This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the TV show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Despite all the moving parts it takes to run a news network like UBA, each individual staff member, anchor, or executive has the power to fundamentally alter its trajectory. The third episode of Season 3 shine a light on this from the very opening shot. Anchor-producer Mia Jordan (Karen Pittman), who sleeps in her office, slowly wakes up, gets ready for the day, and wanders the dark and quiet sound stage. In an ominous foreshadowing of her later outburst about what it takes to keep the lights on at home and at UBA, this early moment reads like an inverse of the fluorescent lights beaming, cameras rolling, and news anchors cheerily reporting.
Of course, the singular impact of individuals on The Morning Show is hardly anything new. Mitch Kessler’s heinous actions cost him his job and his life, Alex her reputation, and UBA its trustworthiness and reliability. While it’s taken a web of people to attempt to dig ‘The Morning Show’ (as in, the show within a show) out of Kessler’s own grave and two seasons worth of ups and downs, all it takes is another individual to send the carefully constructed facade tumbling once more.
This time, the reckoning comes for UBA Board President Cybil Richards, played excellently and formidably by Holland Taylor. Cybil has long been a force to be reckoned with in UBA. Not only do her interactions with Alex Levy careen from feminist camaraderie to petty teenage backstabbing, but her family started the entire network, meaning she holds the reigns of decades worth of legacy in her wrinkled and frail fist.
This theme of institutions long-controlled by white people of power aptly coincides with the next hot-button topic The Morning Show seeks to address — racial reckoning. After the data breach in this season’s second episode, other news outlets and gossip sites have been sifting through and analyzing all of the newly exposed network communications. One outlet in particular, curiously named ‘The Eagle News,’ finds a bombshell amidst the documents. In email discussions about hiring a new anchor for ‘The Morning Show’ in 2020, Cybil referred to their candidate, Chris Hunter (Nicole Beharie), as Aunt Jemima, a racial slur referencing the pancake brand, which got a name change in 2020 after its racists origins were finally acknowledged by the companies.
As the network and the world uncover this uncomfortable comment, the reactions are varied. Mia and lower staff members are rightfully shocked and enraged, especially when the crude nickname is compacted by leaks of unequal salaries between same-level staff members of different races. Stella takes the news as fuel for not going through on the merger with Paul Marks, essentially saying that the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t (or, at least, most of UBA doesn’t know — Stella does hint slightly to her past with Marks by simply stating that he’s ruthless).
Chris, however, seems to takes it all in stride. Its only in intimate scenes either in the privacy of an elevator or at home with her husband and child that we visibly see how this has hurt her. After a late-night rendezvous with Alex, she decides to bring Cybil on-air to interview her. Framed like some sort of duel complete with hype music and slow-mo walk-ups, the interview goes disastrously for Cybil as her attempts to salvage her legacy only continue to muddle it. In a powerful moment that gives almost all of the staff members chills, Chris cooly and calmly chides Cybil, UBA, and the entire foundation of institutional racism whose participants have the privilege to brush off harmful comments as simple mistakes.
And then there’s Cory, whose actions don’t just hold impact, but are carefully orchestrated. After dissuading Chris from taking legal action against Cybil or UBA — he wants ‘The Morning Show’ to be reporting the news, not be in the news — Stella reveals that Cory was the one who leaked the dreaded email in the first place. Why, you might ask? Well, it all comes down to ratings and power. The interview with Cybil boosted ratings and UBA was certainly the talking point of the news network town.
However, Cory, a man who has continuously been wildly rash and unpredictable for the last two seasons, seems to have gambled all of his luck away. Marks sniffed out his deceit and effectively closed the deal, saying that PR disasters do, certainly, draw attention, but he wants to control a network that doesn’t have any PR disasters in the first place. Seems like UBA’s resident phoenix has finally flown too close to the sun.
With all of this drama, it took me until the end of the episode to realize that we didn’t see any of Bradley Jackson. Where could she be? What were her reactions to the latest UBA injustice? Tune in next week and hopefully we’ll find out.
New episodes of the The Morning Show drop every Wednesday.
Featured image courtesy of Apple TV+