The Morning Show is at its best when it completely obliterates the rules of both logic and physics. This is not a narrative formula I’d recommend for most TV. But in the case of the Apple TV+ show—now hurtling toward its fourth season—co-leads Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are simply at their most magnetic when they’re not just eclipsing but shattering the boundaries of their characters’ job descriptions. To call Alex Levy and Bradley Jackson mere news anchors would be an insult to their aptitude. They are also, mind you, last-minute astronauts. They don’t only report the news; they ensure they’re key participants in, apparently, every major story of the 21st century. Whether they’re doing somersaults outside the exosphere, or live-streaming January 6th, or sealing multi-billion-dollar business deals with a literal kiss, Alex and Bradley don’t fend off conflicts of interest. They bathe in them, and emerge from their radioactive waters with something akin to superpowers.
Or, anyway, that’s the kind of product The Morning Show seems determined to deliver. In fact, it might be the only product The Morning Show is capable of delivering. There are so many moments in which this show begs to be panned. But to do so would feel like a futile, if not outright obtuse exercise—like complaining about a lack of “realism” in Marvel movies. As a writer, I hate to pull a “the girls who get it, get it” card. But in the case of The Morning Show, it might be the truth.
You’d be forgiven for assuming space would, indeed, be the final frontier for Bradley Jackson—but au contraire, space was just the beginning. At the top of the season 3 finale, we witness a seminal moment for young Bradley in the form of a hazy childhood flashback: After recognizing the blood on her father’s front bumper, Baby Brad turns him into the police for a hit-and-run. It’s a choice that haunts the older Bradley for numerous reasons, not the least of which is because she’s now facing a similar dilemma: Her brother, Hal (Joe Tippett), assaulted a police officer on Capitol Hill during the January 6th insurrection, where, of course, Bradley happened to be reporting. (We never really get to dig into the MAGA of it all with Hal, because—again—The Morning Show prefers to send its characters to space.)
Unwilling to lengthen the criminal record of yet another family member, Bradley not only destroys her recorded evidence of Hal’s altercation but also lies to the FBI about it. Not a great move for a treasured member of the coastal elite! Not to mention one who’s a journalist! She’s now positively freaking out about this strategic misstep, considering billionaire Paul Marks (Jon Hamm) seems to have uncovered her deception—and he’s more than happy to spill to the FBI, should she choose to continue her investigation into his sketchy rocket business,
Of course, that’s not what Paul tells Alex. Their clandestine romance has become increasingly public over the past few weeks, HR violations be damned, and he doesn’t want to lose her trust. So Paul informs UBA’s most prized asset that, yes, a “friend of his” at the FBI revealed Bradley’s boo-boo, and that he planted the article claiming UBA president Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) had “groomed” Bradley. But, fret not, honey! It was just a ploy to nix Cory’s meddling in the pending UBA-Hyperion merger. Paul plays this off as unquestionably good business sense: Drop a fake story to those sharks at the tabloids, and the deal will sail through! Alex can handle this information, or so Aniston’s rapid eye blinking and repeated “Oh my God”s seek to communicate, but she’s not thrilled that Paul would keep it from her until now. This is not how you build trust in a situationship, babe!
As Cory deals with the fallout from the aforementioned fake news, insisting he’ll cooperate with an inquiry but refusing to take a leave of absence from UBA, Stella (Greta Lee) enters a computer game to track down her old Hyperion colleague (and former BFF) Kate as she’s hunting zombies. Stella’s pleading DM is a last-ditch effort to stop Paul from gobbling up UBA and belching out its guts to fund his faulty rockets. When Stella informs the other TMS staff of Paul’s plan to strip UBA for parts, they’re understandably outraged, and so they stage a coup: They’ll put someone on the air to speak out against the merger—someone so outrageous that his words alone could stop the deal in its tracks. “The right guest,” Mia (Karen Pittman) warns. “Someone who has nothing to lose.” And whom might that nothing-left-to-loser be but ex-employee Chip Black (Mark Duplass)! I’m sorry, but who is setting the journalistic standards at this company again? J. Jonah Jameson?
Anyway, it’s certainly not Cory, who’s busy gathering a small army of power brokers to knock out Paul. He enlists both his old enemy Cybil (Holland Taylor) and important-investor-guy Reid (Paul Guilfoyle), who has a lot of money or something. As Cory ropes in his posse, Alex and her dangerously high heels opt to tackle the problem of Bradley, who’s yet to emerge from her self-imposed lockdown after resigning on-air in the season’s penultimate episode.
After getting sick of Alex’s frantic knocking, Bradley finally lets her old friend into her apartment, but only after the latter dumps her bag and cell phone in the hallway. Bradley’s spinning out, convinced that Paul’s surveilling her devices. Of course, in this case, she’s right: Paul’s been listening to her conversations and reading her texts, and that’s how he knew what Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies)—Bradley’s former co-anchor and ex-lover—had pieced together re: the FBI debacle. Now he’s using that information to blackmail Bradley and threaten Laura’s career. Alex is reluctant to believe that her hunky billionaire boyfriend could be—gasp!—a money-grubbing monster. “You have to stop this sale,” Bradley tells her. When Alex is like, okay maybe you’re right babes but how, Bradley’s response is that of a mother who refuses to help with algebra homework but expects her kids to get As anyway: “I don’t know; you’re fucking smart,” she snaps. “You’re gonna figure it out.” You’re on your own, Levy. You always have been.
Thankfully, Alex is smart, so she devises a trap to test if Bradley’s theory about Paul holds water. On her way home, she texts Bradley to go home to “Hanover,” which is not, in fact, West Virginia, where Bradley’s from. I’m not sure how Paul could fall for this, given that a) Bradley’s West Virginia-ness is discussed ad nauseum on this show, and b) “go home to Hanover” is an objectively bizarre thing to text your co-worker.
