‘Smash’ recap: Episode 10, ‘Understudy’

This is what "Smash" wants to be. It could start by having more than three minutes of songs in an hour-long episode.

We’re in what looks like the exact same rehearsal room that’s always used on this show, because there’s only one of them in New York. It’s full of people we don’t recognize, most of them in suits. It’s all stuffy and very uncomfortable; we feel like we’ve been summoned to the principal’s office. In the background, Karen and Dancer Girl are sitting in front of a music stand. Karen’s hoping Duvall won’t show up so she still has an ice cube’s shot in hell of playing Marilyn someday. The writers and director convene to discuss how Rebecca Duvall isn’t even in the country right now 

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and Julia’s so loud that everyone in the room overhears and realizes their time is being wasted. Basically, it seems like all these investors suddenly got on board when they heard a star would be in the show. Wait, why would the creative team even bring them in here when they’ve never sat down with Duvall about the project?

In City Hall, Karen’s Boyfriend is sitting in a dingy office. He’s telling RJ, his work wife, that he didn’t get the press secretary job. RJ asks what Karen thinks about it, but Boyfriend hasn’t told her yet.

By the rehearsal room’s water cooler, Tom’s like, “Why would she go to Cuba?” Julia: “Goodwill mission, Sean Penn.” ‘Nuff said. Derek says he can’t waste his whole day, so he’s going back to work. Wait, Derek has an actual job? Or does he mean working more on “M!TM” er, wait, “Bombshell”?

Derek goes back into the room and tells Karen she’ll have to play Marilyn for now. She’s super excited, which is dumb because she knows it’s a limited affair. Even if Duvall doesn’t make it, they’d still theoretically be looking for a big movie star for the part. We suppose she will at least potentially get under the noses of some of these important theater investors, though. Sam and one of the dancers joke that Ivy will break Karen’s kneecaps.

At Ivy’s, Sam’s trying to cheer her up. She’s drinking wine in the middle of the day. Derek walks in (HE REALLY HAS A KEY?) and sees Ivy smiling, so he’s like, “You didn’t tell her, did you?” Sam realizes it’s time to peace out. Derek informs Ivy that Karen will be the understudy because she knows most of the part. Ivy says she knows all of it. But Derek says Ivy’s been way too unstable to trust.

SMASH!

Eileen is trying to order “Book of Mormon” tickets in Spanish. Ellis walks in and asks what’s going on. She says it’s for Castro’s brother, Raul. He buys it, and she’s like, “Of course not, don’t be ridiculous.” So we’re gonna go ahead and assume it’s entirely true. Eileen tells Ellis that if he wants co-producer credit he needs to track down Duvall. Then she says she needs him to round up the investors so they can be placated.

Karen visits Boyfriend’s office and tells him WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED. Hate. The new press secretary comes by and sees them kissing. Despite meeting 10,000 people that night at the helicopter banquet, and being wasted, he remembers Karen and calls her Marilyn. Boyfriend decides not to ruin his potential in-office hookup by sharing his bad news. Smart move, politician man.

“He has a key to her apartment?!” Tom is shocked, speaking of Derek at Ivy’s. THAT WAS OUR REACTION. He’s walking along 44th Street with Sam. He’s about to take Lawyer to see a made-up Broadway show called “End of Daze” at the St. James Theatre. It’s apparently known to be a train wreck. Lawyer’s like, “So why are we going?” and Sam/Tom say, “Because it’s a train wreck!” and then they jinx each other and owe cokes. No, but they do smile knowingly at one another and oh my gosh, just make out already you two. Also, we do share with these boys a sick attraction to really terrible musicals (and horror flicks) so we understand.

At home, Julia is asking how Leo likes the mac and cheese they’re having for dinner (along with a hearty glass of red wine for her). It’s probably one of the four things she knows how to cook (hey, that’s not a dis, she said it herself in an earlier episode). She also asks if he’s heard from his dad, and Leo begs her not to put him in the middle of their fight. She’s like I know, sorry. And then she poorly covers by trying to reassure Leo that everything’s going to be fine. Not so smooth, Julia.

Walking through Times Square, a guitar player begins plucking out Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway” – and although Ivy’s not actually singing as she walks, she is singing in her head, apparently. There’s montage of her looking at stage doors and being wistful. She’s also imagining herself standing on a stage in a red dress actually singing it, apropos of nothing (see our pic pick). She’s also zipping herself into a tiny pink dress (thanks diet pills!) and putting on lots of makeup (and a cosmetic mole) in the mirror to transform herself into Marilyn. The hallucination continues to her entering the rehearsal room to an ovation from everyone because they are just so happy to have her back for the part. But in reality 30 seconds later when the song ends because we don’t get full songs on this show we see that Ivy’s really cowering behind a van and spying on Derek and Karen.

