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[This story contains spoilers to the second season finale of Apple’s The Morning Show, “Fever.”]
Jennifer Aniston has been put through the wringer playing Alex Levy on The Morning Show.
After rocking her world as she knew it by exposing her longtime, beloved co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) as a sexual predator, the Apple TV+ drama set Alex on a two-season, rollercoaster journey of self-reflection. She publicly exposed her own #MeToo-era complicity, attempted to take down and reshape a network, went through a divorce, retired; then she made a comeback, was lauded as a feminist hero, faced being “canceled” over her relationship to Mitch, suffered a near-breakdown, grieved the death of Mitch, made amends — and then, in the finale, she tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was relentless! Honestly, I did think at one point the writers were trying to kill me!” Jennifer Aniston joked to The Hollywood Reporter about the whiplash from the cascading hits that kept coming at Alex. (The star summed up the emotions with seven different emojis on Instagram.) “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. You guys! Literally crawling to the finish line here.'”
Alex suffered severe symptoms after picking up COVID-19 from her trip to Italy to see Mitch. And to hear showrunner Kerry Ehrin tell it, the fever that Alex experienced was symbolic of the entire Morning Show journey. “The fever to me was almost representative as a fire that burned her, and she rises out of it like a phoenix with a better sense of her true self and the person she wants to be,” Ehrin told THR about Alex’s season-ending broadcast of The Morning Show, streamed from her living room, where she encouraged others to take a hard look in the mirror while shedding light on her own process of doing just that.
For the second season in a row, The Morning Show cut to black after a broadcast, this time with Alex’s parting words to “stay safe and stay sane.” The abrupt ending leaves lingering questions as to where the morning news drama could go next, especially while it awaits a season three renewal. Elsewhere in the episode, COVID is rapidly spreading through New York City as the country unknowingly sits on the cusp of lockdown, back in March of 2020; Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) has just confessed his love for Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), whose girlfriend Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) is in Montana to wait out the virus; and the Morning Show crew is planning to set up remotely to ready for work amid the looming pandemic.
Below, Ehrin, Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Margulies, Billy Crudup and Greta Lee — who all spoke to THR at the start of the season — weigh in on the season two ending while sharing their thoughts about where things could go next.
Alex Emerging After COVID
Mitch’s death brought about a marked shift in Alex when the struggling anchor began to accept her flaws and hold herself accountable. “I think that moment when she learns of the news, the bottom drops out and that’s it,” explains Aniston. “She realizes, ‘I don’t want the [Morning Show] deal. I don’t want to be this.’ She sort of goes to all the ghosts of the past to make amends and is almost tying up loose ends in order to say, ‘I can’t. That’s it. That’s a wrap.'”
But it wasn’t until she came down with serious symptoms of COVID-19 that she reached acceptance. “It’s a portrayal of what happens to a person being that broken down and that kind of surrendered because your body is so sick, where there’s no filter and there’s just the truth,” says Aniston of Alex’s unabashedly honest finale broadcast. “She’s hit: Fuck it. And doesn’t give a shit what anybody thinks anymore. She’s spent the whole season trying to plug up all the holes in the canoe so she could not be found out, this desperation. But now she’s saying, unapologetically: This is who I am, this is what I am.”
Executive producer Mimi Leder, who directed the finale among other season two episodes, describes the final scene as a tidal wave hitting Alex. “Alex goes on a very important journey where she questions: Is she still relevant? She was so fearful of Maggie’s book, like it’s really going to hurt her existence. She was a very fearful person at the start of the season and she really goes on a journey of self-discovery and of enormous change and really looks in that mirror,” she says. “For the end sequence, we wanted it to feel more like a prayer than a pronouncement. That it was Alex saying: This is what I hope for, this is what I wish for; this is what I want it to be. We really wanted it to be singular with her, alone, in some way having it be raw, naked and exposed. To be like a prayer.”
Aniston, who also executive produces the Apple TV+ drama, doesn’t know if Alex’s onscreen experience with COVID will hold a larger impact on the audience, but she’s hopeful. “I think people still are not understanding the beast that [COVID] is,” she says. “I think people are living in an ignorance-is-bliss kind of world because it’s almost too much to really take a look at it. If you really did, people would have hopefully gotten their act together and listened to the science and understood that, if you want an end to this, there is a means to it.”
As for how Alex will emerge, Ehrin previously told THR: “A part of the character of Alex that I always imagined is that she had a public self and she had a private self, and they were very much apart. Her whole arc is about getting those two pieces together to create a whole that is authentic.”
Bradley’s Love Triangle With Cory and Laura
After embarking on a season-long romance with Laura, Bradley finds herself once again leaning on Cory for help as she searches for her missing brother, who struggles with addiction. Laura had escaped to Montana amid the looming coronavirus, but the pair had solidified their relationship before they parted. When Cory confesses to Bradley that he loves her, Bradley is too preoccupied with finding her brother to give him a proper reaction, leaving the confession hanging in the COVID-swirling air.
“I’m really interested in their love triangle between Laura and Cory, the complexity of the chemistry she has with Cory,” says Witherspoon. “But, again, it’s a person she works with, so I’m really curious how it all plays out.” Overall, the star and executive producer says her hopes for Bradley are broader: That she’s not so hard on herself. “I think we’re all hard on ourselves and she’s a character who comes from a pretty complicated past that she still hasn’t really reconciled,” she adds. “Her relationship with her brother is really complex and I’m really interested in what the next step would be with her and her brother, because it’s such a big piece of her life. Your siblings can really define you, and either help you or torpedo you.”
