Smash played up last week’s Ivy/Dev hookup — and even the subplot about Rebecca Duvall getting “poisoned” — in order to keep us from guessing the real drama of last night’s episode 1×14 “Previews”: Stellar writing team Tom and Julia broke up over the stress of rewriting Bombshell‘s ending and Julia feeling betrayed about Tom bringing back Michael Swift.
So yeah, the whole “Will Karen find out her boyfriend/maybe fiancé hooked up with Ivy?” tension was a red herring; and Ivy confronting Derek about sleeping with Rebecca was about as ineffectual as Hannah’s speech on Sunday’s Girls, since Derek seems to think that he and Ivy are still dating even though he’s “managing” the talent? The compartmentalizing going on there is shocking, and yet Ivy doesn’t push him. But no, the writers slyly set up these romantic dramas so we’d be distracted from the impending Tom/Julia split.
Despite all attempts, Smash has stumbled when trying to make us root for its showbiz couples. Karen/Dev, Ivy/Derek, Eileen/Hot Bartender… We don’t care if these guys break up, make up, or throw Manhattans in each other’s faces. The only nuanced partnership we’ve witnessed is the decade-long professional and personal bond between lyricist Julia and composer Tom. There are times, when I’m explaining the show to friends, that I mistakenly call Julia’s husband “Tom” instead of his actual name, Frank. (Though can you blame me, when Vulture hilariously calls him “Unfrozen Caveman Husband”?) When we witness their cute anniversary ritual of watching their first show Three Upon A Match together, the director gets their names mixed up because in everyone’s minds they’re so enmeshed.
Things have been strained between them all season, from them always backing different frontrunners for the Marilyn Monroe role to Julia’s extremely poor decision to carry on a second affair with Michael. With the latter, Tom has been supportive enough to not cut Julia off and to even cover for her at first, but it was clear he never approved of what she was doing to her family. And when the other Joe DiMaggio dropped out of previews in Boston and Julia was blissfully ignoring the problem in Manhattan, Tom agreed to bring back Michael Swift because that was the professional thing to do. It didn’t stop Julia from trying to rip him a new one, though:
Julia: “You put the show so far ahead of my family that I may not be able to save it.”
Tom: “You did that.”
Julia: “And we’re such a team… Except we’re not, are we? Because the show is more important than all of us. It sounds so weird. We’re not a team.”
The thing is, even though Christian Borle gives some really soulful puppy-dog eyes when Julia calls out Tom on letting the show take precedence over her family drama, it’s not convincing: It’s still her fault that her domestic life is in shambles. Such one-sided blame makes it hard to take this break-up seriously, but it was an emotional scene nonetheless.
As if they knew how false this rang, the writers brought in a deus ex machina in the form of Karen’s gospel singing to reunite Tom and Julia, and to give Julia “the perfect ending” for Bombshell. Because even though Tom has been staunchly Team Ivy since day one, and Julia is too busy juggling all of the men in her life to care who gets Marilyn at this point, Karen is still the driving force to their reconciliation. And so I shouldn’t even have expended the energy to care.