Smash: 1×9, Hell on Earth Discussion


Even though the pacing of the production of “Marilyn: The Musical” seems to be a little rushed, the pacing of Smash itself is impressive. A lot has happened in the first nine episodes of the show, but it feels right, natural. We’ve got Karen, Ivy, Tom, Julia, Eileen, Derek, chorus peeps who provide support to both Karen and Ivy, significant others like Julia’s husband Frank and her boo on the side Michael, Tom’s two potential love interests John and Sam, Karen’s boyfriend Dev, the Ivy/Derek stuff, Eileen’s awful ex-husband, and more. And yet somehow when very few of these stories are converging, the show manages to maintain a cohesive feeling. Perhaps it’s because of the centrality of “Marilyn: The Musical” holding these characters together even when they’re careening apart, trying to keep their personal relationships alive in addition to furthering their careers. Or, in a broader sense, perhaps it’s the world of theater itself that keeps the show feeling like one entity rather than a thousand separate stories.

Hell on Earth is, for the most part, an episode about foundations cracking. I’m going to break this baby down into character sections because otherwise this discussion will just be a convoluted mess.

Julia

Julia’s marriage, eighteen years of marriage, is in serious jeopardy when Frank finds a song and determines Julia wrote it about herself and Michael Swift. I’m not entirely sure I believed this scene, but Frank said he had his suspicions when he saw them interact before and this song confirmed it. People have had suspicions based on more outlandish things, I suppose, and Julia and Michael were acting incredible suspicious when they were around her family. Her music is also similar to a diary, very personal, so I guess it isn’t too crazy that Frank would confront her about it, especially given that the seed had already been planted. Julia also was clearly caught in a lie and didn’t think of the sane response of, “That wasn’t for “Marilyn”, it’s for something else I’m working on.” Or something. She clearly had no problem keeping this affair secret for so darn long, though. Also, if she was planning on staying with her husband, coming clean only serves to hurt everyone and help no one.

Frank confronting Michael was intense. Especially when both Michael and I realized that Frank didn’t know that the affair had started awhile ago. That was pretty silly of me, because why would Frank have assumed this started back when they had worked together initially, because kissing again on the Brooklyn Bridge could have just meant like two weeks apart instead of years. Sad times at Ridgemont High, yo. Julia crying as Frank left the scene (and then headed off to go confront Michael) was heartbreaking. Debra Messing for the win!

Leo confronting Julia was also the first time I’ve liked him. I loved that he wanted to know why she told Frank, that he felt they should both keep it secret to spare Frank’s feelings and keep their family together since the affair was truly over. I know television would have you believe that coming clean about these things is always the right answer, but I truly believe it isn’t. I like that Smash had Leo be a character that voiced this opinion rather than be the one who pressured Julia to come clean.

I don’t get why Julia asked to meet Michael for the last time. Why did she ask if his family was okay? What gave her the idea that they knew? What was accomplished from this scene except that Julia takes the blame. I mean, I respect that, but it wasn’t necessary to talk to Michael about it; she could have easily said it to Tom. Is Michael going to be on this show again or was that the last we’ve seen of him?

Creativity is often sparked by our emotional pain. Tom loves “Bombshell” but Julia angsts on. God bless her.

Tom

Tom struggles with his newfound knowledge that John is a republican. On the one hand, his declaration that this is a deal breaker seems a bit extreme (it certainly fits in with Tom’s personality to try to find something wrong in new relationships), on the other hand, disagreements about fundamental issues are deal breakers. I couldn’t see myself with someone who wasn’t socially liberal in many ways, but I could see myself with someone who is fiscally conservative, but I can see why the show would need to boil these distinctions down into something more digestible that could fit into a couple segments.

The scene where Sam invites Tom to the bar to “run into” Ivy is perfectly awkward. Ivy thinks Tom’s not going to come over and say hi, that he’s ignoring her, while all he wants is to go over and talk to her, but he’s worried she is still really angry with him. Then when she blows outta there all mad, she totally ignores Tom and confirms his fears. Too real.

