Smash Season Finale Recap: Hello, Norma Jean...

megan hilty katharine mcpheeSmash‘s inaugural season may have had more irregularities than a dollar-store t-shirt, but at least its season finale gave us a little bit of suspense, some interesting inside-theater intrigue, and plenty of soap-opera shenanigans.

Things kicked off with the show’s most dynamic duo — Tom and Julia — finishing a new closing number with only 15 minutes till curtain. And then we got a Marilyn’s eye view of the backstage insanity, with everyone wishing good luck to the last-minute replacement for movie star Rebecca Duvall. But would it be Ivy Lynn, who originated the role in workshop, or understudy Karen, who hadn’t yet rehearsed the part?

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Flash back to 12 hours prior, with the entire cast eavesdropping as Eileen, Derek, Tom, and Julia — wait, who forgot to invite “producer” Ellis? — tried to figure out how to proceed following Rebecca’s abrupt exit, not to mention an opening night of previews that ended with tepid applause for the show ending in Marilyn’s death by overdose.

Here’s how our major characters’ story arcs wrapped up (until we meet up with them again when Season 2 kicks off in 2013):

* The night’s most satisfying moment came when Ellis confronted Eileen and insisted the lead role must go to Ivy Lynn, not Karen. “OK,” responded the power producer, using a single word to remind the bowtie-wearing creep that he had about as much say in the matter as a gnat trying to direct traffic in midtown Manhattan. “Why don’t you do a Starbucks run for the creative team?” she purred, winning my heart forever, before Ellis hissed that he was a producer, that he was the one who laced Rebecca’s smoothie with peanuts, and that Eileen was never to call him an assistant again. (Is dude really dumb enough to think that job-title change was in any way his to make?) “You’re fired is what you are,” lobbed back his incredulous boss, before Ellis insisted she’d live to regret it. What’s he gonna do? Offend Eileen’s eye in another tomato-colored velvet suit? With a new showrunner coming in for Season 2, let’s hope TV’s worst character is destined to either exit stage left, or wind up working the concession stand at a dilapidated off-Broadway theater.

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* Derek used his power of hallucination — remember when he visualized Karen as Marilyn in that purple dress, singing “Our Day Will Come” — to make the call that “the Cartwright girl” was getting the job, not his part-time lover Ivy. Naturally, this led to an avalanche of emotional turmoil. “If it was going to be a nobody, why not me?” asked Ivy, making an excellent point, seeing how she clearly possesses the bigger Broadway voice and Marilyn-esque physicality. “She just has something that you don’t,” responded Derek, typically awful.

This indignity led Ivy to a dark and unsavory decision (that seemed like the show’s writers trying to make the entire audience feel good about heading to CafePress and ordering their “Team Karen” t-shirts): Ivy Lynn left Karen’s engagement ring on her dressing room table, then admitted to her rival that she’d slept with her fiancé Dev. Ivy rambling that Dev’s unfaithfulness was “very Joe DiMaggio” signaled her emotional instability, but frankly, Karen didn’t fare much better, tearing off her Marilyn wig and hiding in a storage room. Bobby summed it up nicely by declaring, “She took the wig off. In this production, that’s paramount to ‘I quit!'” But Derek tracked down his leading lady via discarded bracelet — “Oh darling, you dropped bits of Marilyn along the way like breadcrumbs.” — and told her that her newfound heartbreak was the final piece of the Marilyn puzzle. (So wait, was he worried she didn’t have that aspect of her character nailed down when he decided to put her on in front of the Boston theater audience?)

And there we had it: Karen rising above her personal problems and scoring an onstage triumph, Ivy Lynn getting sucked into the undertow of her disastrous love life and career trajectory, and eyeing up a huge handful of prescription pills as Bombshell‘s closing number played on. Megan Hilty delivered another great moment breaking the news that she wasn’t going on as Marilyn to her stage star mother (Bernadette Peters). More Mama Ivy Lynn in Season 2, please! And for the love of all that’s Broadway, let’s hope Ivy picked up those pills so she could flush ’em down the toilet.

* Tom and Julia — the 2012 answer to Will & Grace? — hilariously struggled to concoct a closing number worthy of Bombshell, a terrific musical at risk of disaster all becuase of some last-minute cast changes. This exchange pretty much sums up my adoration for the dynamic duo:

Julia (hearing Tom add some organ): No, no, no. No Gospel. There’s nothing Gospel about Marilyn.
Tom: It has to be triumphant. But she just died. And Gospel is triumphant.
Julia: Oh, I hate it when you get literal.

My only note on Julia is a prayer that a new showrunner will ignore that maddening revelation that she’s got nausea and stomach cramps — which she hasn’t had since she was pregnant for her lugnut teenage son Leo — and just attribute it to a poor decision to choose the olive loaf at her local deli. That could happen, you know. And it’d make for much better TV than a Julia-Michael love child.

* I’ve really adored almost everything we’ve heard from Bombshell — to the point where I’d buy tickets for it tomorrow if the show actually existed — but that final ballad Tom and Julia cooked up for Karen was downright embarrassing. The music sounded like it came from a pile of rejected Disney princess theme songs, and uff da, those lyrics? “When you sing happy birthday to someone you love/ Or see diamonds that you wish were all free/ Please say that you won’t, I pray that you don’t forget me”? Where’s Derek when you need someone to scream, “Rewrite!”?

Okay, your turn. What did you think of the Smash season finale? Would you have chosen Ivy or Karen for the lead role? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you love seeing Ellis get his just desserts? Sound off in the comments, and for all my TV recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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