Why 'The Loudest Voice' Slow-Played Roger Ailes' Sexual Harassment — Until It Didn't

Showtime's depiction of the Fox News founder gets even more explicit in its fourth episode.
JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME
Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe in "The Loudest Voice."

[This story contains spoilers for "2009," episode four of The Loudest Voice on Showtime.]

Episode four of The Loudest Voice begins with one of the show's most explicit scenes to date.

In earlier installments, the Showtime drama about the creation of Fox News hadn't danced around the fact that Roger Ailes (Russell Crowe) reportedly had sexually abusive relationships with his employees, as well as sexually harassed others. But "2009" opens with Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis) on her knees before Ailes, humiliated and teary-eyed. She says she "can't do this anymore." He pushes her to finish, saying, "we can talk about that later."

It echoes another scene from episode three, "2008," which shows Luhn being forced to dance in lingerie for Ailes while he films her, which leads into another sexually explicit scene, The way in which "2009" launches right into things makes for a haunting beginning to an episode that once again continues to reveal Ailes' many layers — some good, mostly bad.

Luhn was just one of the female Fox News employees whom Ailes harassed and eventually drove away from the company, though the extent of his abuse as CEO wasn't fully revealed until Gretchen Carlson's bombshell 2016 lawsuit, which gave the Murdoch family the ammunition they needed to demand Ailes' resignation later that year.

It's difficult sometimes, in the #MeToo era, to remember how pervasive and in many ways accepted this sort of behavior used to be. But both in real life and on the show, what is now deemed inappropriate conduct is treated as relatively commonplace — at least in Ailes' eyes. Showrunner Alex Metcalf tells The Hollywood Reporter about instances of Ailes joking about how "men can watch Megyn Kelly, and I fuck her while they sit next to their wives" (Kelly also came forward after Carlson's lawsuit, telling the Murdoch family's investigators that 10 years earlier, in the early days of her career, Ailes had harassed her as well.)

Metcalf notes that the choice to ramp up the depiction of Ailes' abuse over the course of the series was a very deliberate one, though one that's planted from the beginning. "The interview with the young woman in episode one, where he runs his finger across her lips — it's deeply uncomfortable," he says. "But with the Laurie Luhn storylines specifically, dramatically, you have to build to that."

That interview scene, as well as the repeated motif of Ailes following women down hotel room hallways, proves to be only a prelude for later moments. The reason for that, Metcalf says, came down to wanting not to immediately alienate the audience. "You can't just drop an audience into that, because then we hate him. And we were conscious of trying to not have people hate him [for] as long as possible, honestly," he says. "Because once you're in that situation, in that room with Laurie, it's really hard to get behind Roger just emotionally. I mean, how do you support that as a human being? That kind of abuse of power, and the ugliness of that situation. So we were really conscious of holding that off as long as possible."

The Loudest Voice, after all, is fully aware of the fact that the audience is sitting in judgment of Ailes, but Metcalf says that "I have no actual interest in that judgment, honestly. I mean, there are people who do incredible things who are not good people. One's professional life and what they accomplish in the world can arguably be separated from one's personal life."

With Ailes, Metcalf says, "it's harder [to do so], and I admit that, especially if you don't support what he did in his professional life. But I tried really hard not to be judgmental, personally, right here in the telling of Roger's story. I think it's very easy to be judgmental."

This means that while the show contains plenty of Ailes' documented actions, Metcalf says, "it's not like I'm trying to make a judgment about the man. I obviously have a lot of personal judgments about the man, dramatically."

But, he adds, "if you come away understanding that he's deeply complicated, did terrible things to some people, and had more influence on the country than arguably anybody else in the last couple of decades, I'd be happy. But as far as is he a bad man? That'd be a little reductive to me, to just come away with, oh, he's a bad guy. I would hope you come away with more than that."

The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.