The Morning Show season 3 finale: The series tries to go all Succession on us

Alex Levy is a lot of things: the embattled former star of America’s most infamous morning show, a workaholic mother and ex-wife (hey, remember when Alex used to have a terrible family?), and a self-righteous narcissist who has survived cancel culture and the coronavirus. And somehow, she is now the mastermind behind one of the biggest and most ludicrous media deals of the 21st century—but not in the way you might have expected.

Billy Crudup on “The Morning Show” and “Almost Famous”

After telling her new billionaire beau Paul Marks that she was “all in” on his plan to acquire UBA and strip the media conglomerate for parts to fund his latest aerospace project at Hyperion, Alex began to have second thoughts. In a state of shock over Bradley’s abrupt resignation and The Vault’s story accusing Cory of abusing his power over Bradley, Alex confronts Marks about playing dirty to push the UBA deal through. Marks not only admits to leaking old pictures of Cory and an inebriated Bradley to the tabloid, but he also tells Alex that the FBI is considering indicting Bradley and Hal for covering up the latter’s assault of a Capitol police officer on Jan. 6. Marks claims that Bradley decided to resign on her own volition (and definitely not because Marks just threatened to blow up the lives of everyone she loves), but Alex senses there may be more to the story.

The next day, Alex shows up unannounced at Bradley’s apartment. After forcing Alex to leave her phone and purse in the corridor, Bradley comes clean about lying to the Feds, reasoning that she could not bear the thought of turning in her brother after having done the same thing to their father as a child. (We even get a rushed flashback to the day Bradley called the police on her dad, who was arrested for vehicular manslaughter.) Despite clearly being in an emotionally vulnerable state, Bradley is still shrewd enough to realize that something doesn’t quite add up: Sure, Marks could have used his FBI contacts to figure out Bradley’s dirty little secret. But given that Laura had just confronted Bradley about Hal, how did Marks know exactly what was said in that private conversation? Bradley deduces that Marks has been surveilling her ever since she began investigating his business practices at Hyperion. Faced with threats not only to her life and career but also to Laura’s, Bradley says she will return home to West Virginia and urges Alex to find a way to stop the impending sale.

Realizing that her new boyfriend isn’t entirely trustworthy, Alex begins to play a game of cat-and-mouse with Marks. During her car ride back home, Alex texts Bradley that she should “get away from all this” and “go back to West Virginia,” but before pressing send, she changes “West Virginia” to “Hanover.” Back at her place, Alex reveals that she just went to see a despondent Bradley and laments that she can’t do anything more to help her former co-anchor. Marks reassures Alex that the current situation will improve once the deal has been approved and that Bradley may be given a second chance down the road. “I think she just has to disappear, go back to Hanover and just hide out until all this blows over,” Marks says, clearly having just read Alex’s text to Bradley (maybe on the laptop that he closed right before she walked in?!). That remark is apparently enough to confirm the worst suspicions of Alex, who excuses herself to get changed before proceeding to have a mini panic attack in her walk-in closet. If she wants to save UBA, Alex will have to take matters into her own hands.

Since his reputation was sullied in a gossip rag, Cory has reverted to survival mode. Like Alex, one could use many colorful adjectives to describe Cory Ellison, but a sexual predator, he is not. Despite Cory’s desire to put out a statement and get back to work, a company lawyer refuses to acknowledge a tabloid, and Leonard tells Cory to cooperate with the inquiry and take a leave of absence. By the end of their meeting, Cory practically begs Leonard to stop Marks’ acquisition until they have a new deal in place, but Leonard argues that no one else will want to touch UBA with a ten-foot pole. Leonard just wants to sell to Marks, cash out, and be done with it. (And who could blame him? Nothing good has come out of this hellhole in years.)