Eileen’s explaining to Derek that Duvall’s stuck in Cuba because her assistant needs a visa. Julia’s like, she’s a movie star with no stage experience we need her here yesterday. Why, when’s the new workshop? Since when are there deadlines on this project? Derek was just talking about pushing it back a year. SIGH. Eileen promises she’ll be there by the weekend.

In rehearsal, Karen’s apparently just as bad with simple moves, like walking, as she is with dancing. She doesn’t know what “downstage” is or if she’s supposed to be writing down her blocking. We all know this from high school productions, so this is truly hard to choke down. The ensemble takes bets on if Derek will make her cry. Really whose friends are these people? Ivy’s or Karen’s? No one’s?

Julia forgot today was an interview with an NYU student who wants to know how the writing team celebrates the anniversary of their partnership. They fly somewhere their work is playing and go see it together, apparently. The poor kid’s like, “Does your husband get jealous?” and Julia spazzes out. She says Frank isn’t like that. Riiiight.

Karen’s telling her boyfriend that the new press secretary made a pass at her back at the helicopter soiree. He freaks out. Okay, first of all, we thought she did tell him that in the car on the way home. Or else what was it that she was telling him about that was supposed to give him an edge over his competition? Second of all, guys hit on girls especially ones that dress in provocative red dresses and act flirty at a dinner party. Karen was being coy and chatty and open to conversation that night, in part to get positive attention and cheer herself up, and all men who respond to that are not jerks. That doesn’t really make this guy sleazy; it’s not like the guy knew Karen was spoken for or wasn’t interested and then kept hitting on her. If we set a precedent that hitting on women makes you a scum bucket, things are about to get way more complicated in the NYC dating scene. Karen says she’s gotten yelled at all day and doesn’t need it at home, because she needs to wake up and do it all again tomorrow. POOR YOU! Wasn’t she just berating Ivy for complaining about how hard the role was like, last episode? We all have way more stressful jobs than singing and dancing in the role of a lifetime, Karen. She storms out, and Boyfriend cannot believe she’s going back there tomorrow if they’re being so mean to her. As if he didn’t just get passed over for a job and still went to work the next day? That’s what adults do, Dev. Er, “Boyfriend.”

The investors want to meet Duvall before they part with their $7 million. (By the way, we recall someone saying it would take $50 million to get this show to Broadway in Episode 6, although this show banks on us never remembering anything.) They also want to meet Derek. Eileen seems to think they’re not being very understanding, and they remind her that they have all the power. They say Jerry would never have put them in this position. Now that’s hitting Eileen where it hurts! So cut to … Nick’s bar! YAY.

Nick says, “Two martinis and you haven’t flirted with me once.” (Tab: Earrings, $50, fancy martinis, $144, dirty martinis: $35.) She says it’s not that kind of night. Because the investors don’t want to invest in Marilyn, they want to invest in a movie star. Which is exactly what they were trying to do. We’re getting tired of people on this show whining about getting what they want. Nick pulls literal stacks of cash out from under the bar and asks if he can help change the way the game is played. That … seems really unsafe; just shove it under the mattress, why don’t you. Eileen asks if he has $7 million under there, and he says that he doesn’t but his friends might. This is all exactly as sketchy as it seems. We’re hoping for a look into the dark underbelly of dive bars, with black market olive juice and fights to the death with those little plastic swords.

At Derek’s (FINALLY), he’s telling Ivy that Karen’s skittish. Ivy says the only directors who successfully worked with Marilyn babied her, because when they pressed her too hard she shut down. He says he didn’t baby Ivy. She says, “No, you fired me.” Good point. She tells him that he just needs to be smart. He says he is smart. She tells him to be smarter. And then they make out.

In contrast, Karen and Boyfriend are facing away from each other in bed.

Someone we don’t know (props guy?) is saying that a towel is needed to indicate that studio exec Darryl Zanuck took all his meetings in the steam room. But the actor playing Zanuck isn’t here for rehearsal, so Tom is standing in. Derek rolls his eyes as the ensemble hoots. The guys run through the number, which involves indicating that they … slept with Zanuck? … to get ahead as the worst kind of yes-men. They keep splaying their legs and whipping off their towels. We’re not sure how that would play in reality if they’re supposed to be naked under there unless the play’s going to have some conceit about wearing bathing suits in steam rooms or suddenly go for the theater equivalent of an R rating. Whatever! Right now the boys are in clothes under there, sadly. What is this song called? “Tomatoes Like You”? He keeps calling Marilyn Monroe a tomato. No, it’s “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking.” We liked ours better.

