There were plenty of problems with the first season of Smash, but there’s one flaw that really stands out. No, I’m not talking about Ellis. The problem is that it seems we’re supposed to be rooting for Karen to land the part of Marilyn over Ivy, but we don’t know why.
At least in Monday night’s finale, most of the creative team behind Bombshell admitted that the idea of Karen learning a show she’s never performed in one day is absolutely ridiculous. And yet, it’s Karen who’s chosen to fill Rebecca Duvall’s ill-fitting shoes. In real life the show would never go on, but supposedly the critics will “eviserate” Bombshell if the final Boston performance is canceled. (And no soapy showbiz drama would be complete without a poisoned leading lady and an understudy stepping into the spotlight.) Eileen, Tom, and Julia want to put Ivy in as Marilyn since she’s performed nearly the entire show before. Instead they go with Karen because Derek has a particularly vivid hallucination featuring her as Marilyn.
While Karen stumbles her way through the songs we’ve heard develop throughout the season, Ellis is fired (again) when he tells Eileen that he’s the one who gave Rebecca peanuts. Back on stage, Karen does a terrific performance of “Wolf” (though the number contains the most elaborate choreography we’ve seen on the show), but she overhears Eileen saying it’s the only song she performs well. Karen goes back to the dressing room to sulk, and finds Ivy, who’s left Karen’s engagement ring in front of her mirror. Ivy tells Karen that she slept with Dev, and Karen storms off to confront him in the theater.
After angrily breaking up with Dev, Karen runs off and finds a slightly better sulking spot. Derek locates her in Rebecca Duvall’s dressing room and gives her once of his patented leading lady pep talks (minus the makeout session). Since Karen disappeared, Tom, Julia, and Eileen had Ivy prepare to take the lead. For a moment there are two Marilyns onstage, but Karen says she’ll be able to do the show.
Finally, Karen takes the stage as Marilyn and turns in an incredible performance, even though four hours ago she only knew one song well and she spent a considerable amount of rehearsal time weeping. For the closing number, Karen performs the cheesy song Tom and Julia finished only fifteen minutes before the show started. As Karen gets the applause that was lacking in the previous finale number, we cut to Ivy pouring an entire bottle of pills into her hand backstage.
We don’t actually see if Ivy tries to take them, and it may not matter. In an interview on Monday Christian Borle, who plays Tom, reveals that the show will be entirely different next season, thanks to the addition of Gossip Girl‘s Josh Safran behind the scenes. “I just met [new show-runner] Josh Safran for the first time last week and kind of heard what was on the docket, and it’s going to be a totally different … show,” Borle said. “The show is almost getting rebooted.” According to Borle, Season 2 will delve more into the process of writing a musical, which has always been the best part of Smash. Now that the cliche Karen v. Ivy drama has been played out, maybe we’ll get to see some more interesting storylines in round two.