If the previous episode emphasized the farcical aspects of the series, then this episode is all about the drama. There are some funny moments throughout the hour, particularly in terms of some great character beats, but the goal is escalation of tension. With the fate of the series sealed, Sorkin is moving towards an endgame, and this is clearly the beginning of that process.
This is a more organic follow-up to “4AM Miracle”, but “The Disaster Show” fits into the broad statement that Studio 60 has been in a creative tailspin for several weeks. The ratings are dropping into dangerous territory, and by whatever measure Jack determines his support for Jordan, that line is being approached at a vastly accelerated rate. That ratings issue hangs over the episode like black cloud, and while it gives Sorkin a chance to toss some attitude at those who harped over the ratings of his own show, it also provides a clear and concise case for the show’s cancellation.
The business pressure precipitates and enhances much of the remaining drama. Matt’s situation is absolutely soul-crushing. Having fallen into addiction (and his journey out better not be as easy as he wants it to be), he’s taken the show with him, and it’s affecting everyone else around him. The situation with Karen and her lawsuit, complete with the hottie lawyer with the contradictory personality, just supplies more pressure. He’s trying to convince himself that he’s over Harriet, but he’s not, and the show itself has put forward the idea that he works best when trying to impress her.
I would have rather seen Danny confront Matt without Suzanne’s help. The eventual confrontation was quite satisfying (if a bit didactic), but it might have been better without the additional layer. That said, it’s good to see Suzanne getting some screen time, given how little there is left to share. But given how the ratings issue built between Danny and Jordan over the hour, the timing was perfect. This was the very last thing Danny needed when the ship is sinking and he’s trying all too hard to pretend it’s not.
Jordan’s character beats were interesting in that her thoughts must be dominated by the fact that she can’t feel the baby kicking (always a bad sign in fiction, it seems), yet she’s trying to keep things together and deal with her faltering career and the strain it’s putting on her relationship with Danny. That serves to highlight all of the obvious issues with this office romance, and that’s something I applaud. It will never end as badly as it should, but it’s great to see the obstacles come up. (So they can, of course, overcome them by the finale.)
Had the story focused on the three main characters alone, it would have been worth the time. But this was an incredibly dense hour, and the subplot involving Tom’s brother exploded at just the right moment to take the episode into unexpected and gripping territory. I’ve been critical of the plot and character arcs for the series, and I still think they were the cause of the show’s downfall. The actors and the characters themselves have been the draw for me, and the final act demonstrates why. Given powerful material, the cast steps up to the plate in a huge way. I was left wanting more, and considering where “Studio 60” stands at this point, it’s quite the achievement.