If you’ll forgive the cliché, the plot of AppleTV+’s The Morning Show once again feels very two steps forward, one step back. Last week, the show began rising above its pattern of being a soapy, messy show about unlikeable characters played by likeable actors. Was it too soon to hope that The Morning Show was becoming something …more serious and introspective?
This week’s episode, “Testimony,” centers the narrative on Maggie’s (Marcia Gay Harden) new tell-all detailing the corruption and sexual misconduct excused at UBA for the last few years. This spells bad news for Alex (Jennifer Aniston), still reeling from the death of Steve Carell’s Mitch: she slept with him a decade earlier, long before he was exposed as a sexual predator. This news will be made public in Maggie’s book. And Alex has another secret: her trip to Italy, where she visited Mitch just before he died by suicide—but very few people know this.
But this is The Morning Show, where secrets are exposed before the audience has had a moment to settle with them, and subtlety is forgone for loud reminders of what else is going on. The whole season has led up to the days in 2020 before COVID-19 hit the United States, and this episode finally goes all in on that, but in ways that are schlocky and unearned. Is it any surprise that this episode ends with the discovery that one character has tested positive for COVID-19?
If Season 2 has felt like an extended preview for the impact of COVID-19 in a possible season 3 (AppleTV+ has not yet renewed the series), then “Testimony” is an extended preview for next week’s season finale than an actual episode. For one, Claire (Bel Powley) finally appears for the first time this season, but her happy reunion with ex-boyfriend Yanko (Nestor Carbonell) is short-lived. The pair barely get enough time to squabble—they disagree over the appropriateness of attending the memorial of a sexual predator—before “Testimony” leaves their argument without closure. Is this supposed to be a tease for next week? If it is, it’s a sloppy one.
And speaking of sloppy, Laura (Julianna Margulies) casually mentions that she has a “heart condition” (she does not go into detail about this) and will likely retreat to her vacation home in Montana to weather out COVID-19 for a little while. Laura was previously not concerned about the pandemic, nor did she ever mention that she has a serious health issue that puts her at risk for contracting the virus! This feels like tragic and horribly-plotted foreshadowing to something awful happening to Laura.
There are other weird choices in “Testimony” (for one, Billy Crudup’s Cory invites Maggie to do an exclusive interview on UBA even though her book is about that very network being a terrible place), but The Morning Show has begun to feel like it’s too little, too late. The actors are terrific as always, but are they enough to save a show that fluctuates in quality? The Morning Show has already fumbled its discussion of sexual misconduct in the workplace and its depiction of COVID-19, though unfinished, is using the pandemic to manipulate the characters rather than thoughtfully craft the transformation of their world.
Addressing the real world in fictional shows is nothing new, but other projects have done it better. (Who can forget that 1942’s Casablanca, which largely features the threat of Germany upon the rest of the world, was filmed and released during World War II?) COVID-19 has only waltzed into The Morning Show when it feels relevant—this episode ends with a shot of a hospital overwhelmed with patients—and it only has one episode left this season to really justify its season-long wait to get to this point. But The Morning Show has had some surprisingly great episodes before, so maybe the wait will be worth it. Here’s hoping.