Summary: A stronger episode at its best when focusing on the lead actresses.
** Note: Review contains spoilers if you have not seen the episode.**
The quick skinny on the episode.
Synopsis: The stress of the show and her relationship with Derek takes its toll on Ivy’s voice, opening the possibility that Karen might have to fill in for a workshop preview performance.
Full Recap: Ivy finds that the stress of her role – and specifically with her relationship with Derek – is causing her to lose her voice. During rehearsal, as she tries to hit high notes her voice falls apart and she has to go see a doctor. Finding her throat is inflamed but there is no sign of infection or any issues with her vocal chords, Ivy’s given prednisone but is hyper-sensitive to drugs. She attempts to just use rest but Derek insists on getting Karen ready so that they can make their workshop performance in a week’s time. Pushed, Ivy takes the drugs and has strong reactions, as expected. Her voice recovers and to her dismay that’s all that Derek seems interested with. During a particularly harsh note session, Ivy finally has enough and tells Derek off in front of everyone.
At the end of rehearsal, Karen drops the contents of her purse and is hidden from view as she picks them up. She overhears the production staff talking about their concerns with Ivy and Derek suggesting that they start getting Karen ready to perform the workshop preview. Upon seeing her credit card bill and still worried about money, Karen takes a Bar Mitzvah gig from a friend in the ensemble who got the gig from Ivy. Bolstered by the possibility of filling in for Ivy, Karen gives a knockout performance at the party and gets the card of a well-known producer with a request to call. Ivy’s voice recovers and Tom lets Karen know they won’t need her. She tells him that she’s ready to step up if something else should happen.
Eileen is trying to court an old producer friend to give money toward the workshop and out-of-town tryouts. Meanwhile, she’s searching for a new place to live that’s within her budget but still a place of status. Ellis, who is actively trying to find things to do for Eileen, calls in a favor with a friend to see an expensive place in Manhattan before its even listed. Eileen finds she can’t afford the place and, while they discuss other options, the boys take her to a dive bar that strikes her fancy. She finally manages to get the producer friend to agree to come to the workshop performance to see about signing on. He also recommends a place to her in a building his nephews owns.
Michael is trying desperately to get Julia to talk with him but she won’t. He says that he’ll make a scene in front of everyone at rehearsal but she doesn’t give in. Leo is at odds with his mother over the kiss he saw between she and Michael, but she’s not aware he knows. Surprising them both, Frank returns from his re-education trip and Julia is happy to see him. Julia tells Tom about the kiss with Michael and he tells her she needs to think about Frank and Leo. Michael calls one night and Frank answers. They have a friendly chat before Julia grabs the phone from her husband. She tells him that he can’t call and Michael says he needed to get her attention. He asks her to meet him at the rehearsal space that night. Later, Julia decides to meet Michael to tell him that he has to stop, telling Frank that she’s going for a walk to relieve stress. At the rehearsal space, they share an intimate moment and Julia finally gives in. They sleep with each other.
Tom attends a gathering at lawyer John’s place, thinking that meeting his friends is too soon. Talking with the friends, Tom discovers that John just came out to his mother within the last year, which concerns him. Tom gets a text from Ivy about her drug-induced hallucination and goes to be with her. He discovers that she also got ahold of Sam and the two share odd flirting/resistance. With his further talk of sports, Tom is baffled by how straight Sam appears for a chorus boy and Sam further complicates things by saying he didn’t say he was straight or gay.
The in-depth review.
In its strongest episode since the pilot, Smash continues to find ways to make its lead characters unappealing. This week, the show turns its sights on Julia (Debra Messing), so far the most complete of the myriad characters. With her hubby Frank (Brian d’Arcy James) out of sight at a teacher refresher course, Julia finds herself racked with guilt over allowing the kiss with Michael. Tom gives her thoroughly sensible advice when he tells her to think of Frank and Leo. More to the point, Frank returns home – much to Leo’s approval – and Julia now faced with the very real presence of her husband … proceeds to sleep with Michael. It not only guts her character but takes away a lot of sympathy.
Admittedly, the moment Julia and Michael (Will Chase) share in the rehearsal space is a lovely one between the actors. Well done and realistic, it’s a strongly intimate moment that would’ve been more powerful if the two had come to some sense in the moment. But they give in – which in and of itself isn’t wholly unrealistic – and it totally saps the connection between her and the audience. Yes, they’ve set their attraction up as one that thoroughly ravished them 5 years hence but it just seems out of character for Julia to give herself over to this with Frank now back in town, especially with their marriage in fairly good shape. The capper, though, is to have Julia and Michael mooning over each other the next day at rehearsal without the slightest hint of conscience. Michael had already taken turns for the worse the last few episodes with his aggressive begging without any concern for his family, but this made the situation unpleasant quickly and brought Julia down to the muck with it.
Another bothersome development is the association between Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and Ellis (Jamie Cepero), Tom’s opportunistic assistant who now has his sights set on the producer. To what end isn’t entirely clear as Eileen still struggles with both her personal finance and getting out from beneath Jerry’s shadow as a producer. Though we are treated to some minor wheeling and dealing on her part with the producer friend, they still haven’t found much for Eileen to do. Taking her to a dive bar and having her learn how to play a hunting video game doesn’t exactly set things on fire either. Though, perhaps, with her catching the eye of the swarthy bartender, they’ll begin to flesh her out more.
The best parts of the episode belong to our two leading ladies, Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty). Once again, the focus is primarily on the talents of these two women, as it was in the beginning, and the show is better for it. The conflict, though Ivy’s bitchy divaness isn’t forgotten about, is rooted on actual performance and it’s smart of the show to have set up a ticking clock with the workshop preview. This helps to re-solidify the competition aspect between the two actresses, rather than just relying on Ivy’s insecurities toward the new girl, and strengthens the stakes.
Karen, in particular, has a refreshing approach to the possibility of her needing to step in for Ivy. This brings on new-found confidence and convinces her that she can actually do the role. Though she isn’t jockeying for the part, it’s nice to see a slightly more proactive Karen instead of the person who is so reactive to everything, being so fresh on the scene. this opportunity with the producer she got out of the Bar Mitzvah gig opens up some great possibilities to get the character more experienced and allows her to start getting noticed for her talent in more places than bars and dance halls.
We are treated again to the more human Ivy as the throat infection not only takes her down a peg but also pushes her to accept the things she doesn’t care for her in her life and stand up against them. Though her outburst at Derek (Jack Davenport) toward the end of the episode was a bit childish for a theatre veteran, it was nice to see her putting her foot down against the director. The relationship is contributing to her unlikability and it’s good to see her finally muster the strength to start reclaiming herself. It’s also welcome to see Hilty play the moments of Ivy’s vulnerability that aren’t masked in sneering and diva behavior. She and Christian Borle have a fantastically relatable moment after Ivy’s outburst when they laugh and hug in the hall.
Both stars give terrific musical performances this episode between Hilty’s rendition of “Who You Are” and McPhee’s “Shake It Out”. Both songs are a bit overproduced, which with the vocal talent of both actresses is always a bit on the underwhelming side, but each is a great showcase for them. Hilty’s, specifically, was lovely and powerful, even if the horrendous editing during the scene and nearly breaking the fourth wall didn’t do her many favors.
If Smash can keep the focus on the show and the Karen-Ivy relationship, the series will soar. If not, we’ll continued to be subjected to character assassination week in and week out.