Tonight’s two-part Smash series finale – two episodes forced into a single episode, in truth – was a bit if a mixed bag, if we’re honest [and if we never have to use that tired pseudo-signature phrase of ours again we’ll be happy women – ed.]. While the second half (the true finale, if you will) was a fantastic episode worthy of a reunion run down the line, the first, “The Nominations”, left something to be desired.
It’s not that it was a bad episode, it’s just that we would have hoped for more from the opening episode of finale night. It was that bit too chaotic, most likely a result of trying to cram a cliffhanger and resolutions into two episodes when the writers had hoped for a third season to sort it all out. One could argue that it gave everything one could hope for – a healthy dash of Smash’s typical drama, some twists, some turns, some emotion, some closure (though, of course, the majority of that closure was saved for the second episode) – but it’s almost as though the writers took it that single step too far. It was all a little heightened as if, in the excitement of finishing up (the televisual equivalent of summer fever), they let the spirit of the show carry them away and lost all sense of constraint and moderation.
Not that that’s entirely a bad thing. That heightened drama, that gathering of arc and that bustle to the finish line, gave us some great moments, some fine comedy and just a couple of last minute twists to be unraveled in the episode to follow. This first half focused on the Outer Critics Circle nominations and awards, building toward the all-important Tonys. It was the start of the mud slinging (and also the somewhat hurried end of it). The drama continued to center on Ana, Daisy and Derek, and on Ivy’s pregnancy. Side issues included Julia’s divorce, Tom’s potential fledgling romance with Patrick Dillon (Luke Macfarlane, Brothers & Sisters), and Jimmy’s determination to get Kyle his Tony nod. This latter arc brought some sweet moments, as well as a rekindling of romance between Jimmy and Karen. The moments that most set up the finale episode were, of course, those Tony noms – 12 for Bombshell, 13 for Hit List; Julia and Kyle for book; Julia and Tom, and Jimmy for original score; Ivy, Leigh and Daisy for featured performance; Tom and Derek for directing; Derek (twice) for choreography; and Ivy and Karen for best actress – and Derek’s final redemptive admission.
Unfortunately, our greatest take away from the episode was none of these things. What struck us most was how much of a relief it must be for Katharine McPhee that she will no longer have to stand woodenly on stage, struggling to emote but only ever achieving the grimace of a heavily-botoxed starlet. What freedom she must feel now that she is once more able to smize, enthuse and despair, and to display the marked difference between them. Though, we suppose, we’re assuming a lot there.
The true finale episode, “The Tonys”, was topped and tailed by a pair of indescribably apt numbers. The first, a dream sequence so much the staple of Hollywood musicals (modernized solely due to the fact that the performance was a cover of famous Queen song “Under Pressure”), ably set up the episode while also giving a cheeky nod and wink to the show’s cancellation. The only-so-so closing song (lots of razzle-dazzle, but very little to back it up; fantastically knowing lyrics, but a melody and tempo that fizzled) was clearly a hastily-written, last minute insert, and yet it served its purpose. Its lyrics? “Give ‘em that big finish / and they’ll forget what came before / just give ‘em that big finish / but always keep one eye on the door … they’ll forgive and forget if you’re good in the end … just give ‘em that big finish / and who knows what next year has in store / though the story is finished / we’ll keep dreaming on / and though we’re sure to miss our song when it’s gone / let’s give ‘em that big finish / and leave them wanting more”. It, and the episode that surrounded it, did, in fact, leave us wanting more.
The focus of this second episode was on the Tonys, of course, but it didn’t by any means neglect other storylines. Ivy’s pregnancy and the Daisy/Derek arc were both featured, as was the relatively new mystery of Jimmy’s past. That latter storyline interested us most – the mystery, thrown up in “The Nominations”, was a driving force behind “The Tonys”. It kept us guessing and did surprise. It also lent itself fantastically to the sense of continuation that came from the final moments. It gave the Jimmy/Karen arc closure and a sense of hope.
Turning to the other two featured storylines, Derek’s final redemption was welcome. We’ve always known he was, beneath it all, a good guy, and his self-sacrifice and subsequent magnanimous nobility, when contrasted with his earlier self-pity and misery, spoke of a new Derek. A Derek about to soar and truly become the person he was always meant to be. This played into Ivy’s pregnancy perfectly. Her feelings toward the baby were vastly changeable throughout the episode, and seemed to hinge on Derek’s behavior. More, even, than simply the matter of telling him about the baby, the issue of whether she would keep it or not seemed to revolve around Derek’s suitability. Evidently, she saw some of what we saw in him as episode’s end brought a touching shot of them embracing, clearly having decided to raise the child together. The most interesting aspect of this storyline, however, was the potential contrast between Ivy’s style of motherhood and Leigh’s. We were reminded that Leigh always chose the theatre over Ivy, and we were left to wonder if Ivy would make the same choices. We wish we could find out.
And, finally, Smash would not have been complete without those Tony awards. The results fell out much as we would have expected. Kyle did, of course, win for Best Book. Julia and Tom won for Best Score, Music and/or Lyrics. Derek and Hit List for Best Choreography. Part of us would have liked to see Karen win Best Actress. We feel like we were always supposed to root for her against the villainous Ivy. But we can’t fault the writers for going the other way with it. All told, Ivy was just more likeable. Not to mention a better actress, through and through. We would have liked to see Hit List win Best Musical, but we’re not surprised it lost out to Bombshell. Bombshell was the Smash audience’s first love. It was always the show. To have it lose to Hit List would have been worse than insulting.
As with so many finales, the closing moments gave us a sense that the lives of these characters we’ve grown fond of would continue without us. Ivy and Derek’s decision, Julia and Tom renewing their partnership, Jimmy turning himself in and Karen vowing to wait, and Julia at Michael Swift’s door telling him she always loved him… all of this told us that these characters would go on singing and dancing, crying and fighting, loving and laughing without their audience, and without a curtain call or encore. And, if we’re being honest, that’s just the way it should be. – K
“The Nominations”: “I brought scones. And scotch, in case things go badly.” – Julia
“The Tonys”: “I’d like to thank my mother, Leigh Conroy, the magnificent Leigh Conroy, for giving me the greatest gift, and that is a life in the theatre. I can only hope that one day I can give that gift to my children. For me, there is nothing more magical than that moment right as the lights go down and the crowd is waiting in silence with anticipation for the show to begin. It’s a moment full of hope and full of possibilities. So I’d like to thank the audience for coming and for believing, as I do, that there is nothing more important or special as live theatre.” – Ivy’s acceptance speech, a love letter to Broadway