On the opposite end is Laura, a woman Margulies has described as “so comfortable and calm, that you want Bradley to find refuge.” Having previously summed up their connection as a “safe-haven relationship,” Margulies says she wants to return and see how Laura and Bradley will fare, if that’s in the cards for the show: “I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I really love their relationship and I think that even the little bit that you saw will change Bradley, whether or not Bradley is with her or not.”
Crudup also remains unaware of what Cory’s declaration will bring. One thing he and Bradley have in common, he says, is their impulsiveness. “It was such a shocking moment for Cory to realize that [he loves Bradley],” says Crudup. “When he says it to Bradley, I think it’s truly a discovery. Whether it happened to him just in that moment or the day before, it wasn’t something that he’s been sitting on for four months [the timeline of seasons one and two].”
He continues, “He’s been a caretaker in a way. What he was really concerned about was the well-being of this precious person to him and being able to articulate that that was also him being in love with her, it would have been impossible until that moment.” Indeed, it was a bumpy road to get to this point, after Cory betrayed Bradley by exposing her relationship with Laura in the press — something Bradley remains in the dark about. “I don’t think that was the motivation for him trying to undermine her relationship with Laura,” Crudup says about Cory’s feelings, “but I [also] don’t know what kind of potential there is in the future [with Cory and Bradley].”
The Future of UBA (and UBA+)
The first season of The Morning Show tracked the ascension of rising executive Cory. But, as Ehrin has noted, everything looks different from the view at the top. The second season ends with the UBA CEO nervously taking stock of his NYC surroundings on the brink of the COVID outbreak and on the precipice of his industry, as well as every other industry, facing a survival need to adapt.
Amid all of that, coupled with a failure to launch streamer UBA+, how will Cory push ahead professionally? “I’ve been playing him as a ruthless gamer for a couple years, so I would be disappointed if we didn’t keep that up,” says Crudup. “One thing about that kind of person is, they’re willing to get in those hostile environments because they’re willing to take a punch. And he better get knocked on his ass so that they can maybe reveal the depths of his actual strength.”
Meanwhile his mentee, UBA president Stella Bak (Greta Lee), also finds herself faced with figuring out how to lead amid unforeseen challenges. “There’s an endless amount of drama because this is a workplace drama, that’s the magic of this,” Lee has said about her hopes to return “as a boss, yes.” She added, “It feels like an athletic event being on this show, what’s required of you in terms of pace and stamina. And it’s been a real joy to be able to step up and play ball with these guys.”
Their Hopes for a Season 3
Despite waiting on a season three renewal, Ehrin said she did not approach the ending to season two as a series finale. “You can’t write every year as a possible series finale and have them have any value after a certain point. We wanted to write about the time, those three months, and the characters in that time and how they all wound up. So, no I don’t think it’s written as an end to the series at all,” she said.
If the show returns for season three, Ehrin also said she has no interest in picking up right where they left off. “I think it’s going to have been done, done, done. So, it wouldn’t be my instinct,” she said of capturing the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she acknowledged that the possibilities are endless: “You could [jump into the future]. You could go backwards. It’s such an interesting little universe. You really can put it anywhere in time, and I think the challenge of the show is coming up with that big subject.”
The idea that the first two seasons could serve as bookends to two major moments in recent history (#MeToo and the pandemic), also appeals to Aniston, who says she is still sitting with season two. “It’s so hard to even imagine it right now,” she says when asked about doing more, comparing the release of the season to birthing a baby. “You know when they say mothers almost have a block: ‘I could never do that again!’ I’m a little bit in that moment of, ‘I don’t know if I could ever do that again!’ So, we’ll see.” What would she like to happen to Alex next? “Oh, just a lot of love and fun and dancing and playing and something with a lot more levity!”
Witherspoon, who says they are “talking about” and “definitely planning a season three,” also imagines a post-COVID future for The Morning Show. “If #MeToo was the center of season one and season two has so many issues but really tackles the impending pandemic, I would love to see how the world realigns post-quarantine,” she says. “Even though that seems optimistic to say at this point, with people still dealing with the complexity of COVID and really what it’s doing to different industries. But just, how the whole world has culturally shifted in so many ways; the way we communicate and work, the way we talk to each other — there’s definitely a lot to talk about and tackle.”
The Status of a Season 3
The Morning Show team is waiting on a renewal from Apple. “We haven’t had an official pickup for a third season. We’re waiting on that,” said Ehrin, who has an overall development deal with the streamer. When asked if she envisions one or more seasons, or plans to take a beat before returning to The Morning Show‘s writers room, Ehrin replied: “That’s a huge question. I feel like the show has a lot of different projections that would work for it. I think right now, I just finished a season that has taken two years. I am just taking a break! (Laughs.) I do have a development deal [at Apple] and I am working on some other projects that I’m excited about. And, that being said, I love the show and I dearly love the cast of the show and I hope it continues.”
Should the Morning Show continue, viewers can gleam what they like about how Ehrin summed up the first two seasons, and whether or not they escaped the “wreckage” of trying to dismantle and change — amid a looming pandemic: “They didn’t realize there was another mountain that was going to fall on them! I think probably that’s just the story of life. There’s always another mountain that’s going to fall on you. The struggle continues.”
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