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[This story contains spoilers from the fourth episode of Apple’s The Morning Show, “Kill the Fatted Calf.”]
The global pandemic forced a shutdown, delay and rewrite on season two of Apple’s The Morning Show. But, luckily for the show’s boss Kerry Ehrin, the framework for the story she had been aiming to tell was already in tact.
What major storylines changed in the pandemic rewrite? “The funny thing is, almost none,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“I very much wanted the second season to be about identity and about people looking at themselves; looking at this very complicated, corporate structure and trying to change — but also, that some of that ‘trying to change’ is bullshit,” continues the showrunner about the end of season one ushering in an evolving era at The Morning Show for the currently streaming second season. “And then there are people who are really trying to change, and questioning who they are and if they are a good person. Do they fit in and are they saying the right thing? Everyone was walking on such true, tender ground.”
In the fourth episode of The Morning Show, titled “Kill the Fatted Calf,” both of the starring women, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) and her newly returned co-anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), are confronted with their own opportunities to take a look in the mirror.
Alex, who is all-consumed with Maggie Brenner’s (Marcia Gay Harden) looming tell-all and what it will reveal about Alex’s role in Mitch Kessler’s (Steve Carrell) downfall, is neglecting to pick up the feminist mantel that she claimed for herself in her on-air takedown of UBA. As aptly put by her new and more in-touch boss, Stella Bak (Greta Lee): “You earned a connection to the women of this country — you mean something Alex; as a leader, as a feminist. And I want you to be these things. Nine months ago, you opened a door and you need to walk through it now.”
The end of the episode reveals that, after her many protests and general disinterest, Alex has agreed to host the upcoming Democratic presidential debate following that conversation with Stella. For now, she’s agreed to grab the mantel.
“Alex, at the end of last season, has this come-to-Jesus moment and falls apart on-air and confesses the truth. Then she’s done and she just wants to leave. She’s had enough and kind of has a breakdown,” says Ehrin, filling in the pieces of Alex’s journey between seasons.
When the second season opened, Alex had retired to a life off the grid after exposing the toxicity and complicity at UBA — until Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) begged her to make her Morning Show return. “Now, Alex has a choice: Either I can ignore what happened and people probably won’t think about it, or I can step into it. And it seemed much more interesting to step into it,” says Ehrin. “A lot of the season is about Alex being faced with things she did that in the moment didn’t seem destructive to her, because she was on a trajectory of self-preservation, which I think, probably, is when most thoughtless things happen.”
Meanwhile, the end of the episode also delivers a revealing moment for Bradley, who came thisclose to coming out to Stella when making an argument about why she would have been a good option to host the debate. After sparking a romance with iconic UBA anchor Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies), Bradley nearly cuts the relationship short as the pair argue about labels and why Bradley is hesitant to identify herself as being queer. Laura, who reveals that she was fired from the network over being gay when she hosted the Morning Show back in the ’90s, can’t accept Bradley’s unwillingness to embrace her sexual identity now, decades of change later. To close the episode, Bradley shows up at Laura’s door to own that she is a “pain the ass” and, when she falls into Laura’s arms, their embrace signals a second chance.
“I had a conversation with Reese after the first season and we were just talking about Bradley’s love life, and she said, ‘I think she’s queer,'” recalls Ehrin about the seed that was planted to explore Bradley’s sexual identity in season two.
Ehrin, who provides detailed backstories for her characters, adds, “I had never really written Bradley’s love life. I never focused on it. And sometimes, characters reveal themselves to you. It’s not like you have all the pieces at first. You’re dealing with instincts of a character and following those, and then they reveal other things. Bradley came from this very small-town conservative background with a very emotionally judge-y mom who was an alcoholic. It was a very intense background and I thought: Well, this could be a person who was never allowed to deal with anything that she was feeling. And so we wanted to look at that.”
The idea for the Laura character came both from the desire to have a Diane Sawyer-like mentor for Bradley and someone who could serve as a constant in Bradley’s messy personal life. Ehrin says she considered casting a gay actress in the role (“Casting has so many different elements that go into how it plays out, and I do very much care about inclusivity and representation, and I feel like that’s something that we all need to work on,” she says), but it was Margulies who brought the prestige that the character required, “the stature of someone who was actually the news icon of a network. Aside from being an incredibly gifted actress and really lovely to work with and smart, Juliana definitely brings that.”
She continues, “Because everyone on The Morning Show is so nutty, [Laura came from] the idea of a really iconic anchor who really had her shit together coming into this universe and seeing Bradley — and truly seeing her. Seeing who she was and what her value was; what her strengths were. Laura had lived a life where she did the work. She dealt with things that were painful. She had therapy. She had to walk away from some of her family. And, as a result, she had a very successful life. And I think for Bradley, who is someone who has such messy ties to her own past and her family, and who has such a caretaker-reflex and heart, it’s always going to be harder for a person like that to be ‘successful’ because they don’t always think of themselves first.”
She adds, “I thought that could be a really interesting influence on Bradley’s life.”
The first four episodes of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show season two are now streaming.
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