Derek gives Karen some notes in a very nice way and makes sure she has a pencil to take notes. Let’s see if this new tactic pays off. Tom and Sam joke around about Derek’s new behavior, wondering if he’s a stroke victim (what a funny thing to joke about, “Smash”). Lawyer walks in and sees Tom paling around with a young, attractive gay guy. Even though he already knows they’re friends and they work together, he decides to just turn and walk away because he’s jealous and petty.

At a bar, Karen learns the ensemble bet against her. They guessed how many days it would take to make her cry and/or get her fired. Then Ivy shows up and acts super nice to everyone. She even bought Karen earrings. The dancers are like, “Who are you?” Karen is from Iowa, so she doesn’t suspect this niceness at all. Dennis (one of them has a name!) orders a round of appletinis. But he’s drinking a beer! Are people allowed to like both beers and appletinis? We need to consult the handbook. Stop confusing us, “Smash.”

Tom and Julia are at a regional theater somewhere watching a very bad rendition of a song from their very bad play “Three on a Match.” Does this really count as one of our musical numbers this week? They know it’s bad, but say they were young back then. Lin-Manuel Miranda was 28 when “In The Heights” went to Broadway, just saying. Apparently the director found out the writers were there and puts a spotlight on them. Tom goes up to the stage and makes a speech and presents Julia with a signed apron from the show as an anniversary present. But she’s too upset thinking about her real marriage, not her showbiz marriage, so she walks out like a totally selfish wench just like when she walked out of the final rehearsal for the workshop, so we’re sensing a pattern. Also, this was only written 10 years ago, so that youth excuse holds no water.

Ivy and Karen are walking through Times Square wow, they make it seem like this is the only block-wide radius where actors might go in all of Manhattan. Karen feels like she’s being pushed around, and Ivy says Marilyn was always just expected to show up and look pretty. Yes, actresses are generally paid a lot of money to show up and do what they’re told and look pretty. If you don’t like it, get a new profession. Sorry. Ivy says Karen can’t waste the chance to be Marilyn, even if it’s just for one week as an understudy. She needs to speak up and be tough.

RJ and Dev are out getting drunk. She says Washington, D.C., is a better place to live for workaholics in politics. (Us: It’s also the most competitive place.) She thinks he should talk to Karen about moving and says his girlfriend will understand. RJ doesn’t know Karen at all. Also: Karen should leave the best city in the world for her career to follow Boyfriend’s? What year is this?

Outside the theater, Tom says Julia was super rude to him and also to the theater people. She says she just needed a moment alone. Tom says if she feels like she’s over him or their anniversaries she just needs to speak up. But she finally explains Frank found out about her affair and left. We’re pretty surprised it took her this long to say anything to him. Julia cries awhile on his shoulder. She says she couldn’t say anything because telling Tom makes it real. We think it’s nuts that she thinks he’s gone forever just because he needs some time apart to process things. Doesn’t he at least deserve that much?

At home, Julia says she might go to Leo’s wrestling match. She asks if Frank will be there. Leo says he wouldn’t let her go if his dad would be there. Leo says everything sucks, but he’s not the problem here. The kid is the most mature person in this family. And he should be, because he’s like 30. When he goes upstairs, Julia steals his phone to try and stalk her husband. Prep for some lewd texts from Mason, Julia.

Sam and Ivy are discussing her new agenda to play nice until they let her back in the show. Well, it seems like the only thing she hasn’t tried.

Tom’s at home saying, “Why be a critic if you hate the theater?” (Us: For the money. HAHAHAHAHA.) This overblown statement is in regard to a bad review for “End of Daze.” Lawyer reminds him that the show was, in fact, terrible. They left at intermission. Tom says the Knicks were bad but the columnist doesn’t blame the whole team. Lawyer does some quick calculations, consults his “Smash” handbook, cross-checks his findings with his paralegal and then announces that it’s weird Tom’s reading the sports page now because he’s supposed to just be a gay theater guy. Tom says, “I like to look at tall men in mesh shorts.” Lawyer’s like, “Do you think I’m blind?” He’s like, I see crappy shows with you, I accept that you hate my politics, but having feelings for someone else is unacceptable. Tom says Sam is just a friend of Ivy’s. (AHA! So you know he meant Sam.) Lawyer says Tom never lights up for him the way he does around that dancer. Thank goodness they’re not dragging this horrible relationship out any longer. Bye-bye, Matt Bomer wannabe.

