In the opening scene of the season’s penultimate episode of The Morning Show, Mitch Kessler — a character played by Steve Carell and clearly modeled after Matt Lauer — arrives out in front of the apartment building of one of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct, Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Two years prior, Mitch forced himself upon Hannah — then a junior booker for their morning talk show — and when Hannah took her complaint to the network the next day, the President offered her the head booker job in exchange for her silence, a promotion that she reluctantly accepted.
In the present day, Mitch is a disgraced and fired former anchor of The Morning Show asking the woman he raped for a favor. “You slept with me and leveraged it to get the head booker job,” he says to Hannah without a trace of irony. “I’m not judging you. I would have done the exact same thing,” he continues charmingly. “I salute you for it. It might have hurt my feelings a little bit. But I got over it,” he adds, transforming himself into the victim before making his ask. “I need proof that Fred [the network President] swept my ‘so-called’ behavior under the rug. And you are the living, breathing emblem of Fred’s complicity.”
In other words, Mitch Kessler is leveraging the woman he raped to get revenge on his complicit boss for firing him over the very sexual misconduct allegations she brought forward.
It is f**ked.
This is the kind of drama that Apple TV’s flagship series, The Morning Show has evolved into in the back half of its first season: A powerful, riveting drama about MeToo complicity. We’ve seen how numerous MeToo stories have played out in both the real world and in fiction, but The Morning Show may be the first to take a hard look at how men like Matt Lauer are protected at an institutional level, not necessarily by a culture of misogyny — as in the case of Roger Ailes and Fox News — but by silence, by looking the other way, by ambition and self-interest.
That’s what happened with Mitch Kessler for 20 years on The Morning Show. He’s disarming, captivating — the kind of guy you invite into your living room every morning. He also gets great ratings, which is why his co-anchor (Jennifer Aniston) not only dismisses his sexist comments but often plays along, disparaging the women that hook up with Mitch (and hooking up with him herself occasionally). It’s why his producer reassigns Mitch’s assistants after “consensual” affairs, and why the President of the network promotes employees who complain.
It’s not that they are specifically protecting Mitch, necessarily. They are protecting the show, the network, and their own jobs, and themselves, and in order to do so, they have to protect Mitch, until protecting Mitch is no longer practical because the allegations have mounted and gone public. Ultimately, The Morning Show is not about a network that fires its Matt Lauer and what happens to guys like Lauer, because who the f**k cares? It’s a drama about trying to suck out the poison after the arm has been amputated, and if viewed as an indictment of The Today Show, NBC, or any other institution that has confronted this problem, it is vicious.
That’s what The Morning Show is now. Is it worthy of all the Golden Globes noms it received last week? That’s debatable (and honestly, Carell — who received no nominations — is the actor here most deserving of the acclaim). But it’s much, much better than early reviews (even my own kinder assessment) suggested.
Header Image Source: Apple TV+