“Ivy is an adult; you’re turning her into a child by always being there.” Go John! I support being there for your friends, and in this case I support Tom staying with John at this event, especially given that every single time they’re together Tom gets some fucking urgent phone call and rushes away. Oh, but of course Tom goes. But really it’s an excuse to get him to hang out and have a lot of chemistry with Sam instead of actually going to Ivy. Funnily enough, Sam says the same thing as John, except Tom actually listens to him. They hang out till after 5am. Oh mannnn.

My issue is that I really like both John and Sam. Clearly the show is pushing Tom and Sam together, but my heart is still torn!

Foundations cracking in Tom’s story line: possibly his friendship with Ivy. Or at least maybe just a breakdown of the current dynamic.

Karen & Ivy

Karen and Ivy are a’struggling with their careers (but Karen lands the role in an orange juice add, which seems to be a point of success for her character much to Ivy’s dismay and my mild confusion. But I guess it’s something. Lots of actors start with commercials. IT’S NO MARILYN, THOUGH THAT’S FOR DARN SURE!)

There’s this weird, lame moment where Ivy and Karen bump into each other and accidentally switch sunglasses like we’ve all seen before with phones or something else super plot-devicy. I wasn’t sure what purpose this served at first except to show Ivy is a bitch and tosses them while Karen wants to return them ’cause she’s all nice and all. Or to show that she’s also a heinous bitch who will gladly keep Marc Jacobs sunglasses that are not rightfully hers. So many directions! What will happen to the sunglass story line, I desperately wondered. Damn it, though, I knew the sunglasses were going to be used to both convey the Karen’s kindness and contrive a way to get Ivy and Karen on screen together.

Ivy’s pill poppin’ storyline is one of the weaker links of the show. The build-up to it was good in that it wasn’t super obvious to me what direction it was headed. I thought Ivy’s illness was simply going to be a way for Karen to step up and show that she was a way better Marilyn, but then it ended up being a way for Ivy to start with meds. Still, I’m not interested. Maybe because I don’t really give a shit about her, and I’m only vaguely interested in her Derek storylines. Which, by the way, I don’t get those two at all. I don’t really see the connection between them or why he keeps coming back to her; I really thought he was manipulating her for some hot pootang, but he seems to genuinely like being with her, and if that’s the case, I’m not seeing any sparks or chemistry beyond humping.

Also, is Ivy’s story supposed to be mirroring Marilyn? If so, what exactly is this supposed to do for the show? Is it supposed to make the audience see how she totally should play Marilyn? How she totally shouldn’t? How tough the acting bizz is (except, apparently, for Karen if Ivy’s obsessive jealousy is any means of judging.)

Holy shit, though, Ivy on drugs is so much better than Ivy not on drugs. I actually cracked up when she was on stage, especially that final shot where she sticks her tongue out at the dude in white. I was completely expecting to be cringing, but it was just too hilarious and really not enough was at stake for it to be a moment where we were all embarrassed for her. In fact, that was something I bet she was wishing she could do when she was sober and pissy on stage. By the time Karen gets there, I guess it’s supposed to be getting more over the top and embarrassing, but it just looked like she was having a blast, and she was miserable doing “Heaven on Earth” anyway. God, I can’t believe this is Ivy at her best, but it really is.

Then it all goes to shit, quickly. Fun, hilarious Ivy is quickly replaced by embarrassed and also bitchy Ivy. All, I threw out your sunglasses, Karen. You didn’t really want to be Marilyn, Karen. You aren’t special, Karen. Well, Ivy, you’re not fucking special either. If there are thousands of Karen’s out there, there are thousands of you, too. Actually, there aren’t very many Karen’s because horrible bitches like you come along and teach them that the world is mean so they have to be mean like you, too. You see it here when Karen finally, but only for a second, snaps a little and tells her that Derek tried to sleep with her too but she refused. Doesn’t Ivy realize that Karen never engages with her meanness, that she does pointlessly nice shit like return expensive sunglasses to someone and seem genuinely kind about Ivy making an ass of herself on stage? And then Karen even runs after her to make sure she’s okay. I worry that soon Karen’s niceness will be cloying, but I genuinely like her, maybe it’s because there are moments of bite thrown in, because she isn’t some mary-sue that is always perfect and has no flaws or problems, but despite her moral standards like being faithful to her boyfriend, not sleeping with Derek, feeling bad about lying to Julia and Tom in the last episode, she also fucks up, has moments where she can stick up for herself, gets jealous of her boyfriend and his sexy reporter friend, and is naïve in many ways. I dig her.