Julia calls Frank from Leo’s phone to trick him into talking to her. She says she knows he’s hurt and not ready to talk, but she can’t take this anymore. Um, too bad, this isn’t about you and your feelings right now, Julia. Your husband is allowed to focus on himself for a few days since you’ve been doing it for years.

Ellis is researching Nick and his friends to see if they’re worthy investors. Eileen doesn’t want to know what Ellis learned about Nick though, because that would ruin her old lady sex fantasies. She sends him out abruptly to fetch her coffee.

In rehearsal, Karen’s being tougher like Ivy told her. In theory, this is so that Ivy can look nicer by comparison and then swoop back in. Sadly, Karen standing up for herself reminds Derek of Marilyn so much that Karen transforms into her in front of his/our eyes. Then Derek says “Linda” can start writing Karen’s blocking so they can just forge ahead. We’re not sure if Linda (who we’ve met before) is an assistant director or stage manager or something else entirely.

Eileen is at Nick’s empty bar in the middle of the day. She says technically she’d owe Nick a finder’s fee for bringing in a hefty investor. She says he should ask for something in return. We imagine she means, “Throw me down on this bar right now, bad boy.” But he just says, “Don’t worry, I will.”

There’s a knock on Karen’s door; she answers it in a sultry purr, wearing very little, expecting Boyfriend. But it’s Derek. Awkward! Derek just wants to tell her that Duvall will be showing up at rehearsal tomorrow. Echoing our thoughts, she says, “You came all the way here to tell me that?” He says he also wants to apologize for hitting on her when she first sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the middle of the night in his apartment. He says he was hard-wired to expect a certain something from actresses (gross, way to shift all blame away from yourself for being a perv, dude). She calls him out that it’s a terrible apology. But he just shrugs, because that’s the best she’s going to get.

On his way out, of course he runs into Boyfriend. Still raging about the press secretary hitting on his woman eons ago, he takes out his aggression on his girlfriend’s boss who doesn’t trust Karen at all, apparently. They work together, doesn’t Derek have a legitimate right to be there? Why is everyone so weird and presumptuous about cheating on this show? They get into a fistfight and Karen breaks it up and looks at Boyfriend like he’s a monster. We’re really tired of their relationship already.

At Ivy’s, she’s holding frozen peas to Derek’s bruised face. He says Dev is a “bloody lunatic.” Ivy asks the question of the hour, “Why didn’t you just call Karen?” Exactly.

Dev asks, weirdly, if Derek saw Karen in her underwear and she, weirdly, lies and says no. Boyfriend asks Karen if she’d move to D.C. with him and she flips out. He wonders if she’s asking him to give up his life for her. It’s not all that dramatic guys, sometimes you either compromise or break up it’s all very grown-up.

At Nick’s bar, Eileen and Ellis are being grossly unprofessional and overdramatic. They invite their heavy-hitter investors out for drinks under the guise of finalizing their agreements (this shouldn’t even be possible if Duvall and Derek still haven’t met with them, per their requests). Then they take their contracts, put them in a bucket, douse them in alcohol and light them on fire. That grandiose display is just to show them that Eileen doesn’t need them or their money, and it serves them right for asking her to jump through crazy hoops, like having her star or director show up! She is, literally, burning bridges. So what if this works out this one time? What about other shows, Eileen? What an idiot. (Sorry, ANEJLICA HUSTON, we know it’s the writing and not you.) These are perfectly decent professionals who are trying to hand over millions of dollars under reasonable conditions. Plus, they’re old. Like, older than Eileen. So making them travel to a sketchy bar downtown just to blow them off is just rude on all sorts of levels. We’re prettily heavily offended at the moment. We wish we had a stiff drink to nurse our indignity. But Eileen does, so her dirty martini tab goes up to $42.

We move to a montage of everyone being unhappy and alone. Karen’s singing “Never Give All The Heart.” Oh wait, Eileen’s not unhappy or alone she’s making out with Nick. You get it, girl! Hope you’re not suffering from the backdraft of your choices for the rest of your life. In the rehearsal room, Karen performs this solo ballad. Ivy is peeping in through a crack in the door like a weird lurker. Then Uma Thurman walks in and asks if she’s in the right place, putting Karen back into the background where she belongs.



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