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'The Morning Show' recap: An Italian cascade of talking, sex and dangerous driving

Steve Carell as Mitch Kessler. Ah, Mitch. Should have stayed home.
Apple TV+
Steve Carell as Mitch Kessler. Ah, Mitch. Should have stayed home.

Mitch and Alex fight, and then they dance, because nothing matters

It's pointless to write a traditional recap of this episode, because it would just be a lot of "they talk" and "they talk again," so let's sum it up this way: It turns out that Alex, who's been AWOL from work, was on her way to Italy to see Mitch, because she wants him to deny that they ever had (consensual!) sex, even though they did. She believes that being tied to him in Maggie's book via their affair will sully her reputation. When she gets to his mansion, she finds Mitch in quarantine with Paola, who makes herself scarce so that Mitch and Alex can Have It Out.

The Having It Out goes about as you would expect. They fight, because he doesn't want to lie anymore, but she thinks this is a very inconvenient moment for him to develop principles. She wants him to release an official statement saying they never slept together, arguing that he owes her at least this much. And his feelings are hurt, since she thinks being connected to him will ruin her life. There's some more fighting, but then they make up, because fundamentally neither one of them really cares about consequences of anything for anyone except themselves. So they hug, and they dance, and everything is okay, because nothing matters!

But just when things are going better, they see on television that Maggie's book alleges that Mitch targeted Black women for harassment. Between this report and his angry denial, Alex realizes he's about to be extra-radioactive, so she's like, "Noooope, I'm out, oh and by the way, I do still expect you to put out that statement lying that we never slept together, love you, mean it, bye." When she's gone, he heads over to Paola's place, where they have sex at last, and he has found peace, and then he gets in the car to go get her some cigarettes, and then he drives off the side of a mountain.

It's hard to believe that this is all true, but this is all true.

It's regrettable narrative choices all the way down

It's remarkable that there are only 10 episodes in this season, and they devoted an entire episode solely to the relationship between Alex and Mitch, two of the least emotionally interesting characters on the show. If they weren't played by huge stars, nobody would think these were characters whose relationship was interesting. Honestly!

Alex is a person in a position of power and privilege who was friends with someone who didn't hurt her but hurt a lot of other people, and when that came out, she felt more concerned about how it was going to reflect on her and inconvenience her than anything else. That's a very mundane person to be! Mitch is a person who treated everybody else however he wanted until he suffered some consequences, and he has spent all his time since then trying to figure out how to reframe his behavior in a way that he can live with. Also mundane!

For them to both believe that the highest stakes in this moment concern the repair of their relationship is a result of their shared narcissism. For the show to adopt that view is a regrettable narrative choice.

Structurally, The Morning Show has always wanted to treat this friendship as a tricky kind of love, built over many years and now weighted down with feelings of betrayal and sadness. But honestly, as written, these people were always going to find their way back to each other unless and until it wasn't convenient (see: Alex's recoil at the revelations about Black women in the book), because neither of them cares about what's actually at stake.

Mitch is still mostly worried about how he's seen, not about what he did. He doesn't lose sleep over Hannah's father, or over Mia, or over the other people he harmed. He loses sleep over whether people will think he's a bad person and whether Alex will hate him. What's more, he still sees himself as a victim, and it takes very little provocation to bring that out of him. He and Alex are navigating the damage to their relationship as a question not of how Alex is to reckon with what Mitch did to other people, which is a very real and complicated question for someone who has been close to him, in favor of treating it as a question of how Alex is to reckon with what Mitch did to her — the inconvenience and reputational damage he inflicted.

Valeria Golino and Steve Carell as Paola and Mitch, whose very weird romantic comedy story reaches some kind of climactic moment? Sort of?
/ Apple TV+
Apple TV+
Valeria Golino and Steve Carell as Paola and Mitch, whose very weird romantic comedy story reaches some kind of climactic moment? Sort of?

