‘The Morning Show’ Episode 4 review: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

The Morning Show poster

While The Morning Show is heralded as the leading program for Apple TV+, and it’s buoyed by strong performances, this is one series that seems too predictable for its own good.

  • Directed by: Lynn Shelton
  • Written by: Adam Milch
  • Episode: That Woman

The Morning Show tackles serious topics. There’s just no way around that. It deals with human emotion as it relates to overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. The show deals with sexism in the office, and, obviously, sexual harassment and misconduct in that same space. The first three episodes lay that groundwork, while also not necessarily going out of its way to tell you whether or not how it actually feels about those topics.

That continues to be the main sticking point up to this episode, with episodes two and three not doing much to assuage anything in that regard. When it comes to Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) and whether or not he’s an actual sexual predator, it feels like the answer to that question is, for whatever reason, being served as a “mystery”. That’s the gist for episodes two and three. We definitely know that Kessler has had sexual relations with several people working on the show, including Alex Levy and others.

There’s a scene where Kessler has a conversation with a movie director, (“The Director” as the role is credited as), played by Martin Short, and all it does is serve as yet another sounding board for Kessler to tell anyone who will listen that he’s innocent. That, yes, he had sexual relations with women outside of his marriage, but they were all consensual and any woman who says otherwise is lying and just trying to use the #MeToo movement to take him down.

The scene is interesting in that it quickly shows us that The Director is, in fact, a sexual predator and he absolutely did do the things he was accused of. When it comes down to a moment where The Director calls out Kessler, asking him “what are you then?”, Kessler says he’s not like The Director. The show’s telling us, yet again, that Kessler might be innocent.

The problem here is that the show can obviously tell us these things point blank. There doesn’t need to be any mystery. Even in the way that The Director tells us that he’s guilty of these crimes, it’s not like he’s actually coming out and saying, “I did this”. No, he still frames it in a way that the blame is put on the woman, for a litany of reasons and excuses, but we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s guilty.

That is not something that The Morning Show is ready to do with Kessler, though. Even when we find out that he’s got a button in his room that can close and lock his office door (similar to real world events, just like The Director is serving as an analog for real world events), it feels like a hint in a murder mystery without the murder. Unfortunately for the show none of this “mystery” is all that interesting and hearing Kessler go on and on about how he’s not guilty is tiresome and makes the show feel like it’s just treading water.

By the time the fourth episode rolls around, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) is the co-host of the show, alongside Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston). That decision was made by Levy directly, going over the heads of the network’s executives. It’s such a telegraphed move that it’s almost painful. And while Aniston continues to put in a great performance all around, her speech to the board of the network feels underwhelming by the end of it.

The shining light here, even as the show lacks any real surprises, continues to be the performances. Especially Witherspoon and Mark Duplass as Chip Black, the executive producer of The Morning Show. However, I just want to give a shoutout to Billy Crudup as Cory Ellison, the head of the news division at the network. He’s a delight to watch, especially as he navigates all of the “twists and turns” that get thrown his way.

So, that leads us into Episode 4.

The executives at the network are trying to groom Jackson into the anchor they want –whether that’s to replace Levy or not, it really doesn’t matter. All the while Levy is just trying to hold onto her job a little bit longer while the same executives find ways to get her off the show.

It’s going to be interesting to see how much of the latter plays into this show for six more episodes. Right now, into Episode 4 it feels fine because everything is still fresh. But any longer and it may start to get too tiresome for its own good.

“Family is a whole lot of things”, a line delivered by Jackson on her first on-air appearance for the show. It’s a whole canned experience, but that’s on purpose as the show tries to introduce its newest co-host. It’s tough to watch, but that’s on purpose. And as usual everyone involved is doing everything they can with the lines given to them.

We’re definitely getting a picture here that Jackson might not be meant for this type of show. But that’s not going to stop her from being in that chair next to Levy. Everyone in this show appears to be over their head in one capacity or another, which is probably the only genuinely interesting thing about the show.

Especially as other cast members react to Jackson’s latest blow up, this time on live air. The fact she doesn’t know if she “just screwed up” or it was a deliberate attempt to rock the boat leaves a lot of room for things to blow up in the future, and I’m hoping that we get to see how that impacts the executives –and the network– as a bit more “real” gets injected into their lives.

As an aside, Mark Duplass has his best episode so far. He and Crudup are fantastic and fun to watch. It’s almost too the point now that Crudup might be one of the only reasons to watch the show.

“That Woman” includes an investigator that interviews the staff at the show. We get to hear a lot of people say they loved having Kessler around on set, that he “lit up the room” and that he was a “good flirt”. One character tells her story about the sexual interactions she had with Kessler, talking about an affair that lasted a year.

Basically it’s just more of the same as the show continues to not paint a clear picture about Carrell’s character. Throw in the fact that the executive at the head of the network is just out to save his own skin, powered by the investigator.

We finally get to the interview with Ashley Brown, Kessler’s accuser. Jackson gets the honors and, unsurprisingly, she goes off-book. Brown’s story is –unfortunately– all too believable and the writing shows us real vulnerability. This is one of the show’s strongest moments.

And then Jackson does what Jackson does and she tries to dig beyond the vetted questions and get to a real truth. In this case, doing exactly what the investigator is doing: finding out if the culture at the network and in the studio made it impossible for Brown to come forward.

Brown retells the story of her encounters with Kessler that went beyond flirting, but she states that he “never forced” her. Brown admits that she “didn’t know how” not to go through with it, given his role at the studio and their history. She also tells Jackson on live TV that “everyone” at the studio knew what was going on, and how she felt like she was losing respect amongst her coworkers because of it.

It’s very interesting especially because Corey Ellison (Crudup) put this bug in Jackson’s ear, and, as the leader of the news division it’s curious to see where this is all going and why he’s leading Jackson down this path.

The end of “That Woman” is absolutely the best that The Morning Show has brought to the table so far. Giving Brown a voice, and letting her tell her story with Jackson trying to dig further beyond the charade in place at the studio, goes a long way to adding some goodwill to this series so far.

This episode asks the characters, and us, what people would be willing to do, willing to hide, to save their jobs. I really hope this momentum continues.