Recap and review of Smash – Season 2 Episode 15 – The Transfer:
NBC’s official cancellation of Smash this week was hardly a surprise, given the basement-level ratings and subsequent banishment to the Saturday night ghetto. While “The Transfer” certainly isn’t the show’s finest hour, there are elements in the episode that remind me why I’ll miss the series, there are just as many developments that have brought me to the realization that, if the series was unwilling to change its central ideology, it probably needed to go anyway. For every moment that delves into the grunt work of Broadway, and the incisive creative processes that result in a show that could either be the toast of town or an outright bomb, there are just as many moments in the episode that trade on the worst of the show’s soap opera instincts. If the show were to continue into a third season, then I could see how having Ivy (Megan Hilty) discover she’s pregnant, or how having Daisy (Mara Davi) blackmail Derek (Jack Davenport) with an illicit sex video would throw a potentially interesting wrench into the storylines going forward. But with two hours remaining in the series, it feels as though the series is aiming for one last burst of salacious soap opera melodrama, and I’m not sure it’s at all necessary, particularly when you factor in the eminently more interesting business of behind-the-scenes theater: the casting, the restructuring, rewriting, and working both the press and producers. But this is Smash, the way it’s always been, for better or worse. If nothing else, the show is committed to telling its story on its own terms. There’s a certain admirability in that, even if that approach ultimately tanked the series.
So Hit List is in previews on Broadway, and though the show is going to be playing to packed houses through next January, Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) and Derek can’t kick the feeling that something is missing from the show. Julia (Debra Messing) believes it’s the lack of intimacy that the Off-Broadway stage provided. Derek feels that the problem might be the book, though Jimmy takes offense to the notion of altering his late friend’s work, so Derek instead suggests that an overworked Ana (Krysta Rodriguez) might be the problem, as she’s missing cues and generally lacking her former vibrancy. Jimmy disagrees, but he’s not the director, so Derek is the one who makes the call to give Ana the night off to recharge her batteries while subbing her understudy into the role. Of course, that understudy just so happens to be Daisy, the dancer who was one of Derek’s accusers in the sexual harassment suit last fall. Despite the fact that when we last saw Derek and Daisy together, they were working out their differences over cocktails, there’s just something that doesn’t sit right about the cast change. Karen (Katharine McPhee) confronts Derek and puts it together that this isn’t simply a one-time replacement. He’s looking to permanently swap out Ana for Daisy.
After a look at one of Hit List‘s bigger numbers, a song in which “Amanda/Nina” (Karen) and “The Diva” (Daisy) perform together/against each other at the VMAs to a ditty titled “I’m Not Sorry”, it becomes a near-certainty that Ana’s job is as good as gone, since the preview performance goes over quite well. Karen, however, wants to know the real reason why Daisy is getting Ana’s role, theorizing that she has something on Derek and is blackmailing him for a part in the show. Derek, ultimately, confirms this theory. Turns out that, after they reconnected following the dismissal of her sexual harassment case, they fooled around a bit. In a drunken fugue, he promised her an understudy role in Hit List if the show made it Broadway — provided she show him just how bad she wants it. And naturally, because this is a primetime soap, Daisy filmed the entire thing, including the illicit offer. She threatens to release the video if he doesn’t follow through on his promise, and Derek feels he’s left with no choice, since accusations eventually go away, but “proof sticks.” Of course, it’s really hard to feel any sympathy for Derek whatsoever, since this completely avoidable problem fully stems from his own stupidity. The real victim is Ana, who gets her role stolen out from under her because her director is a horny moron.
This development has the byproduct of creating tension between Karen and Ivy, as Ana goes to Ivy for advice on how to deal with the whole Derek situation. Her rationale is that because Ivy got the Marilyn role by sleeping with Derek when Karen wouldn’t. An offended Ivy asks Ana where the hell she got that idea, and she says that Karen told her. Ivy confronts Karen, telling her that she has no right to talk about her personal life like that. However, Karen shows an unseemly bitchy side, basically saying that it’s not as if she isn’t telling the truth. Ivy rails on Karen for her off-the-bus, midwestern girl-next-door facade that she’s been perpetrating since Day One. Ivy then tells Karen that the only thing better than winning a Tony would be beating her to do it, while Karen retorts that Ivy has to actually make it to the red carpet first (nominations aren’t even out!). Earlier in the episode, Ivy and Karen had vowed to approach Tony season as adults, without letting the awards competition devolve into a childish vendetta. But I guess that’s all off now.
