After last week’s disastrous lockdown installment, The Morning Show is back with more Hamm, more Lee, and UBA’s number-one Jan 6 insurrection.
In “The Stanford Student,” we finally unpack Stella Bak’s (Greta Lee) past with Paul Marks (Jon Hamm). The tone isn’t, as I once guessed, romantic but rather inspired by a typical Silicon Valley betrayal.
After bringing the Marks-Cory deal back thanks to the wonders of Coney Island, Alex (Jennifer Aniston) insists on interviewing the billionaire on her show, Alex Unfiltered, aiming to dig into his big tech intentions of buying a media company. Cory (Billy Crudup) doesn’t like the idea – but Paul accepts it with that bastard nonchalance that made Don Draper so difficult to hate in Mad Men.
With only two days to prepare, Chip (Mark Duplass), still in a cheesy romantic bubble with his partner – Alex’s assistant – Isabella (Hannah Leder), announces to Mia (Karen Pittman) and Stella he can’t find any dirt on Paul. The information triggers Stella to the point of self-harm. She reluctantly tells Chip that when she worked for Paul’s company, he stole her code to build a billionaire initiative by himself, and she never received recognition nor her fair share.
She is the Stanford student from the episode title, who has suffered from depression and one suicide attempt, as is later revealed in the interview. I am surprised by how realistically well-played the self-harm scene was crafted. In so many instances, I’ve seen self-harm scenes where it was clear no one knew what they were dealing with, and this isn’t the case.
Greta Lee is, once again, my highlight of the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the long run, Stella is the best we’ll get from this show, the buck wild writing notwithstanding, with the marvelous Lee’s acting spectrum on full display. I want to see her in more A24 productions. I want to see her in the next HBO series. I’ll keep the Stella Bak train up and running no matter what they do with her character. But please, writers, don’t ruin my favorite character.
It’s time for the interview. Alex’s crew arrives at Paul’s luxurious Hamptons house, and Alex keeps approaching Paul with over-the-top tension, rightfully recognized by Chip as sexual attraction. As a viewer who’s been onboard the Alex-Chip mess from season one, I missed that Duplass look where you can hear the Kill Bill sirens inside Chip’s head. Fueled by her horniness, Alex fires questions from the anonymous Stanford student about the danger of big tech at an entitled Paul, who shares personal Valley stories while being clearly attracted to Alex. This turns out to be a very horny interview.
Ironically, Hamm’s character mimics Musk’s attitude pre-Twitter purchase, but the text is actually more adequate for post-Twitter acquisition. “It’s probably healthier to smoke a pack of cigarettes than it is to log on to Twitter,” Paul says at one point. Little did the writers know how true this episode release would hit amid the swarm of antisemitism and child pornography being spread on Musk’s X at this very instance.
As the interview wraps up, Chip waits behind for Alex, suggesting (begging) that they discuss editing, together on the drive home. Alex doesn’t show any indication of leaving Paul’s house, and it’s up to Chip’s partner to drag him away. Alone, the first kiss is inevitable, and they can’t get away from each other in a slow sex sequence, not even when Cory calls Paul the next morning, amid silent giggling and post-sex afterglow.
On the awkward drive from the Hamptons, Chip proposes to Isabella, who reasonably rejects and snaps out at him. She says he’s only proposing because of Alex, nailing the psychological complexities of this absurd and absurdly enjoyable character. Girl, jump out of this Chip-Alex mess while you still can.
Meanwhile, the show’s favorite January 6 criminal is back. With a baby and his partner. Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) receives Hal (Joe Tippett) and his family with open arms, and the tone gets so painfully saccharine that you ask yourself if the writing is trying to make you find it cute seeing a Jan 6 criminal who got away with his actions because his enabling sister covered his tracks. Hal goes through a crisis of far-right conscience, telling Bradley he’ll turn himself into the FBI while he’s in New York. She can’t allow this because this puts the entire company in jeopardy. If he did it, the FBI would know she hid evidence, causing a financial death sentence to UBA. If the legal part of my brain is still working properly, she might as well face charges for obstruction of justice.
They shout throughout the entire episode, with Hal asking Bradley why she published any footage of Jan 6 in the first place (what is this family?). After Bradley has a troubling date with Laura (Julianna Margulies), where she whines once again, Laura saves the day by seeking Hal and convincing him to leave. Bradley goes after Laura to thank her as a passionate kiss signals they’re back together. It’s unsure whether Laura knows the Jackson family and Cory has covered up Jan 6 information. If she does, there goes my last hope for a fraction of ethical principles in this show.
At UBA, Stella watches the interview footage when Paul approaches her. He says he’s sorry for the past, claiming she could’ve talked to him. As she announces she’ll quit, provoking me to glue my eyes to the screen, Paul makes an offer she can’t refuse: Cory’s job. And Cory? To be fired as soon as Paul acquires the company.
With the deal to be voted on in the upcoming stakeholders’ annual meeting, I am proud of knowing what that is, thanks to being a Succession fan. I’ll be expecting more corporate drama and more Alex-Chip messiness. Bring it on.
Is Julianna Margulies in these episodes? Yes!
Margulies Timestamps: 26:18-28:50; 43:00-44:48; 52:48-53:39.
Email Draft: Dear Julianna Margulies, your outfit during the drinks scene (26:18-28:50) was stunning. Part of me couldn’t help but imagine Alicia Florrick wearing that corset, in my land of television daydreams, where she and Will Gardner are successful lawyers in love. Would he have a heart attack at the sight? Very likely. But it’d be worth it. Best regards, Ana.