In a last-ditch effort, Cory goes to see Reed, one of the men from Sloan Management who offered an $8-billion loan to UBA before Marks came back to the table in the fourth episode. In order to underscore the urgency of the situation, Cory agrees to give Sloan a piece of UBA’s equity and even reveals that Fred Micklen has been advising Hyperion on the break-up value of UBA’s behind Sloan’s back. Reed tells Cory to turn some more votes against Marks, and maybe he’ll write him that hefty check.

Back inside UBA’s offices, Mia asks Stella about her plan to fill the vacant evening news position—only for Stella to reveal that there may not be a need for any permanent news anchors after the sale. Before long, TMS employees are threatening to walk off the job, but Chris insists that they should continue like it’s business as usual because the 20,000 UBA employees deserve to know what is at stake for them in the next board meeting. The team decides to invite the one person who they know already has nothing to lose: Chip Black, Alex’s recently fired executive producer. (Chip may finally be useful for once, after years of only existing to show how selfish Alex is. Go figure!)

So, the day before the vote, Chip takes the seat between Chris and Yanko at the TMS news desk to deliver a grim warning to UBA employees and the public. Chip argues that America needs a team of “competent” people to inform the public about what is happening in the world—and that there is still value in broadcasting news, as corporate and as comprised as it has become. “This is the last free campfire in America. And if this goes out, we’re all going to be in the fucking dark, people,” Chip says before going on a profanity-filled tirade directed at Marks, much to the delight of everyone inside the control room.

The speech is enough to convince some shareholders (at least temporarily) to vote “no,” but others begin worrying about the financial implications of rejecting Marks’ bid. At this point, Cory’s signature smarmy smile is back on his face—and I, for one, could not be more relieved—because he sees a way to stick it to Marks, get his job back, and save UBA in one fell swoop. Cory tells Earl to compile paperwork for the loan without the use of any computers and to deliver the documents to Cory’s hotel, where he is planning to meet with Reed late at night. What Cory doesn’t anticipate, however, is for Marks to walk into the meeting instead of Earl or Reed with a verbal agreement of his own. (That’s the second time in as many episodes that Mr. Ellison has been left speechless.)

Jon Hamm in The Morning Show

Jon Hamm in The Morning Show
Photo: Apple TV+

To say that the meeting between Cory and Marks is tense would be an understatement. Marks accuses Cory of not being the poster boy for feminism that he thinks he is—he may have protected Bradley from the FBI, but he also outed her—and agrees to make the investigations into Cory go away if he stops interfering with the deal. Marks even offers to give him $10 million as a “parting gift” in exchange for an NDA, but Cory effectively tells the billionaire to shove his offer where the sun don’t shine. Later that evening, a defeated Cory calls his mother and laments that more details about his tenure at UBA will inevitably come to light and make him look like a monster. Simply put, once he comes to power, Marks is going to bury Cory—and there is nothing the latter can do about it.

Jennifer Aniston and Jon Hamm have both brought their effortless charm to shine in their characters’ more romantic moments this season, but it is admittedly a lot more fun when Alex begins looking for ways to outsmart Marks, especially since he somehow doesn’t see it coming at all. Alex visits Laura’s home and proposes a potential merger between UBA and NBN (probably the equivalent of NBC merging with CBS in real life). Against all odds, Laura is able to get the NBN CEO on board, and Alex walks into the UBA shareholder meeting the next afternoon with a few deal points for a “merger of equals” that either matches or exceeds Marks’ $40-billion offer.

TMS is nowhere near as compelling as Succession, but for a couple of minutes, the former clearly attempts to emulate the latter with the classical music that plays before Alex stages a coup. If you’re willing to overlook the implausibility of how quickly Alex was able to put this deal together, the potential antitrust issues, or the fact that no one close to Marks was tipped off ahead of time, you’ll probably end up laughing like I did at the incredulous look on Marks’ face when Alex told the shareholders that she was proposing “a true partnership” with NBN (that is, not with him). Even for Alex Levy, that was stone cold.

