‘Smash’ recap: Episode 8, ‘The Coup’

Derek: Never change.

It’s been a week and the cast of “M!TM” hasn’t heard anything back about what’s going to happen next with their beloved musical. In the meantime, apparently they’re filling their time with extra dance classes – or at least Ivy and Sam are. But that’s probably because the creative team doesn’t even know what’s up yet – Julia is lying in bed, lamenting to her husband that Eileen isn’t returning her calls. “We’re dead!” she groans, adding that she hates show business. It’s just like the “Ah, I love New York!/Ugh, I hate New York!” dance that all us city-dwellers indulge on a daily basis. Obviously, those in NYC and show business have it the worst – we are, truly, masochists.

Julia’s husband (is his name Frank?) says the workshop was a success, it was just a first step of many. She informs us that Leo’s court date is next week. By the way, Frank (it’s Frank now!) has been rigging the TV this whole time so that he can serenade Julia with a Rock Band performance of Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Everything in Debra Messing’s alarmed expression tells us in advance that he’s no Swift, and she’d rather eat glass than have to give him feedback on his vocal talents. “Don’t worry about a thing,” he croons. “I’m worried about your sanity,” she murmurs glumly. Upstairs, Leo smiles at what he thinks is the sound of his parents reconciling. Did that really just count as one of our three songs for this episode?

In her yet-unfurnished apartment, Eileen is getting off the phone with Derek. Ellis comes by to deliver a package. He says Tom needs him less since the workshop ended, so maybe he could help Eileen with something – like maybe she wants her furniture delivered? Eileen says no, it’s pretty and light in this apartment when it’s totally empty. Ellis observes that it’s definitely echo-y. Then a blonde we don’t know enters, and it’s Eileen’s daughter. We don’t know that from special insider knowledge, just because the only word she’s allowed to use is, “Mom?” It would be amazing if she were some Pokemon creature in the flesh who could only use that word in its various inflections for all communication, except then it would be weird, because her name would also be Mom.

Derek is secretly meeting with Karen to talk about “Marilyn!” He asks if she brought her demo. He reveals that they’re talking to a new songwriter to go with a new approach, starting with a new song – and he wants her to sing it. Obviously, the catch is that she can’t tell anyone else – starting with Tom and Julia, who are potentially being replaced. Derek must not have liked it when the team decided last week that Swift was the scapegoat of the workshop, so he took it upon himself to choose a new one instead.

A red, flickering ‘A’ is rising out of the darkness, representing the letter grade this show wishes it deserved, annnnd “SMASH”!

Tom wants to know what his little spy Ellis spied at Eileen’s. Don’t say anything, Ellis, you’re Eileen’s martini friend now! We’ve never seen you have even one drink with Tom! Ellis says Eileen said nothing and did nothing of interest, except her daughter showed up. “Katie’s in town?” Tom asks pleasantly. “Mahatma Katie,” Ellis cites Eileen as saying. “That’s because she’s a saint,” Tom explains. Before we get more prattling, over-served lines like this, Ellis adds that he also heard something about Karen and Derek having a meeting. He had his glass up to that door long before he ever barged in, never you fear, Tom. We wonder what kind of money this personal assistant-cum-secret agent gig pays. We might be open to a side job.

Julia is meeting with Swift – WHY, JULIA, WHY? They’re in the park, where Swift’s kid is playing. Thank goodness, because otherwise he was about to be That Guy on the playground bench. They exchange stilted pleasantries, and then Julia says she came all the way out here just to say she didn’t know anything yet. (Next time save the cab fare and send a text, sweetie.) But Swift already knows – he’s fired. And if he’s not fired, then he quits, because his family means everything to him and he’s been acting really stupid. Julia does not look pleased that he’s stealing her spotlight or calling their magical love affair stupid, even though she did in fact already resolve to call the whole thing off. Even though Swift’s been the person way more into this whole shebang (literally, ha!), it seems like Julia’s now the one who’s more smitten.

Boyfriend is saying Karen’s crowd is as bad as his crowd, and that’s saying something because he’s surrounded by politicians. Karen says she doesn’t even know who Derek’s in cahoots with, because he just keeps saying “we” – “like gods or aliens.” This whole time, she’s been unloading packs of groceries and says she had to meet Derek way down Second Ave. (where everyone from Broadway wears fedoras and hides behind newspapers and lurks under streetlights) so they wouldn’t get caught during their secret rendezvous. Hello, this is why we have Skype, Derek. Anyway, it was right by the Indian market, so Karen’s going to make curry. Boyfriend seems extremely concerned about Karen’s exploration of ethnic cuisine – she says she swears she can make more than corn on the cob and hot dogs. BECAUSE SHE’S FROM IOWA, GET IT? But actually he happens to have a dinner meeting with RJ, the cute chick from his office who’s trying to help him land the role of press secretary. You know, the one who also happens to look a lot like Karen (we’re sticking to this).

