'Smash' Recap: Cracking the Whip - Rolling Stone
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‘Smash’ Recap: Cracking the Whip

One woman shines while another takes a nosedive

smash ivy lynnsmash ivy lynn

Megan Hilty as Ivy Lynn and Katharine McPhee as Karen Cartwright in Times Square on 'Smash.'

Eric Liebowitz/NBC

Welcome to “Hell on Earth,”otherwise known as episode 9 of Smash. Yes, they actually named the episode that. Either proving the show has a self-reflective sense of humor or is completely clueless. It could really go either way at this point.

However you slice it, this episode features more character-driven storylines than the all-encompassing “Let’s make a musical!” plot of previous weeks. Everyone’s looking for new gigs or wrapped up in other aspects of life since the investor workshop bombed. The only character still laser-focused on making the musical is feisty producer Eileen.

At a diner, Ivy Lynn haphazardly dumps a bunch of pill bottles on the table. When her friend questions her, she snaps that she needs meds to deal with all the stress since losing the role of Marilyn Monroe. Oh, how ironic when life imitates art, and then subsequently hits us over the head with it.

Meanwhile, in Eileen’s office, Ellis rattles off a list of potential replacements for Ivy, name-dropping Anna Paquin, Kate Winslet and Rebecca Duvall, who – spoiler alert! – will be played by Uma Thurman in upcoming episodes. As Derek scoffs at the notion that anyone will bite, Eileen commands Tom and Julia to come up with a better title than Marilyn: The Musical. (For half her paycheck, I could have told them that in week one.)

When Derek gives Eileen attitude about all the changes, she clears the room and calls him out. But he refuses to lift another finger or do another workshop until he sees a finished script. She laughs at his preposterous demands, contacting another director as soon as he walks out. And just like that, Eileen is finally being put to good use!

When Ivy arrives late to an audition for a commercial, she literally bumps right into Karen, causing both of them to awkwardly fumble for items they dropped. Just as she’s about to walk in unannounced, Ivy overhears someone say Karen is “perfect” for the part as the door slams in her face, as if she’s invisible. Time for one of those pills?

Realizing she has nowhere else to go, Ivy returns to the chorus of Heaven on Earth, the Broadway musical from which she came (and off which this week’s title plays). She looks miserable dressed as an angel, rolling her eyes and pouting her way through a song fittingly called “The Higher You Get, the Farther You Fall.” Them’s the breaks, kid.

On the homefront, Julia’s hubby, Frank, finds some suspicious sheet music in their bedroom. It’s a song she obviously wrote about her affair with Michael. Once home, she turns white when she finds Frank playing the song. (Did he sit at the piano all day waiting for her to walk through the door?) When confronted, she quickly admits to the affair but says it’s over. He explodes with rage, violently pushing her away and storming out. Way to keep things under wraps, Jules.

A seething Frank somehow tracks down Michael at a hole-in-the-wall actor’s workshop because, you know, New York is such a small town. When confronted, Michael inadvertently reveals that it wasn’t just a one-time fling. Then, pow! Frank lands one right on Michael’s perfect jawline. And with that, the campiness of the show dies – and a little piece of me along with it.

But fear not, things are still juicy. Ellis secretly meets with Rebecca Duvall’s agent, trying to land the star for the lead to impress Eileen. He even goes so far as to seduce the male agent in order to goose the process. Guess he swings both ways when necessary!

At the same time, Eileen has lunch with a new director, to whom she bad-mouths Derek. When the story lands in the paper, Derek flips. He storms into her office, claiming she purposefully planted the story to get a rise out of him. She pleads innocent, but it’s enough whip-cracking for Derek to fall back in line and follow her lead. Of all the relationships on the show, she and Derek have the most vibrant one – and they’re not even sleeping together. (That would probably ruin the chemistry.)

At home, Karen realizes she wound up with Ivy’s sunglasses after they accidentally bumped into each other and vows to return them. At the same time, Ivy notices the mix-up on her end and immediately tosses Karen’s glasses in the trash and throws back a few pills. 

Later, Ivy sadly sits in her dressing room in her angel costume. Unable to deal with being back in the chorus, she noshes on some pills. Soon she’s giddy and ready for showtime. On stage, she giggles and weaves her way through the chorus. And guess who just happens to show up in the audience? Karen, bearing the sunglasses just in time to see Ivy eat it in front of a sold-out crowd and run off stage.

As Ivy flees into the depths of Times Square, still in costume, Karen runs after her. When Karen tries to give her the glasses, Ivy scoffs at the gesture. “You’re nothing special,” she slurs. When Ivy says Karen “didn’t want it enough” – referring to the role of Marilyn – Karen puts her in her place by saying Ivy was Derek’s sloppy seconds, both for the role and sex. But just when you think Karen’s growing a pair, she chases after Ivy to apologize.

Add liquor and the two are insta-friends minutes later, busting into Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” in the middle of Times Square. Just before Ivy faceplants on her bed she reminds Karen that, come morning, they’re not BFFs. They are, however, lifelong frenemies.

Feeling overconfident after bedding Rebecca Duvall’s agent, Ellis tells Eileen he doesn’t want to be her assistant anymore. Instead, he demands co-producer credit for helping land the star. When the phone rings, the two stand off as it goes unanswered. After receiving a tongue-lashing and looks that could kill, Ellis backs down and resumes the position of assistant. What’s that you hear? That’s once again the crackling sound of defeat as Ellis finally meets his match. Yet another storyline I can get behind. 

After Frank packs his bags and leaves, Julia meets Michael. There’s no real reason for this, except it allows her to tell him the affair “exploded her whole life, like a bombshell.” And thus a new and improved musical is born – introducing Bombshell, everyone.

Last episode: The Coup


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