Ivy, for her part, is trying to play down the notion that she’s simply a one-note Marilyn, in order to win Tony votes. However, her burlesque number in a Houston-Levitt tribute show, titled “Grin and Bear It”, embraces her sexualized image. Thankfully, Ivy carries it off with great aplomb, embracing her vivaciousness and turning the tide of opinion in her favor, following Michael Musto’s blind item about her love life in The Village Voice. It appears that Ivy’s Tony prospects are looking up, and as a self-avowed Oscar whore, I actually enjoy a bit of awards season drama. It’s also one of the more germane storylines of the season, as Bombshell and Hit List continue to be in competition. The story works the personal vendetta into the stage drama, resulting in an arc that actually creates something resembling interest. However, this interesting development is undercut by the revelation that Ivy is pregnant (and seriously, what doctor’s office calls a patient late at night when the news isn’t exactly life-threatening?). And now Ivy is poised to reprise her mother’s life, having to choose between family and career (assuming she keeps the baby. I hate that this is something we even have to be talking about, two hours from the end of the series, yet here we are). It could be interesting to see Eileen possibly try and spin this into positive Tony buzz, since she’s the Rumpelstiltskin of spinning gold out of backstage drama, as she proves with her Houston-Levitt tribute night gambit.
So it’s apparently hit the gossip rags that Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia’s partnership has officially dissolved. Eileen (Anjelica Huston) and Agnes (Daphne Rubin-Vega) are anxious to find out who leaked the news, with the frontrunner being Jerry (Michael Cristofer). Meanwhile, Tom and Julia get into an argument as Julia continues to devote more and more time to Hit List in order to help shepherd Kyle’s vision into the Broadway spotlight. This involves going back to his apartment and going through Kyle’s old notes with Jimmy, discovering an idea for a social media component to Hit List that gets put into the show, on a whim, and proves to be a huge hit. However, after Hit List almost causes Julia to miss Houston-Levitt night, she passes on helping Jimmy rework a new sequence, rationalizing that her role was always intended to be temporary. Jimmy is uncertain he can write on his own, but Julia insists that he has the talent (and hey, he wrote the songs, so he’s already pretty much there, as far as storytelling goes).
Regardless, Jimmy is on his own, as Julia struggles to save her friendship with Tom by arriving at the tribute show, which has been reworked into a revue (with a storyline and everything), to sing a song alongside her writing partner of eleven years. “The Right Regrets” proves to be an unexpectedly emotional song, even with the cheesy montage of Tom/Julia moments playing over the performance. I also like that Debra Messing took a minimalist approach to her vocal, making for one of the more well-acted vocal performances in a music sequence this season. Tom hugging Julia afterwards and telling her he loves her is an earned moment that works far better than I would have ever expected it to. Of course, this goes all according to Eileen’s plan, as the Tony voters have announced that the showing has convinced them to vote for the final Houston-Levitt work, Bombshell. Agnes discovers that Eileen leaked the news about Tom and Julia in order to boost the Tony campaign. Again, I find the awards season stuff to be strangely compelling. Maybe because it presents a clear endgame for the season (and the series as a whole)? I figured when the series premiered last year, they would get to the Tony Awards eventually, but it’s been fun seeing how they get there, warts and all.
As always, Smash hits the right notes when it’s focusing on the business of Broadway, yet “The Transfer” suffers when it indulges in the show’s more melodramatic instincts. That said, with only two hours left in the series, I’m just going to try and enjoy what we get, regardless. I’ve never exactly been quiet or subtle about my love of the show (hell, I followed it to Saturday nights), but with as uneven an episode as this, I can understand why the sand in the timer has run out.