Regardless, Paul takes the bait: When Alex returns home to kiss him goodnight, he casually tells her Bradley needs to “go back to Hanover, hide out until all this blows over.” Aniston’s eyebrows literally spasm in response. That’s what we call gotcha journalism! In lieu of alternative coping mechanisms, Alex decides to stab her new lover in the back. She meets up with Laura to share a cup of tea, exchange the hot goss on January 6th, and devise a plan to unite UBA with its main competitor (for whom Laura now works), NBN. This, for all those out there reading, is exactly how media mergers work.
As Alex prepares the paperwork for the broadcast deal of the century, Cory is riding the high of his Cybil-Reid team-up, only to get intercepted by Paul at his favorite swanky Manhattan dining club. The frenemies exchange insults without so much as tipping their waiter, and Paul pulls out this ’ole chestnut: “Take the money.” He insists he’ll pay off Cory if the UBA president signs an NDA and slides the deal through the board. He’ll even make the Bradley “grooming” story disappear! Cory finally seems on the verge of defeat (I mean, the man calls his mother), even after Chip throws a grenade at the Paul Marks campaign on live television. “Paul Marks is going to dismantle this place, literally,” Chip informs the American public, a soundbite he blends with a handful of F-bombs, a tirade about the importance of broadcast news to the great project of democracy, and a last-minute barb about Paul’s rocket looking like a “metal dick.” (I’m curious: Is this not also true of all rockets? Or is Paul’s rocket worth singling out for its particular approximation of a phallus? Feel free to DM me with your analysis.)
Dawn breaks on the Manhattan skyline—it couldn’t be a TV show set in New York without that shot—and champagne starts to pour into the boardroom at UBA. It would seem Cory and Co. are no match for Silicon Valley. But Alex is built different. She arrives just in time to break up with her boyfriend in the most dramatic way possible: by announcing an alternative deal to the Hyperion-UBA merger. Because the board has a “fiduciary responsibility to entertain all offers that may match or exceed Hyperion’s,” Alex says, Paul can’t shut down her mutiny. “It’s a chance to do things right, for once,” Alex informs the room, but she’s staring directly at Mr. Moneybags while she says it. “A true partnership.”
A flabbergasted Paul chases Alex all the way to the TMS floor, where the staff—along with Stella’s zombie-hunter friend, Kate—confront him on his lies. The goblet of tea runneth over: Turns out, Paul cut the transmission to Bradley and Cory’s Hyperion rocket-launch after the navigation system malfunctioned. Paul initiated the data hack at UBA. (For the record: Not Russia this time!) Paul reported fake data to NASA, ignored Kate’s warnings about a potentially lethal space flight, and fired her when she called him on his B.S.
In private, Alex tells her now-former sweetheart that there’s no coming back from this. Paul tried to silence a journalist. No billionaire has ever tried that before! It’s unforgivable, and through her heavy sighs, Alex instructs Paul to “come clean to NASA,” or UBA will “run the story and end Hyperion.” (Sure. But speaking as a journalist, shouldn’t she run the story regardless?)
Anyway, two weeks pass, and apparently the merger hop-scotched through the FTC without so much as a pause to catch its breath: Mia and Stella are already fretting about who will get laid off and who will sit in the big boss chair. “No more corporate bullshit,” Stella promises, even though massive media mergers are the textbook definition of exactly that. We’ll have to wait for season 4 to see who survives the chopping block, but in the meantime, Cory has a sexual harassment inquiry to deal with. Bradley tells the investigators that nothing untoward took place between her and the UBA president that fateful evening, even though there was one night when he told her he loved her. “I was afraid because he saw me for who I really was,” she tells the investigators. “And I was afraid I could never be with someone like that.” They’re like, Oh, cool, not exactly what we were looking for here, but thanks for sharing, and Bradley’s free to leave. She, of course, immediately bumps into Cory: He apologizes for outing her and Laura’s relationship last season, and she tells him she’ll miss him as they both tear up in the dingy, fluorescent-lit hallway of a government building. It’s almost too romantic.
Nor is it the only government building providing an emotional backdrop this finale. After Alex and Paul say their official goodbyes—through tears, on a balcony overlooking the whole of Manhattan, as is the preference of Very Rich People—Alex arrives at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building to see Bradley off to her FBI confession. “You got this,” she tells her former co-anchor, even though I’m not so sure Bradley does got this. Lying to the FBI as a cherished leader of the free press is not a move I’d recommend, particularly when trust in mass media is trending at record lows. That’s not a hurtle The Morning Show would typically consider worth its time. Except that Bradley plans to confess—or, anyway, it seems that way moments before the credits roll.
I was begging The Morning Show not to do this. I did not want this ugly government building and the half-baked repercussions it teases for another season. I wanted something even more outrageous to happen, something to give me permission to wash my hands of this drama with a smile on my face: for Bradley and Laura to run away together and go colonize the moon. I was ready to applaud Alex as the Supreme Leader of NBNUBA+ Deluxe, or whatever. I was ready for Cory to go live with his mom! But The Morning Show can’t help itself: It refuses to completely erase the invisible line between reality and ridiculousness upon which it loves to tap dance—even if doing so might actually work in the show’s favor. Perhaps that, really, is Bradley and Alex’s superpower: They can do something absurd, cruel, extraordinary, unthinkable. But then they pull back—just enough—to convince us they haven’t yet reached the apex of their outlandishness. Next time, though. Next time.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.