The Disappointment of Steve Carells Character on The Morning Show

Spoiler alert: This article contains revelations about the plot of Season 2, Episode 8 of “The Morning Show.” 

Mitch Kessler is gone. And so is whatever point “The Morning Show” had been working, slowly, toward making.

With the death by suicide of series-long quasi-antagonist Mitch (Steve Carell), “The Morning Show” has killed off the character whose misdeeds had kicked off its story, and the one whose punishment — or not — were its central concern. Like the actual disgraced news anchor Matt Lauer, Mitch lost his job at a morning news show after having been alleged to have committed sexual misconduct in the office; he’s floated around the story’s margins ever since, waiting for a shoe to drop. While the fate of Lauer and people like him remains a vexing question, “The Morning Show” never quite committed to taking that seriously. And, in excising the character from the story, it has shown a profound unseriousness in handling its subject matter: The question of what is to be done with Mitch now never needs to be answered.

Even given the hole into which the show had dug itself before Mitch’s death, this is a missed opportunity. “The Morning Show” has, throughout its run, positioned itself as a drama about the #MeToo movement — or, rather, one that is going to be about that topic, just as soon as it figures out what it wants to say. And the question of what our society ought to do with men who’ve done bad things was endlessly kicked down the road, with Steve Carell’s Mitch Kessler character just hanging around. In the previous episode, the final one featuring him alive, he and Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy had a long, circular argument that so clearly resolved nothing as to suggest more contretemps between these characters might lie ahead. Nope.

“The Morning Show’s” refusal to commit to a point-of-view on Mitch seemed at times to rhyme with the unresolved feelings around certain cultural figures, even as this series lived less purposeful ambiguity than simple confusion. (The real-world version of this story has an element of that: In her new memoir, Katie Couric cites her powerfully mixed feelings about Matt Lauer, wanting both to defend him personally and to see consequences for his actions.) But the show, in its first season, showed a fundamental uncertainty about who the character even was, constantly depicting the ways in which he had a certain exquisite and pained sensitivity before tastelessly treating as a juicy season-finale reveal that he had committed sexual assault, and that the colleague he assaulted later died of an overdose.

This suggests a certain easy eye-for-an-eye symmetry in Mitch’s death. But there’s a stronger sense that “The Morning Show” was simply out of ideas before ever really having a good one. This season’s Italian sojourn, in which Mitch camps out in a villa and discusses cancel culture with a local documentarian, was time bided, and wasted, especially if the resolution of the situation was to be giving Mitch an exit. It’s not as if the viewer wanted Mitch to be punished, exactly — and if they did, he could be said to have received the ultimate punishment. But the show had made a deal with its audience that it would examine questions around the MeToo movement in good faith and with probing curiosity and intelligence. Simply cutting the storyline off and wrapping it up with a monologue by Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) about how Mitch was a complicated guy isn’t going to cut it.

It’s not as if Mitch dying makes it impossible for the show to continue doing whatever it’s trying to do. But it reveals that the show’s endless wheel-spinning exists independently of any character, or any narrative logic. All this time spent pushing and pulling Mitch back and forth over some imagined line between good and bad, just to shrug off his death by remarking the debate continues? It’s a sign that viewers who trusted this show to eventually figure out the Mitch storyline had their time wasted.

Where the show leaves Alex — having a fight with producer Chip (Mark Duplass) — suggests that the drama of “The Morning Show” now has its own momentum, even if viewers can’t understand what’s even at issue anymore. But any sense of potential consequence has fallen away. The question of justice the show set as its target has been finally and permanently evaded. And it’s hard to see where a show that gradually went from being about sexual assault in the workplace to being about itself can go from here.

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