One of the major appeals of the show has been its ability to make both Ivy and Karen sympathetic despite being in the same diva vs. ingenue relationship as say, the one in Showgirls. But thanks to a little maneuvering by Derek (and the writers), the two protagonists were forced into a confrontation with all the grace of two roosters being thrown at each other before a cockfight.
Derek sneered to Karen that she's afraid of anything below the neck and proceeded to dance with her like a groper as Ivy came in, then further strained Ivy by having Karen do a solo in front of the class to show Ivy how singing is done. Adding shame upon shame, he further scheduled a private lesson between the two of them so rank noob Karen could teach Hilty how to sing. Which would have been a great plot device on its own, except Ivy came into the lesson like a Dynasty grande dame just moments away from a full-body roll into a water lily pond. Ivy told Karen she "knows what she brings to the party" meaning, THE SEX. (Not literally intercourse, but being sexy, exuding sex, being comfortable with her own sexuality, and using it like a grappling hook to claw her way upward.)
And Karen, after using her impromptu solo to seduce Derek and every chorus person in the room with her shivery vibrato, was launched into a weird "empowerment through being a ho" arc that culminated with her essentially giving herself a lap dance. Like, how awkward was that scene where Karen was braying "It's a Man's World" and bucking around on a chair?
Never mind the psychological torture it is to force a former bulimic to undress while looking in a mirror, or how any person dancing alone in her room and trying to make it look GOOD instead of JOYFUL is going to appear necessarily maladroit, but how corny is it to leer at yourself, "Yeah, I know what I bring to the party"? Karen, I effing hate you now.
Aside from how cringe-worthy the interlude was, the ultimate message it illustrated just sucked. Smash, getting real with us like an aging chorus teacher on a martini lunch after a budget cut, drilled in the message that in this man's world ladies can achieve more with their sexuality than with a combination of, say, effort and brain power.
After Dev insisted Karen look hot for his political dinner party (and then did nothing when she was seated at another table, which I'm pretty sure they DON'T DO to plus ones, ever), she managed to flirt her way to some key information about a press secretary that Dev's brainy girl reporter friend hadn't been able to stir up. Karen declared giddily that the dress had done all the work. And if this is supposed to be the show's effort to illustrate how the pressures of the entertainment industry warp women's senses of self-value, pause before you give Smash that much credit. Consider Karen's bitchy attitude the second she saw Dev's reporter friend RJ. After Dev's continued offers to support her and his endurance for untold numbers of karaoke bar nights, all she has to do is see one neatly dressed young lady and it's all "She's not a big ugly white man!? I DON'T LIKE HER." Awesome. You’re right, your boyfriend shouldn’t have a young female coworker. In fact, maybe all the women should go home and sit down and put bags over their heads so you feel secure, Karen, despite the fact that you’re hell-bent on seducing your director by volleying back at every weird mind game he throws at you.
And also, well done Karen, you beat a reporter to the scoop by getting the right seat at a party purely by accident. I felt really bad for the people sitting at Karen's table, listening to her get increasingly drunk and offering to do Marilyn impressions. They just wanted to have a nice dinner and suddenly they were neck-deep in her workshop drama.
I do appreciate Derek's return to form as a cad, I understand that Smash has promised us two girls battling over a role. But the characters up until now have been so thoughtfully sketched, and then in this episode the writers just flicked the bitch switch on Ivy (she was cruel to Karen and showed up at Derek's house crying and screaming and throwing things, like women do!), and reduced Karen's quest for stardom to putting out for Derek. The promo for next week's episode promises that both ladies get EVEN MORE EXTREME! After the hot and cold ratings, it seems the series is desperate to give the audience exactly what it wants: Frank trapped off-screen, the adoption petering out, and the two heroines as dueling divas in openly hostile competition. And while all of these are theoretically positive developments, the dialogue of the episode made my skin crawl. I like these ladies, I don't want to see them reduced to whiny, scheming stereotypes.
As for truly enjoyable moments, Tom provided a lot of those, waiting with Julia's kid while knocking out little musical flourishes and even getting a little post-coital scene with his new boyfriend. It's very refreshing to see that the show is not going to neuter Tom, and that it's wiling to give a gay relationship on network TV a real sex life (and therefore real stakes).
Michael is making moves on Julia, including singing at her on a stoop. That would make me laugh hysterically if I were Julia, but the My Fair Lady-esque moment was sweet. Too bad the son saw! Hopefully he reports Julia to the adoption board and that clinches it for good.
And the actual musical number: okay! Entertaining! Costumed! The first big full Broadway stage number we've seen since the pilot, and it was captivating, except... it was kind of exhausting to watch. For Derek being such an incredible director, the Busby Berekley knock-off and Ivy being cranked around like a robot while belting the lady equivalent of "I am the very model of a modern major general" was a bit much. Marilyn had a lot of subtlety to her singing, keeping it breathy and restrained. Maybe the show is intentionally giving Megan Hilty big, broad, non-Marilyn-y songs and when Karen eventually does more Marilyn it will come across as more restrained and convince us she deserves the role. Karen will need all the help she can get in that department.
– Is Smash frantically trying to give fans what they want?
– Did you cringe when Karen got buck wild on that chair, or did you think it was sexy?
– Michael and Julia: sweeping romance or double adultery?
– Would a guy singing to you a capella on a street be super romantic or super uncomfortable?
– Will we ever see Frank again or will his plane be torpedoed or something? (I would NOT complain.)
Congratulations to fernkelsey for the first correct answer of "Whitey Dear, While I'm still warm, Marilyn" to last week’s question, which was the inscription on the money clip Marilyn gave to her makeup artist. This week’s Marilyn trivia question: What was Marilyn’s first movie role?