Okay, so it’s a lot less like a dinner meeting and more like guzzling drinks. Also, this might be the exact same bar where Eileen and Ellis hang out and the one where Karen performed with her dancer friends – but hey, this show only has like five sets and the city. (You see what we did there?) RJ says she has something on the competition, and it’s that he tried to woo chicks with dick pics at a recent party, “Anthony Weiner style” (but with a less convenient name, amirite?). Boyfriend looks concerned, and RJ says it’s the look of having a conscience. We say it’s the look of already knowing about all of this from Episode 5, when Karen sat next to this dude at that government party and he flirted shamelessly and then told on the guy to Boyf.

At Eileen’s, Katie’s hanging an ugly tapestry brought back as a gift from her saintly wanderings and tells her mom that she came home because FedEx braved the mountains of Nepal or whatever to deliver loads of cash to her from Daddy Warbucks. She was worried that Eileen was being manipulated if Jerry was putting all of that money in her name, so she gave up saving orphans and nursing nuns back to health just to check in on her parents. We suppose that kind of spontaneous intercontinental travel is easier to do when you’re filthy rich – as is, probably, all of that altruistic globetrotting.

Against the backdrop of a dark “Heaven On Earth,” which has been at the Shubert on 44th this whole time, though we don’t know how we missed that if it was known before, the dancers observe that Ivy’s “still” not picking up her phone. That’s because she’s killing herself at the gym while her workshop’s on hiatus. She looks much prettier than we do when we’re stress-biking.

Tom’s lawyer boyfriend is consulting with Julia about the outstanding charges for Leo’s court date. They got “loitering for drugs” dismissed, but the other is for disobeying park signs – “please don’t walk over here because the grass has been receded.” This is seriously a court date that requires a fancypants attorney? Seriously? Leo says he was nowhere near the sign, “It was like way over there!” Why don’t we just pay the fine? Leo’s parents rightfully wonder. Because you want the record expunged, the lawyer explains, or he’ll have to disclose that he might have walked on grass on his college applications. Is this legitimately a plot point on this show right now? My time is more valuable than this, can’t these guys at least sing it to me?

Karen meets with Derek at an empty parking lot on the river (in Brooklyn?), and we’re still wishing they were literally in trench coats. Seagulls squawk menacingly. Karen says she came all the way out here to say she wasn’t comfortable with the arrangement – it’s called a text message, Karen, and when you learn how to use them you should teach Julia. Anyway, Karen’s ethical red flag went up about keeping secrets from Tom and Julia, and Derek says composers drop out all the time so it’s just important to keep things under wraps until he can figure out what he wants. In the meantime, he drags Karen into an industrial studio space. It happens to be in use by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic. He heard Karen’s demo for the elusive Bobby Raskin and compliments her, by the way, even though we’re going on the record as buying none of that. The “Hunger Games” books barely circulated through the general populace as fast as Karen’s demo would have had to change hands in the past week to wind up serving this convention. Whatever!

In the courtroom, the judge seems like he can’t believe he’s dealing with these charges, either, since there’s no evidence of Leo allegedly walking on said receded grass. He’s about to dismiss it outright but then Julia has to open her mouth and yell about the fact that her kid is not privileged and looking for a handout, but he’s ungrateful that he was arrested and handcuffed. The lawyer saves her from herself, and the case is thrown out. By the way, we’re pretty sure Leo was never officially arrested in Episode 5. It looked like he was just detained. We still don’t think the minor could have been released from an arrest into Tom’s care. None of this is making any sense! Oh right, Teresa Rebeck’s writing for us again this week. That does shed some light.

In the studio, Karen’s meta-singing from Katharine McPhee’s own “Touch Me.” Redder wants to try a change on the bridge. Derek has some notes for her too, but Redder says to “back off” because she sounds “great.” Karen looks delighted. This is probably supposed to be some kind of wink-wink situation, except we don’t care.

Elsewhere, Mahatma Katie is mediating a discussion between Eileen and Jerry. Katie says Eileen needs money to live and furnish her apartment, and Eileen says she doesn’t – and anyway, it’s not his money, it’s her money, and her business, because Jerry hasn’t produced a play in 10 years. Katie says her mom has a point. Katie is not the most unbiased mediator we’ve ever seen. She says it’s not nice that Jerry gave her $3 million but he won’t give her mom any cash. Jerry brings up how Eileen secretly pawned the Degas in Episode 4. She said it was because Jerry poisoned her investors, all the while saying she could live off the money from her new Broadway venture – that is pretty backhanded, Jerry. Either allow her to succeed on her own or give her money. Why aren’t there more attorneys involved in this? Where is Tom’s boyfriend right now? Oh right, in court about park signs. Another marvelous use of resources from the “M!TM” team. Our favorite part of the episode so far is when Katie steps into the hall and finds Ellis “getting the dry cleaning” with his ear against the door and snaps at him to go away. The phone rings, and it’s Derek for Eileen. Ellis pries if he’s doing something with Karen, but Derek doesn’t give in and answer that.

