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[This story contains spoilers up to the eighth episode of season two of Apple’s The Morning Show, “Confirmations.”]
Toward the end of season two of The Morning Show, the news team is tasked with confirming a breaking story about one of their own: The seventh episode of the Apple TV+ drama, titled “La Amara Vita,” had ended with the death of Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) and, in the eighth episode, “Confirmations,” the TMS newsroom investigates and, ultimately, reports on the story.
The Morning Show had followed Mitch to Lake Como, Italy, for a roller-coaster journey that explored redemption, forgiveness and if either could be possible for someone like the disgraced anchor, who was revealed to be a sexual predator in the first season. After a reunion with his former co-anchor and onetime closest confidante Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), Mitch’s story came to a tragic end. When an oncoming car nearly drove him off the road, Mitch removed his hands from the steering wheel as let his car head over a winding Italian cliffside.
This week’s episode then explored how the journalists at his former network go about confirming the news, which travels over social media. “Mitch was — is a human being. He has a family. And our job now is to get confirmation one way or another before we do anything,” announced lead producer Mia Jordan (Karen Pittman) to the staff when setting the reporting tone. Ultimately, it’s Alex who confirms his death with a second source: Paola (Valeria Golino), the documentarian Mitch had been exploring a relationship with in Italy and the last person to see him alive. When giving his obituary on air, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) notes that many are still “paying the price” from Mitch’s inability to “reconcile who we were with who we are with who we want to be.”
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, showrunner Kerry Ehrin says that Mitch’s death was always in the cards. In fact, it was her idea from the pilot.
“I think the story of acknowledging horrible deeds is an interesting one,” the writer and executive producer tells THR. In the chat below, Ehrin explains the balance in telling Mitch’s story (“We never exonerated him”), unpacks the decisions around his fate (“Acknowledging what he’d done … it was a kind of prison”) and also weighs in on parallels viewers may have noticed between the show and real-life morning show anchor Katie Couric’s recent Matt Lauer comments.
Did Steve Carell take convincing to return to the role of Mitch Kessler for a second season?
He didn’t, at least not that I know of. Steve is so lovely to work with, and he’s so committed to the work. And I think he did such a really beautiful job playing a very-not-good person. And he embraced the role.
You are one of the first shows in the post-#MeToo era to explore cancel culture from the perspective of a person who has been canceled. Why was it important to you to follow Mitch’s story this season, and did it feel daring when making that choice?
I suppose intellectually it does [feel daring]. I get so inside the characters that I feel it much more from each character’s perspective. And I think the challenge was that I didn’t want to have him replay season one where he’s just deny, deny, deny. In that last moment of season one, he’s sitting at the table and the horror of what had happened landed on him. And I thought it would be interesting to have him acknowledge it and let it into his body and brain, and have to live with it. And really not be able to escape from it. That was a certain type of torture, and I thought that was an interesting thing to witness. The challenge of it was to not dip into sympathy. To not be like, “Oh, poor Mitch.” We never exonerated him. We never say this shouldn’t have happened to him. And I think that his performance is so, so beautiful because the actor is so aware of that all the time. He plays it right in the right spot. And I think it’s really great.
How did you find the balance in exploring his story, of not exonerating him while he seeks possible redemption, but then, ultimately, he lets his car drive off a cliff to his death. Can you unpack that?
Sure. I think it’s a very human need to feel like you’re a good person. Nobody wakes up and says, “I am a shitheel!” The worst people in the world wake up and think they’re a good person. What was really interesting in the character and in the way Steve played it is that he wanted to be able to redeem himself inside of himself, and he would not allow it. He couldn’t go there, because he was really acknowledging what he’d done. And so, it was a kind of prison. I think when Alex comes to his life [in Italy], it melts him a little bit in that episode. It melts some of his stony resolve. And I think then you see the more painful side of it, and when the news headline comes out about him targeting Black women, he so does not want to let that in. And I think when he finally does let it in, he just can’t. He just leaves.
He can’t handle it.
Yeah. I think the story of acknowledging horrible deeds is an interesting one.
