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Oh, Smash. That’s how we end it, huh?
Well, I can’t say I was disappointed in the finale; with episode 15, “Bombshell,” we get to see the Marilyn musical fully staged, and we finally get, in no uncertain terms, the ascension of Karen Cartwright. The problem here, though, is that, looking back on this season, there’s a lot of wasted space; based on what happens in this finale, you could probably watch episodes one, two and three and skip to this one, and all the character beats would make sense. That’s a problem in television—when you can’t track much growth or change in characters or conflicts across a season, it’s time to rethink why all of this is happening. Between episode one and this episode, we have very little movement or resolution on any of the big strokes of the season until this finale, and I’m pretty sure—and I can’t believe I’m saying this--Smash would’ve been a blockbuster six-part miniseries, popular with both critics and the public alike. But the extra chunks of fatty writing got in the way.
Anyway, I had a really good time watching this finale. So…
THE SHORT VERSION: Rebecca’s out, and it comes down to the big question: Karen or Ivy? Karen’s the designated understudy, but has had no time in the role, because it’s still previews. Ivy knows the role cold, but it’s not her job. So there’s a lot of back and forth on that this episode, and then Derek says, definitively, it’s Karen. We see her here and there, and she’s flustered, but “I Never Met a Wolf…” looks great, but then Eileen gets all uppity and demands Ivy be put in, and Derek puts his foot down and says no.
Oh, Ellis gets fired for the smoothie incident. Hooray!
Ivy tells Karen that Dev cheated, so I guess that’s over. Tom and Julia are working on a new finale song to replace the downer of an ending, and Michael Swift reveals his wife’s left him and sort of makes a pass at Julia, which Frank sees, but somehow Julia makes it all okay. And then Derek finds a freaked out Karen naked in the costume room, and somehow talks her into finding the confidence to perform.
And then we get “Bombshell,” and it’s great, and everyone’s in the audience loving it, including Nick Jonas, who gives Eileen her painting back. Even Jerry likes it! Karen is a star, and the new finale song, “Don’t Forget Me,” is a nice capper on the season.
By the way, Ivy takes a whole bunch of pills in her dressing room in an effort to kill herself. Annnnnnnnd that’s the end!
WHAT I LOVED: God, it’s good to see this musical onstage. And the cast is fantastic when performing; I’ve said it before, but I’d see this show in a heartbeat. This ending makes sense; it hits all the beats. It’s “well-made,” and pretty satisfying.
THE PROBLEMS: …there’s no surprises here. We knew it would be Karen, right? And none of the characters or arcs hit on anything that raises an eyebrow. All of this is sort of paint-by-numbers happy ending stuff. Well, excepting Ivy. But I’ll get to that. Also, I’m sort of tired of the non-performing theater professionals—the stage manager, the dressers, etc.—being treated like idiots for comic relief. One, you don’t screw with stage managers, and two, the running gag of none of the costumes fitting Karen fell flat. These people are trained well and earn a living fixing these problems. It all fell a little flat.
And Ivy…I’m sorry, that was a weak mess of a way to structure a cliffhanger. It’s a crappy way to harangue a strong woman character—“I don’t get what I want, I’m gonna take some pills!”—how much better would it’ve been if we’d just had a moment where Ivy had taken a deep breath and said “I’m going to get mine, sooner rather than later,” and set her up as a perfect villain for season two, instead of this waify, off-putting sendoff?
NEXT SEASON: Okay, here’s what needs to change. Next year, when Smash returns midseason, we need a more grounded version of how Broadway works. These have to be people first, who we actually care about, and who grow and change over fifteen episodes. We’ve got a new showrunner, and a new musical waiting in the wings, as “Bombshell” heads to Broadway. I’m looking forward to things getting better, because there’s real potential here. I just hope season two is good enough to make us forget the speed bumps of season one.
See you next year, friends! Let me know your thoughts!