mitch allowed himself to die, he learned that the tell-all book written by Maggie Brener (Marcia Gay Harden) would reveal his sexual predilections towards Black women, another bit of bad press for UBA that CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) has to turn into a positive. The opening scene briefly offers a bit of Cory’s wackadoodle philosophy of professional life, as he confronts fellow UBA honcho Stella (Greta Lee) and reprimands her lightly for having had the gall and temerity to ask if Cory was feeling OK two episodes previous. Because, he argues, his own feelings should not and can not matter inside UBA. 

I should note here that even though I watched all of the first season of The Morning Show when it aired in November 2019, I was gobsmacked to realize that Crudup won the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as Cory. It’s not that Crudup was, or is, bad in the role — his manic energy is just about the only thing The Morning Show has in its favor these days. But that energy is in no way matched by the writing, especially in scenes like this one, which is reminiscent of the scene in Michael Mann’s excellent action thriller Collateral where an assassin (Tom Cruise) spouts a random assortment of philosophical credos to explain his own warped peace with being a bloodthirsty killer. But that scene is vastly better.

I digress. Let’s continue talking about how bad the writing on this show is, but more in the frame of the person who seems to inspire its existence each week, Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is one of the few screenwriters alive today whose voice is unmistakable in their scripts, just as it is equally unmistakable when lesser writers attempt to ape them. Just as Sorkin has explored the inner workings of television through Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom, he has clearly inspired the writers of The Morning Show without them grasping how it is that Sorkin’s writing could hit such marvelous crescendos of wit and righteous fury. 

Take a very important scene in “Confirmations,” where Chip Black (Mark Duplass) continues to try and make everyone else at UBA think he’s got a direct line to Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston). Instead, he once again gets her voicemail, after which he unloads on her in a profane tirade of a voicemail that tries very hard to be angry and funny and pathetic, and only achieves the latter of those three goals. 

“You are incapable of loving a human being!” Chip shouts, before saying that he’s got no self-esteem left to be ruined by her tyrannical nature. Mark Duplass seems more than capable of delivering a Sorkin-style monologue, like the one delivered by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, full of verbal fire and brimstone. But the dialogue he’s given here is bland and peppered with curse words less for fitting naturally into the script and more because ... well, hey, it’s streaming, these characters can be R-rated just ‘cause.

Billy Crudup, Greta Lee, and Mark Duplass in 'The Morning Show'.

Billy Crudup, Greta Lee, and Mark Duplass in 'The Morning Show' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Another notable element of Sorkin’s writing is in the urgency of characters speed-walking through labyrinthine hallways when important stories or twists in their daily lives come up. And when, about a quarter into “Confirmations,” an Italian newspaper reporter gets a hold of Cory and Stella in the hopes of getting a comment about Mitch’s death that’s a big twist, seeing as it’s the first anyone has heard of Mitch having died, and it leads to plenty of walk-and-talks. That phone call also leads to a clarification to the title of the episode, as producer Mia (Karen Pittman), one of the women who’d been sexually connected with Mitch, specifies that they need two confirmations and that Mitch’s family needs to be informed before announcing the news. Oh, and Alex should be the one to report it. 

Here again, it is difficult to square this show’s attempt to imply that UBA and The Morning Show are major institutions with its incredibly insular viewpoint. How many people would genuinely care about this news and about it coming straight from UBA’s anchors? So often, the way that this program treats the world around UBA makes the network seem incredibly small and self-serving. But once again, the grandiosity the show has about itself comes out in full force as the characters talk largely about the importance of getting the story right (even though the story has no twists or surprises in store). 

Getting Alex in the studio dovetails with Chip’s struggles in locating her since he has no idea where she is and no one else knows he has no idea where she is. If there’s an effective scene in the episode, though, it’s the one immediately after Chip finds out that Mitch may be dead and that he has to get Alex in the studio. Though he’s still unable to locate her, we watch Chip call Alex’s credit card service primarily to figure out where her last charge was made, and in so doing, we learn that Chip knows as much as a person can about Alex, down to her Social Security number and her personal identifying information. Finally he learns what we already know: that Alex is in Italy, or was, based on her last charge.

Everyone is on high alert within UBA, trying to get confirmations about Mitch, while Chip now has the added terror of thinking that Alex may also be dead. But as we continue to hear from Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) and her co-anchor/lover Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) about stories like the oncoming coronavirus pandemic, it is extraordinarily difficult to care about the events of a bunch of self-absorbed people. How many people will care about the events of Mitch Kessler’s death with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic? And larger still, how many people care about the events of this season of The Morning Show? So much of this feels extremely insignificant, a detail I know I have noted in past recaps, but the fact that it’s being stretched across 10 goddamn hours instead of the length of a feature film just makes the show more arduous to experience.

