Monday, May 14, 2012

'Smash' Goes Back To Basics with "Bombshell"...

After a rollercoaster of a first season (come back tomorrow for more on that), Smash closed out with "Bombshell" taking the Boston stage and the show itself getting back to its basics. As revealed at the end of the previous episode, the Marilyn musical was sadly devoid of its star, and its above-the-line team needed to scramble not only to tweak what didn't work during previews but to cast another last minute addition. Call me a sucker, but I got chills during that opening sequence where the camera was one of the girls, walking the halls, being told to break a leg. Once again, I was hoping we'd reveal who it was and watch the musical play out on stage in all of its glory. And once again, the show decided just to tease.

But as far as Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) have come in their weird not-quite-friendship-but-at-least-better-understanding-and-acceptance-of-their-peerdom, this season had to end asking the audience to pick Teams once again. Because after all each woman had been through-- and put each other and the audience through-- they truly did grow. And if you didn't grow with them, then at least your opinions about them were bound to, and you probably found yourself rooting for someone else this time to get to be Marilyn. I know I did. I "get" Ivy now in a way that the pilot hinted at but upon which the subsequent episodes actually delivered.

At the end of the episode, when the person we were following through the hallway was revealed to be Ivy, enough had come before it that it was obvious she was not Marilyn, but it did not matter. Theater is a family, and whether you're the star or "just" supporting, you should get the royal treatment backstage. However, the fact that the camera followed Ivy, assuming it wasn't just to attempt to trick the audience at the last second, set up something great. The majority of this season was focused on Karen. Even though Ivy had her solos and her dramatic moments and her own personal storylines, it was set up from the beginning that this season was Karen's story to rise from out of nowhere and inspire-- inspire the ensemble, Derek (Jack Davenport), and the audience. But next year, next year it should be Ivy's turn.

But "Bombshell" went back to basics in other ways, too-- from the literal uses of flashbacks, to Derek fighting for Karen, to Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom's (Christian Borle) lighthearted, easygoing friendship. Sure, there was the return of Bernadette Peters and Nick Jonas, too, and Ivy's shady behavior, but none of it was done without an advancement in the story. Eileen (Anjelica Huston) stood up to all three men in her life, and although I'm sure Ellis' (Jaime Cepero) mumbling, "This won't be the last of me!" or whatever cliche threat he hurled at her post-firing will be true, at least this season did not end without her putting him in her place. It was a bonus that it happened at the beginning of the episode so he'd be justifiably absent from the rest. Everything felt lighter, freer without him. Though I wish she had called the cops when he confessed to slipping Rebecca those peanuts. He is a sociopath in the making.

"Bombshell" also made great strides in returning Julia to the strong woman we met in the beginning of the season who unfortunately disintegrated before our eyes mid-way through the show. She's not perfect-- because inconsistency is a problem by itself-- but it's a start. She may have had doubts that Karen could step in as Marilyn so late in the same, so last minute, but when the decision was made, she was in her corner, fighting for her and helping her the way every good mentor of a woman in this industry should be. Her conflict about her love life didn't dissipate-- it most likely never will, especially now that Michael (Will Chase) is single, and she is most likely pregnant (um, so I guess she won't need to adopt after all if he has given her the daughter she-- and Leo-- has wanted so badly??). But at least she's not falling apart over it. And at least that pregnancy plot point would explain her insane tears for the entire middle of the season: her hormones were flying, and not just with lust!

This episode, more than any since the pilot or "The Workshop," had a nice balance of actual show related scenes and personal relationship drama moments, and I honestly enjoyed them equally. I'll take the new lyrics to "...Howl," and I absolutely loved the closing solo number for a posthumous Marilyn, though I wish the episode had ended with a duet instead of a McPhee solo. That moment kind of negated the theory that it was no longer so heavily all about her, and it was a shame because the lyrics fit so perfectly for what Ivy was going through-- especially after Derek romanced her, confided in her, and then told her she's just missing something he can't quite put his finger on. Her half of the duet, of course, would have just been how she saw herself singing on stage in her mind-- or singing quietly to herself in the dressing room-- but it would have been magic. Smash always seemed to be a vehicle more for McPhee, who NBC has wanted to make a star for a while, but Hilty is so incomparably talented, and the two of them compliment each other beautifully on tracks like "Let Me Be Your Star" and "Cheers." Maybe an alternate duet version will be released online-- or will open next season. If Smash reinforced anything for me, it's that I can hope!

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