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[This story contains spoilers from the sixth episode of the second season of Apple’s The Morning Show, “A Private Person.”]
Cory Ellison did a bad thing.
The CEO of The Morning Show’s fictional network is hyper-ambitious and typically thrives on chaos, but he finds himself knocked off his game halfway through season two of the Apple TV+ morning news drama.
In the sixth episode, titled “A Private Person,” Cory makes good on a decision he had been working himself up to in the episode prior. In order to protect the reputations of both Hannah Shoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) — the Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) sexual assault victim who tragically died at the end of the first season — and himself (he helped to orchestrate his complicit predecessor’s “golden parachute” exit so he could become CEO), Cory kills an article smearing Hannah by offering the tabloid looking to publish it a more salacious story.
The story he has to trade? Two major female celebrities are in a secret relationship: his own UBA anchors, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) and Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies). With Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) on leave after her near-breakdown over Maggie Brenner’s looming tell-all, Cory convinces Laura, the primetime anchor at UBA, to fill in and take the seat next to Bradley at the Morning Show desk. Just after the pair trade jokes and smiles during a live segment, the story posts and quickly goes viral — outing Bradley as queer, echoing how Laura was outed when she was a full-time Morning Show anchor back in the ’90s.
“My interpretation was that Cory wasn’t completely clear on all of his own motivations,” Billy Crudup, the Emmy-winning actor who plays him, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But what he did guess was that the preservation of Hannah’s legacy, as far as he could tell, was most ensured by something salacious. And he didn’t suspect that there would be any lasting consequences for anybody who was involved in this salacious information, and so he made a guess.”
When Cory gives the go-ahead for picture-proof to be taken of Bradley and Laura, he fights back his emotions as his lip quivers in shame. “It was an uncomfortable decision for him because he had some attachment to the outcome, but I think he felt confident enough in the calculus that was involved, in terms of protecting Hannah’s legacy, that he could live with himself,” says Crudup. The attachment he speaks of is to Bradley, as the characters have had a close relationship with ambiguous sexual tension since season one. “That said,” he adds, “we tell ourselves stories about ourselves all the time to get through the day. And seeing Cory go from somebody otherworldly to somebody normal, there’s always something disappointing about that, isn’t it?”
He continues, “Because, it is normal people who make all the tough decisions and then have to navigate all the morass that is the feature of living. They’re just normal people who make shitty judgments and miss their buttons in their shirts, but they’re in charge of making enormously consequential decisions about peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and I think Cory finding himself in that place — and we, as audience members, finding ourselves in the place of watching him go through it — is somewhat agonizing.”
Cory came into The Morning Show as a corporate disruptor, someone who relished shaking things up and, ultimately, did so for the betterment of the morning news show and out-of-touch network. But, as Crudup acknowledges, it’s much easier to be an ally and expose the truth when you aren’t the boss.
“There is an incredible amount of joy that can be garnered from playing a person who seemingly has nothing to lose and isn’t concerned with other peoples’ value judgment about how they make it through the day. It’s another thing to be in charge of a multinational corporation,” says Crudup of Cory’s ascension at UBA. “You can want to change the fabric of the culture, you can want to change the opportunities that people receive — you’re not going to change a board. The board is in place because boards are a part of our world. What you have to do is change the world.”
He continues, “So it’s one thing to ascend to that point, but when you do ascend to that point, what you’re going to see is that the dismantling you’ve done is really only changing the curtains. You haven’t got at the foundation of the house yet. The tenants of this kind of power structure are so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives that it’s really impossible to get a true reckoning until you are amidst them. Until you are one of the ones who is a part of that discussion, and you’re not going to be a part of that discussion if you can’t accommodate some of those ideas — which means you have to eat some of your own words, and it sucks.”
Similar to the wunderkind president he hired, Stella Bak (played by Greta Lee), Cory is faced with making judgment calls that have higher stakes when it comes to running UBA after the fallout of season one. Cory’s biggest project is working on the launch of the network’s forthcoming streaming service, UBA+, but he gets sidetracked by the smear campaign aimed at Hannah and even pays her father a visit in the middle of all the Morning Show turbulence.
“I think for him, a lot of this is figuring out how to go about rebuilding a newsroom so that it makes money for the shareholders to rebuilding what it means to be a part of a corporation that has shareholders. And I think that’s the dilemma he finds himself in as he’s also navigating such pedestrian things as caring about people,” he says.
The final scene of the episode makes apparent that someone he truly cares for is Bradley, who is rocked by having her sexual identity and relationship broadcast to the world without her consent. But as Bradley is confiding in Cory about how much she cares for Laura and doesn’t want to lose her, it’s Cory who, in a rare moment, is left speechless. And whether that is because he is ridden with guilt or heartbroken, or both, remains unclear.
“What happens when you get what you wish for?” asks Crudup, explaining the decisions Cory has made, now perched atop UBA, and facing their consequences. “This season for Cory, the discussion became: What happens if the circumstances change wildly? How would Cory then try to manage a completely altered landscape? We had built the foundations of Cory. Now it was just a question of putting him in a different suit and in a different room and seeing how he manages.”
The first six episodes of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show season two are now streaming.
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