It is perhaps especially arduous in “Confirmations” because the result is what you would expect from the last episode: Mitch is dead and Alex is fine (and unaware of Mitch’s death). That it takes the characters of this show roughly 40 plodding minutes to grasp these two truths is painful. The only joy in this stretch is a perverse bit of humor where Chip and Cory learn that Alex booked a flight to Teeterboro and it’s supposed to land in just a half-hour, after which Chip throws up on Cory’s office desk and then just walks out. Sure!

Billy Crudup in 'The Morning Show'.

Billy Crudup in 'The Morning Show' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Also filed under “Sure!” is that we are still, inexplicably, dealing with the fallout of Bradley’s brother Hal (Joe Tippett). Hal has decided that the middle of the morning is the time to all but break into UBA’s offices to drunkenly sing Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and shout about how their dad killed a kid via a drunk-driving accident while Bradley and Hal were in the car, as well as to start breaking glasses in the break room; I swear to God, none of that is a joke. Even better, the actual song starts playing over Hal being finally dragged out of the studio. This is the part of the show I watch with my head in my hands, wishing to God the scene would change to something else.

And credit where it’s due: if there is anything about this ridiculous nervous breakdown that works, it’s the subsequent scene where Bradley is comforted by Laura, who remains the smartest character on The Morning Show and is being brought to life excellently by Julianna Margulies. Laura points out that Bradley can choose to help Hal go to rehab to improve his life, but she has to control her own life and stop letting her family control it for her. If only this whole show was about Laura, as a shrewd journalist whose painful past has strengthened her into a present-day heroine. If only. 

But no, we must continue with the nonsensical “Is Mitch actually dead?” question as Alex lands at Teeterboro and is promptly told by a saddened Chip about the accident. Alex desperately calls Paola (Valeria Golino), who tearfully and very quickly confirms what we already presumed was true. Yes, Mitch Kessler is dead, but hey, he loved Alex very much and let’s just keep on moving past the very grim past Mitch had that led to him being exiled in Italy. Instead, we get heartfelt music over slow-motion shots of Alex crying, before she realizes that she should be the one to inform Mitch’s ex-wife Paige (Embeth Davidtz) of Mitch’s death. All seems fine until Alex’s phone comes to life with all the messages Chip left her and he tries to calm her from her fear that something about Maggie’s book has come out. It’s a shame Chip doesn’t point out the truth, which is that Alex left her life behind to go to Italy for a few days without telling anyone where she was going. (I am putting italics there because someone should be shouting this at Alex.)

The cast of 'The Morning Show'.

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Ah, but sadly, that’s not what he says. Instead, Chip tries in vain to get Alex to delete the very R-rated voicemail he left her at the start of the episode. It’s a shame she doesn’t, though, because the following scene is the equivalent of Steve Carell in one of his greatest roles (not this one, duh) shouting “LOUD NOISES!” for five minutes. The very loud, very angry conversation ends with each of them saying they hate the other so much, and really that’s all you need to know. That and the fact that Alex continues to be truly vain in her lack of self-awareness.

But that part comes into play once she arrives at Paige’s house. Since we know that Alex and Mitch did sleep together and that Paige has no love lost for her husband, what did Alex think was going to happen when she informs Paige of her ex-husband's death? Paige quickly, bluntly reveals that she knows Alex and Mitch slept together and that she finds it particularly horrible that Alex has the gall to just show up like this and offer emotional support. 

“It only happened twice,” Alex says as if to defend herself. Credit where it’s due: Embeth Davidtz does wonders with the word “Twice” in response. Alex is confronted here with her extensive awfulness, and I do wish this show could more effectively grapple with it. Nothing wrong with a dark, multi-dimensional lead. But this show mostly likes Alex, and it shouldn’t.

Instead, the episode ends with Alex calling UBA and telling Bradley not just that she informed Mitch’s family, but that Bradley should announce the news instead because she’s the face of some big changes at the network. I guess so? If this show says so, and this show is an unreliable narrator at best. 

Bradley then delivers a brief, sanctimonious monologue that seems designed to not just give UBA a bit of distance from Mitch, but to put a bow on the hardships Mitch put people through. Good God. It’s not as if last week’s episode was better, but its focus was tighter, if no less inane. “Confirmations,” from stem to stern, is self-involved nonsense to the bitter end. And speaking of that, there’s just two episodes left in this show’s second season. Let the end come quickly.