While the board looks over the new deal, Alex leads Marks to the newsroom, where Stella and Kate are prepared to unravel each of his lies: Paul told Kate to cut the transmission on the rocket launch in the premiere to hide the fact that his navigation system malfunctioned; he has been reporting fake data to NASA for months; and he has been cracking down on dissident employees who have attempted to sound the alarm bell about his malpractice within Hyperion. As if that wasn’t enough, Alex confronts Marks about blackmailing and silencing Bradley. It’s at times like this that Alex’s self-serving nature begins to come back to the surface. Considering that she hasn’t been very good at her job—and dismissed every conflict of interest—ever since she hooked up with Marks, it’s almost laughable that Alex is suddenly so concerned with her journalistic ethics, but she uses that reasoning to end their relationship. She gives him a final ultimatum: walk away from UBA, come clean to NASA, and make things right with the people he hurt, or UBA will run the story and end Hyperion. Marks, unsurprisingly, pulls out of the deal.

Two weeks later, there are a few important developments at UBA (or will it be called UNBN after the merger?). Yanko and Chris are still the hosts of TMS, which suggests that Chris will be sticking around. (Thank god. This show desperately needs Nicole Beharie.) Stella may become the new CEO, and Mia is planning to stay at least until she is confident that that real changes are being made. As part of an independent investigation, Bradley agrees to answer questions about the nature of her relationship with Cory. Bradley is quick to dismiss any suggestion that Cory ever took advantage of her or that she feared retaliation for not returning his feelings. “I was afraid because he saw me for who I really was—everything about me—and I was afraid I could never be with someone like that,” she says, referring to the night Cory declared he was in love with her.

When they bump into each other after their respective interviews, Cory finally apologizes to Bradley for all the awful things he did to her. Although she acknowledges that Cory crossed a line, Bradley says she thinks she knows why he did them. But the real kicker comes at the end of that scene, when Bradley tells Cory that she misses him. (“Me too,” Cory says, choking up.) Billy Crudup has done some of the best work of his entire career in the third season of The Morning Show, and I’ll be damned if one of the unremarkable supporting players of Succession’s Waystar Royco get an Emmy nomination over him next year. He is the best part of this ridiculously soapy show. Even though we all know that Cory will eventually find his way back to UBA, part of me wonders, where does Cory go from here?

While walking to the FBI office in New York, Alex and Bradley contemplate what would have happened if Alex hadn’t dragged Bradley into UBA in the first place. Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are a true delight to watch onscreen, and I only wish that we had seen more of them together in these 10 episodes. Alex insists that she has no regrets about breaking things off with Paul and reassures Bradley that she and Hal are doing the right thing by turning themselves in willingly. While Alex focuses on rebuilding UBA with NBN, Bradley will be forced to navigate the fallout from her actions, which could include jail time. All of these loose threads set up an intriguing fourth season, which has already been ordered by Apple TV+.

Stray observations

  • For those of you who loved seeing Alex and Paul together, I’m afraid the final scene between them confirms that this is the end of the road for Jon Hamm on TMS. Paul reveals that he is going back to Texas and may have to sell a majority stake in Hyperion.
  • Even though Marks turned out to be another charismatic villain, there is something particularly heartbreaking about him saying “I wish we had taken that helicopter anywhere else” to Alex.
  • What was your favorite Cory line of the episode? Mine is “Cybil, this is fun. We’re gonna kill a billionaire!” The pure excitement on Cory’s face whenever he finds himself in a new high-pressure situation never fails to put a smile on my face. This man lives for chaos.
  • The perky Eagle News anchor who seems to delight at every misstep at UBA borders on cartoonish characterization, but then again, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that a conservative pundit would look for any opportunity to dunk on colleagues who they consider to be part of the liberal elite. It’s just hard to not laugh at the absurdity of the Eagle News anchor begrudgingly admitting that Chip’s “R-rated, populist rant struck a nerve across the political spectrum,” from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Ted Cruz.

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Max Gao