This week’s episode of Smash is the first since news broke that the series has been picked up for a second season and creator-slash-writer Theresa Rebeck is getting the boot. It’s clear the show is still experiencing growing pains, constantly introducing new characters and storylines that just as quickly disappear. It’s as if they’re throwing in any and every idea to see what sticks, and this week is no different.
After a mixed bag of a workshop, Marilyn: The Musical is in turmoil. (Despite the second season news, I won’t insert a snarky “life imitating art” comment here.) Julia frets the show is “dead,” which prompts her husband Frank to goofily serenade her with some Bob Marley (“every little thing is gonna be all right!”). Guess Brian d’Arcy James was getting jealous that pretty much everyone else gets to sing. Next week, expect a duet between Julia’s son Leo and Karen’s boyfriend Dev!
Meanwhile, producer Eileen is wheeling and dealing when Ellis walks in to drop off a package and ask if she needs any help. But before he can sink his claws in, Eileen’s daughter Katie, played by Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter Grace Gummer, shows up, back from a Rich Girl Wants to Make the World a Better Place trip to Micronesia.
While they catch up, Karen meets with scheming director Derek, who reveals he’s working on a new direction for the musical and wants her to perform a test song. The catch? She’s got to keep it a secret from Tom and Julia. Yeah, this sounds like it’ll go over well. But high on the prospect of playing Marilyn Monroe, Karen agrees.
On Mulberry Street, secret lovers Julia and Michael meet in a park, where they exchange niceties before he guesses he’s being fired. That’s OK, he says with a shrug, he would have quit anyway, because his family means more to him. And just like that, it seems like one of the show’s juicier storylines has ended as he walks over to give his wife – who just so happens to be there – a kiss. Yeah, passionate affairs always go away so quickly and quietly.
When Ellis returns to Eileen’s office while she’s having a three-way fight with her daughter and soon-to-be ex-hubby, he makes himself at home by answering her phone. One call he picks up is from Derek, who leaves a cryptic message that pricks up Ellis’ ear. It’s amazing that any character on this show still trusts Ellis. At this point, they only have themselves to blame when he stabs them all in their backs. (You know he’s got a closetful of sharpened knives somewhere.)
In a stalker tour de force, Ellis “just happens” to run into Ivy Lynn coming out of a dance class, and he tells her he thinks Derek is up to something with Karen. Ivy is not happy. Ellis is, of course.
While talking to his girlfriend, Ellis admits he thinks Tom and Ivy are “losers” for being doormat artists. They have no power. The real power lies in being a producer, so he sets his sights on Eileen, dropkicking Tom in favor of becoming her assistant. When did this become The Ellis Show? Just asking.
The next day, Eileen and Derek lure Julia and Tom to their makeshift Brooklyn studio to show them the new song they’ve been working on with real-life hitmaker and OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder. As they walk in, uninvited guests Ellis and Ivy sneak in behind them and hide in a corner.
As the club-worthy beat starts, Karen emerges wrapped in a sheet, writhing on a bed that turns into a cage while masked men dance around. Unlike the classic Broadway appeal of the previous songs, this has more of a postmodern, Off-Broadway edge – and no one but Derek seems to dig it.
When the song ends, Derek immediately defends the production to a disgusted-looking Tom and Julia. When an argument breaks out, all Karen can do is sit in her sad songbird cage and apologize.
After “Mahatma” Katie pulls Eileen aside to chastise her about how she could sink so low, Eileen makes an about-face and apologizes to everyone for the “terrible mistake” she’s made in working with Derek on such a disastrous song.
Soon, ex-besties Tom and Derek are left to face off. We learn that eleven years ago Derek tried to sabotage Tom’s career when a show they worked on together tanked and Derek was only concerned with saving himself. When Derek throws Tom’s homosexuality into the mix, the gloves come off. Tom reveals that all of Broadway knows Derek’s dad screwed a male New York Times reporter to get Derek his one good directorial review at the time. Jaw, meet floor. Or not . . .
The next day, after things cool off, Eileen tells Derek, Tom and Julia it’s time to dump Ivy Lynn and get a bigger star to play Marilyn. Tom immediately seeks out Ivy and tells her the bad news.
While Ivy wallows in self-pity, Derek shows up at her door to tell her how great she was in the role. It only takes a few seconds for her to get over the fact he tried to replace her with “nobody” Karen, and soon they’re knocking boots, as usual. Guess she was lying when she announced to everyone and their mothers that he sucked in bed.
Last episode: Working Out the Kinks