Was this the biggest conversation you had in the writers room — whether or not this was the right ending for Mitch?
No. Instinctively, that was always in my head where it was going. That was really the point. It was part of Alex’s huge arc that started in the pilot of season one. This was a woman who had a very unfulfilling emotional life because she had worked so hard; she was juggling so many things at once. She was so focused on being good and doing good and getting it all right, and she was very close to this partner who she worked with every day. That was probably the person she was closest to in her life.
And then she just falls through the floor one day. And she has to pick up the pieces of what her life is. And her foundation sort of starts cracking at that point, taking you all the way through the end of season one where she really cracks and goes on air and starts divulging all this stuff about the network, but also about herself. And then season two is really about her finding herself and sort of becoming a whole person, or at least showing the hope of her becoming a whole person. But just living through this time, these changes and this pandemic, and coming out on the other side of it. And he was a part of that story. He was a part of that story from the very first moment of the pilot.
His death brings about a shift in Alex with her own journey of complicity and self-reckoning. What were you trying to accomplish with their revealing reunion in Italy?
I wanted to show the messiness of human relationships and that it’s not easy to always separate a person and who they are in your head from who they are in their actions. How many people stay with somebody they shouldn’t stay with? It is a very vulnerable part of humans to love someone. And I think there are parts of him that she does love and that when she is focused on the person his actions say that he is, she has distance from him. When his presence pushes that out of her head, then the feelings she had for him before she knew these things about him become more in the front of her brain. And I think she does miss him. She misses the guy she did the show with for 15 years. She doesn’t miss the sexual predator. But people are many things, right? And it’s complicated. It’s complicated for us to sift through those things in a very close personal relationship, even if you make the decision: “Hey, this is a bad person, I’m not going to have them in my life.” You’re still going to have complicated feelings when you think back on that. And I wanted to show that part of it.
How did Carell react to the ending for Mitch?
He made a lot of jokes about it! He’s just the best.
Katie Couric’s recent Today interview about her memoir and relationship with Matt Lauer has drawn comparisons to Alex’s interview with Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies). How do you react to real life following the Morning Show script?
When writing about real history and an industry where this type of thing is in play, if you are immersed in it as a writer, you start thinking the way the industry thinks. The psychology of the industry is consistent. While I had no knowledge of Katie’s book, it is perhaps the human observer in me that predicts things at times. Or, maybe I am actually psychic — as Jen says!
The timing is surprising, being that Katie Couric’s book came out as our season is rolling out. Season two was all being written over a year ago. When you have to predict certain trends or outcomes, it’s always a lot of studying current circumstances and taking your best shot at things that might be relevant, and what the next wave of that might look like in a year when the show is actually airing. It can be an unnerving part of a show about current events. You certainly don’t want to get it wrong. But the truth is, it’s always an educated crapshoot.
You said for season one that Mitch was a composite of the Lauers, Charlie Roses and other male anchors who loomed large as you were rejiggering the show in the #MeToo era. How much inspiration did you take from Couric and other women anchors who worked with these men when crafting Alex?
I imagined what it would be like to have a solid partner in success that one day just fell through the floor and disappeared. What that would feel like at that time when there was always a male anchor and what the female anchor world go through; what a partner meant to a woman who had neglected her own personal happiness and growth in pursuit of success. And how it would really crack the foundation of the life she’d been living.
Did you ever reach out to Couric?
I never did. I would have loved to, but I got shot out of a cannon on the first season and I did very succinct — and ongoing — research and study.
Who did you look to most for inspiration for Alex’s season two journey?
I look to the character. The story of Alex starts when Mitch is fired and the tectonic plates of her life begin to shift. She has a complicated bond with him. She knows he has done terrible things now. She’s furious at who she now knows him to be but she still deeply misses the person he was in her life before she knew these things. And as humans, it’s not always simple to separate out feelings. Feelings for people aren’t always about morality — in fact, they rarely are. Also, a lot of the inspiration for characters I take from various fucked up or complicated parts of myself. It’s cathartic to get your demons out.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The first eight episodes of the second season of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show are now streaming.
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