Speak of the devil: Tom’s cooking dinner for his boyfriend, who’s recounting Julia’s wackiness in the courtroom. Yeah, that’s all that happens. As usual, entire seconds of our life are wasted on someone telling someone else what already happened. Next!

The ensemble and Ivy and Sam are at Brooklyn Bowl, and they’re bitching that they don’t get paid much for workshops and then they’re expected to sit around with their lives on hold. Man, if only someone didn’t have a gun to your head, making you choose this profession in the hardest city in the world to break in – oh wait, no one is! See? Masochists. We are too, for watching this show; suddenly everyone’s dancing around the lanes and having a blast annnnd that’s that for this scene. That really happened. Does that count as a musical number? Did Rock Band? Did Karen’s two seconds of singing? Are we going to get a full song on this show ever again? It’s supposed to be a musical TV show, right? We can’t believe people are still comparing it to “Glee.”

At the courthouse, Karen’s boyfriend is asked to surrender the Staten Island speech he’s been working on because his Oxford charm is actually a little grating in public. So his rival is going to do it instead.

Ellis runs into Ivy on the streets. Well, “runs into,” he was probably following her for eight blocks and trying to find the right moment. He means to be fishing for information, but he winds up telling his informant things instead. He learns Ivy hasn’t been seeing Derek since the workshop ended, but he lets on that Derek’s in cahoots with Karen. Ivy says she’s going to find out what’s going on, because she refuses to be replaced by a “nobody.”

What Ivy actually does, which is sinister and smart, is send her dancer friend to hang out with Karen under the premise of catching up. He acts like he already knew Karen was working with Derek and it’s no big secret. She’s from Iowa, so she falls for this trick and says, “No one was supposed to know!” He says everyone knows, it’s going around. But he doesn’t know the specifics. So Karen fills him in further. Novice!

Sin (oh hi again!) confronts Ellis about his choices and loyalties. They’re lying in bed and touching a lot because “Smash” is still convincing us he’s straight. She says Tom will fire Ellis when he realizes that his assistant’s messing with Ivy. Ellis says he doesn’t want to work for loser artists anyway. Ivy’s one, too, because she lets people treat her like dirt. He says he won’t get pushed around, because he’s going to be a producer. Sin asks what producers do. He says he’s still figuring that out. Hee! Us, too!

At Eileen’s favorite downtown dive bar, she slips onto her always-empty corner stool and greets bartender Nick. Katie says she can see why this is Eileen’s favorite bar. Don’t sleep with Nick, Katie! That’ll revoke your saintly status faster than you can say “Mother Theresa.”

Boyfriend says he’s finally tired of playing politics without getting his hands dirty, so RJ recruits some friends to figure out how they can destroy his competition. We have a gratuitous shot of the Apple computer they’re using. They supply the fact that though this guy meant to send his dick pics to a college-aged girl, he accidentally sent them to a 17-year-old. They hug at this joyous news (if it’s clearly accidental, we don’t see the problem?) and Karen walks in to see RJ in Boyfriend’s arms. RJ says they’ll celebrate properly later, and Boyfriend says he can’t tell Karen what they’re talking about. She’s miffed that her Boyfriend can keep a secret (in politics) when her friends (in show business) can’t. That makes perfect sense to us! Karen huffily slams a door and throws down her things, but Boyfriend just decides to come clean about what they were doing. How was Karen ever suspicious? The room was full of people! Whatever! Karen starts saying the lyrics to “Touch Me” and Boyfriend complies. Ew.

Against some kind of over-lit dreamscape backdrop, Derek is complimenting Karen’s purity while telling her not to be afraid of sex. It’s the prototypical contradiction of misogyny, awesome job, “Smash”!

Katie and Eileen are meeting up with Tom and Julia. Katie says she’s sorry she missed the workshop. Tom says she was busy saving the world. Katie remarks that trying to save American theater is no small feat, either. In the meantime, Ellis and Ivy are following these people like stalkers. Finally, Julia and Tom are brought into the loop with Derek and Karen. The latter gets on the stage and sings more of “Touch Me.” Masked men are crawling around her and taking pictures as she wears a sheet-dress and rolls around on a bed. The bed becomes a cage. It’s like a conceptual music video, with all the auto-tuning you’d expect. But it’s not really “Marilyn!” Tom and Julia hate it. Karen apologizes a lot of times for taking part in this, since now that it’s gone sour she suddenly realizes how it was bad to go behind their backs. Katie is extremely mad at her mother for conducting business this way. She says she fled from show business to Micronesia because of this kind of shady stunt. She says she tries to be a good person and not put toxic garbage into the world, but meanwhile her mother is turning into her dad with these cheap tricks. This is about as overblown and gross as the Julia/Leo conversation about adopting babies that we could barely tolerate in Episode 2.