The liquor store Ivy finds is pretty rad looking, as is Ivy in her angel outfit and Marc Jacob’s sunglasses. Loving it.

Is this show turning into 2 Broke Girls except instead of the tiny brunette having the big boobs, the tiny blonde has them? Also less period and masturbation jokes? If so, I’m kind of cool with it. They make a pretty adorable duo, and I’m a sucker for television friendships. I know them being rivals who become biffles would be a cliché, but as I never hesitate to say, I love clichés when they’re done right. And I don’t want to get this great bonding scene only to have Ivy go back to being a total asshole to Karen. That’s been played out. Time to move on to something more interesting, and since this is a show where the main characters have to continue interacting even when “Marilyn” isn’t front and center, a Karen/Ivy friendship seems the logical route. I guess them singing together solidified it…but I was totally not in the mood. Except they have great voices, so I guess it’s okay. They should go make their own musical and sing tons of duets. I’d drink to that, yeah. There was a really odd cut to a young boy doing jumping jacks to their song, I guess to convey enjoyment of their song?

I wish my epic friendships all began with singing in the street while people stood around us and applauded. It looks like a lot of fun!

But, oh, then Ivy says, “We’re not best friends now, okay?”

Cue Karen (and my) sad face. Don’t worry, Karen, you’ll be best friends yet! And maybe have a threesome with her and Derek?

Ellis

I also really despise Ellis. Everything about this fucker pisses me off. Right down to the sound of his voice. I get wistful when I think about the episode where Julia tried to fire him, and then get depressed when I remember him being all smarmy, “You tried to fire me once before, and it didn’t stick, remember?” HATE. I’m slightly impressed by his manipulation and drive, but there’s something about him that just grosses me out. He’s just such a two-faced kiss-ass. I’ve loved worse characters before, so maybe it’s just down to the actor playing him or something. But he manages to be really forgetful and painfully obnoxious at the same time. Weakest. Link. And this from someone who hates Ivy, but also realizes how necessary she is to the show.

I love that he finally gets put in his place by Eileen. She uses the power of logic, confronting him with how little he actually knows about what you do as a producer. TAKE THAT YOU DICK!

Eileen

Eileen is going behind Derek’s back to possibly replace him with someone else as director. Not much else happens aside from Eileen being the kind of devious and manipulative that is kind of charming and appealing in a character (Ellis should take notes) to get Derek to re-commit to the project by having a friend write an article about how someone else might be replacing Derek as director. Then she tells Ellis off, and it’s awesome. I love Eileen, I really really do.

Final Thoughts

Tom continues to become more appealing to me as a character, Julia continues to break my heart and still manage to be likable despite fucking her marriage up. Despite my overall dislike for Ivy, in that dislike I am really appreciative of how Smash handles her character. I know people in real life like Ivy, and the show manages to nail that type of personality. Someone who can be so cruel and bitchy to a person she is jealous of or thinks is beneath her (Karen) but then sugary sweet, and actually genuinely so, to people like Tom and Sam. It was captured perfectly in that scene where Karen has to give her voice lessons and she’s bitching Karen out when suddenly the pianist (I think) walks in and she does a 180 all, “Oh my god, we’ve been waiting! So happy to see you!” So yeah, I hate her a lot of the time, but definitely adds something needed to the show. And her scenes this episode on stage were hysterical. Her bonding with Karen endearing.

Humbled Ellis was wonderful. I respect that he finagled his way into negotiations with a famous actress for the role of Marilyn, but he needs to eat a slice of humble pie, and I think he’s getting there. I do think he’s the kind of person who can and will go far in Smash’s universe, but he can’t just waltz in and expect to be co-producer after ten minutes.

I really want to know what’s going to happen next for Julia and her family. I want to know who Tom will end up with! And I want more Karen/Dev and Ivy/Derek relationship stories. Also more Eileen/bartender stories, they are so cute.

MORE DEREK! Jack Davenport is love.

I give this episode a B+ (the plus is just cause of the “Heaven on Earth” Ivy scenes.)

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