Honestly, what are we meant to take away from the fact that Mitch's reaction to the allegation that he targeted Black women is to complain about how unfairly he's being treated? Mitch actually allows these words to come out of his mouth about Black women: "I'm attracted to them. I'm old enough to remember when that was considered progressive." Five minutes ago, Mitch was a warm and snuggly Sweater Man, dancing with his old friend. Now, he's your basic resentful old dude who (a) doesn't know the difference between harassing people and being attracted to them and (b) doesn't understand the profoundly racist implications of believing it's progressive to be attracted to Black women.

Understand: it's fine for Mitch to be inconsistent — to be a nice guy at times, but still fundamentally a messed-up harasser whose ideas about Black women are riddled with unexamined racism; that's probably more realistic than if that were all undone! But from a narrative perspective, the show has invested deeply in a fairly rote story of Mitch's guilt and his path to rebirth: his relationship with Paola, his relationship with Alex, how unfair Instagram is to him, and the hard work he's done to try to be a better person, which we're given every reason to believe is genuine. The season has been built in a way that's enormously sympathetic to him and has encouraged the audience to invest in the idea that he's grown greatly, even before he drives off the road.

What are we meant to take away from all of this?

If most of the events here were the same, but the style and the music and the performances and the lighting and the staging suggested menace instead of warmth — that Mitch is a self-pitying man who will never see past the end of his own nose, that Paola is a traumatized woman inadvertently enabling a man to evade responsibility for his awfulness, that Alex is a responsibility-dodging jerk who just wants not to be inconvenienced, and that all of them are toxic together for those reasons — it might make sense. But they wrote and shot all of this in a kind of halo of warmth, as if it's touching, sweet, moving, an example of how people are complicated and they just gotta love each other anyway, you know? And it has never worked on that basis, not for one second. (Maybe there could have been a suggestion somewhere along the line that simply hiding out in a beautiful setting was not adequate to address what was wrong with Mitch, that he actually needed to seek out some kind of help other than the unflinching support of a beautiful woman who wanted to sleep with him.

Meanwhile, Alex has been revealed this season to be selfish, unkind and disrespectful to the women of color in her workplace, and utterly solipsistic in her view of just about everything. That makes it impossible for her reaction to the news reports about the book to seem like anything except self-serving panic. It would be one thing if the scene suggested that Alex realizes, to her horror, that Mitch still doesn't really understand what he did wrong and she can't keep enabling him. But it doesn't play that way at all. It plays as if she just retreats to her initial position: She can't have people thinking she's attached to him if he's going to be seen as a racist as well as a harasser. She's not worried that Mitch hasn't changed enough; she's just looking out for number one.

What are we meant to take away from Mitch's decision to go have sex with Paola right after Alex leaves? What are we meant to take away from the fact that her slapping him turns him on? Obviously slapping is a thing that turns a lot of people on and it doesn't have to mean all that much, but in the context of this story, if you're going to suggest that Mitch wants to be punished by women as a gateway to intimacy, that's opening up an entire barrel of worms, so why is it being tossed into a scene as if it doesn't relate to the rest of the story? Is this supposed to be the climactic moment in this Italian romantic comedy? That being accused of targeting Black women is just the nudge he needs to fall in love? WHAT IS HAPPENING?

And to top it all off, there's that final scene

And yes, let's talk about driving off the cliff. The suggestion is clear that Mitch swerves to avoid the other car, but that when he sees he's headed for the cliff, rather than try to correct, he simply takes his hands off the wheel and lets himself go. He has been thinking about all the terrible things people have said to him, all the terrible truths he has heard about himself, and so he just decides to drive off the cliff. That's the suggestion, anyway. And as everything fades to white, Mitch — who has children! And presumably other relatives! — is naturally thinking about ... dancing with Alex.

Driving off the side of a mountain doesn't make you a better person or a worse person. The suggestion, but not quite the declaration, that Mitch is attempting suicide feels like it's just an extension of the martyrdom they've extended to him all season, and it's positively bizarre. This is like the cymbal crash in the grand symphony of Poor Mitch, and it's just a wildly ill-conceived story idea.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.