Inside, Ryan Tedder and the “M!TM” creative team are still fighting. Eileen flounces in and says this was the wrong direction and she’s sorry about it. Karen’s still lying in her bed-cage in a sheet. Ellis walks in and says they’ll put a meeting in the book for tomorrow morning when everyone can discuss this with a clear head. Julia is like, “How the hell did he get here?” Amazing. Ellis says it doesn’t matter, because he’s there now to help them cool off. Tedder apologizes to Julia and Tom; he swears he didn’t know they didn’t know this new direction was happening behind their backs. Outside, Karen’s wearing clothes again and runs into Ivy. The would-be starlet says what Karen did is OK, because it’s a dirty business, and she understands why Karen would stab Tom and Julia in the back like that. Then she heads off with an evil smile.

As Julia leaves, Tom and Derek hang behind. Tom laments letting Derek ever got involved with the project. Derek says he’s there to give “Marilyn!” the edge that Tom’s incapable of bringing to it. And then he insists that Tom knows he’s right, but he’s just still mad about some drama from 11 years ago when they worked on a show together. A New York Times critic loved the direction but hated the songs – and the show turned out to be a flop. And then Derek went to every producer in town and said Tom was unstable, overrated and would never be an artistic success. “We were friends, do you remember that!” Tom yells. Derek says he doesn’t understand gay men. “You own the New York theater scene, but yet you constantly prance around whining about what victims you are.” Tom calls him a bully and a homophobe. And then he says Derek got good remarks from that critic because the man was sleeping with Derek’s father, and everyone in town knew about it. Derek nearly loses his control but then he regains composure, saying Tom has finally stooped to his level. He goes on to say the “M!TM” songs are good, but too nice. Marilyn was not just some sweet innocent tragedy and a “gay man’s fantasy,” she had real issues and the show’s not exploring them yet (fair enough). The men break it up without resolving their issues.

The next morning, everyone’s in Eileen’s office trying to make compromises. One of those is getting someone flashier to replace Ivy. Julia’s wearing her sunglasses indoors again. Is this literally the same scene from last week or does she do this all the time? We’re too lazy to check. Eileen goes on to say that they need a real title for the show instead of “Marilyn! The Musical.” Leaving the office, Tom finds Ellis at Eileen’s assistant’s desk. Ellis says he works for her now, and thanks Tom for all of the opportunities he provided. Tom’s face is still figuring out how show business works, apparently. Julia, Tom and Derek all stare at Ellis like hating (and possibly envying) him is the one thing the three of them will always have in common.

We’re next privy to a “West Wing”-esque walk-and-talk as Boyfriend strolls through what’s probably City Hall and chats with his boss, Andrew, who’s being replaced as press secretary (we think that’s what’s going on here, our brain kind of falters when it comes to the political intrigue storyline). But then the guy who’s trying to steal Boyfriend’s position turns up to distract Andrew. Boyf is like, “Why is he still here?” Apparently Andrew knows about the dick pics, but he sent them through the proper channels and they “disappeared.” So that guy is “untouchable.”

Eileen comes home and her daughter has been putting some of that shiny new $3 million to use decorating the place like a cross between Pottery Barn and a hookah den. “It’s beautiful!” Eileen proclaims. “It’s how I see you!” Katie replies. We gag. Mahatma Katie has to leave, though, because she’s counting wild salmon in Alaska. Of course she is.

Ivy runs into Tom and says she understands that he’s been busy, but what’s going on? He says Eileen wants to go with a big name for Marilyn. He doesn’t know when or if they’ll keep going, but they’ll ultimately need a star if they want to go to Broadway. He says Ivy was wonderful, though. She says, “But I’m not a star.” Tom says Ivy’s always welcome in the ensemble of “HOE.” They hug.

Karen’s Boyfriend comes home to his Indian curry, finally. So even though his day sucked at least he gets sex and a home-cooked meal. We should be so lucky!

Ivy’s feeling sorry for herself and humming “Let Me Be Your Star,” but sadly. Derek shows up to check on her. Derek calls his tryst with Karen “a failed experiment in every way.” He wants to make up, even though Ivy said he was terrible in bed in front of everyone. Ivy says, “I lied.” They undress and get busy on her mountain of pillows.

And … that’s how the show ends. What?

This is somehow our longest recap to date, and yet possibly the most trite episode of the season so far. Thankfully there was almost a moment of real tension about relevant topics in the Tom/Derek confrontation. Derek’s still our favorite character; if he can keep tossing honesty and villainy around in equal measure for fun and profit, we might just be able to keep our wits about us for the final two episodes of Season 1.


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