Smash series finale recap: The Nominations/The Tonys
And so we've reached Smash's curtain call -- a flashy two-parter that gives most of the show's characters exactly what they deserve
Leave it to Smash — or at least Smash‘s self-referential second season — to end on a winking note of meta commentary. The series’ last song is a cheeky, Chicago-esque duet that finds rivals Karen and Ivy putting aside their differences, donning matching dresses, and simultaneously delivering an important musical message:
“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
…Let’s give ’em that big finish
And leave ’em wanting more!”
Subtle as always, Smash!
So, did “The Nominations” and “The Tonys” deliver a finish big enough to erase all memory of “what came before” — the [melo]drama, the [unintentional] laughter, the scarves? Of course it didn’t. While a frustrating finale can cast a pall over a great TV series, the opposite isn’t really true; months of shaky storytelling can’t be redeemed by a perfectly-executed ending, because that ending is affected by all the shaky storytelling that preceded it. For example: I was thrilled to know that Jimmy’s getting carted off to jail, but I also can’t help wishing he hadn’t been consistently loathsome enough to make me root for his incarceration.
That said, I do think that Smash basically stuck its landing. Yes, there were wrinkles — Michael Swift? What the hell are you doing here? — but generally, all that seemed wrong (Karen’s consistent over-praising) was made right (Ivy won the Tony!); the kingdoms were filled with joy (Tom and Julia, together again!); and those who deserved to (basically everyone but Jimmy) are certain to live long and happy lives, albeit ones that takes place only in our imaginations (read: weird fanfiction).
Now that we know how the whole shebang ends, recapping the first half of the finale — which covers the lead up to the Tony nominations — seems sort of unnecessary. But hey: There’s only so much Smash left to dissect, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let one ridiculous moment pass without obsessive scrutiny.
So! Hour 1 begins with poor, knocked up Ivy sadly singing a cover of “Feelin’ Alright” and occasionally punctuating her vocals with morning sickness. She’s acting so erratic that fair-weather friends Jessica and Bobby can’t help but pick-a-little, talk-a-little, and tell Sam that they think she’s hopped up on goofballs again.
You know who else is being crazy? Tom, who keeps checking his phone to see if he’s won an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Direction… even though he and Eileen are currently sitting in a rival Broadway musical’s audience. Big faux pas, dude. While Tom learns that he did actually snag the prize, his buzz is immediately harshed when he realizes that hunky Tony committee member Patrick Dillon has been watching him behave obnoxiously all afternoon. Spoiler alert: Tom annoys Patrick a few times more, but Patrick ends up voting for Tom to get a Best Director nod anyway. (What? We’ve got 120 minutes of plot to get through, and not all of it is worth the virtual ink.)
NEXT: Once upon a time in Smashland
The Outer Critics Circle has been kind to Hit List, awarding the show some nine prizes (including a Best
Blank Stare Actress award for Karen). But like Tom, the team can’t enjoy their wins because of a new crisis: Ana is filing a wrongful termination suit against both Derek and Jerry. The whole thing will go away if Daisy just exits the show and gives Ana her part back… but Daisy has no intention of doing that, because 10 years of endless striving in The Theatah automatically turns somebody into a bad person. Good thing Karen never has to work for any of her success; it’d only corrupt her.
As Karen tries to convince Daisy to choose another choice — that’s the thing about choices; they’re choosable! — Jimmy tries to convince The Village Voice‘s (ex) gossip columnist Michael Musto that Kyle deserves a Tony nomination. Alas, he’s not doing a great job, partially because he seems to have developed a nasty case of the Black Lung. (Can’t you just picture Jimmy yelling, “Merman! And not Ethel, either!”) Musto himself doesn’t help matters. He tells Jimmy that the theater world believes Julia was Hit List‘s true narrative visionary, mostly because Julia keeps talking about how great she thinks Kyle was. And on Smash, nobody is ever nice unless they’ve got an ulterior motive. Karen reassures Jimmy, saying Julia must be laying it on so thickly because she’s embarrassed about having used a script doctor herself on Bombshell.
Lawsuit or no lawsuit, Ana’s trying to move on with her life by auditioning for the national tour of Once. (Go for it, Ana — it might lead to a big TV gig!) She sings “If You Want Me” beautifully, the casting directors love her… and then it’s all ruined when she realizes Derek has set the whole thing up to get her out of town.
Speaking of messes Derek made: Ivy’s pregnancy hormones have led her to insult Hit List, cheerily telling a group of fans that the show only made it to Broadway because Kyle Larsoned. The jab, naturally, is captured on video and immediately posted on YouLenz. After a heart-to-heart with Sam, Ivy decides that the only way to get herself together is to tell her ex about the baby face-to-face. So she heads to the Outer Critics Circle Awards ceremony, conveniently held at what’s become The Only Bar in Town. At Table 46, she and Derek — who’s been avoiding her calls, mostly because of the whole lawsuit thing — have a promising conversation that ends with the promise of another meeting that night. There, she’ll finally spill the beans about the bun in her oven. Oh yeah — these two are gonna raise history’s most insecure, lecherous kid. Maybe they can name him Liberace.
Ivy then tries to make amends with Jimmy, apologizing for what she said about Kyle’s death. Predictably, he’s not exactly the forgiving type — leading Julia and Tom to come see what the fuss is about, which leads Karen and Derek to do the same, which leads to a big fight, which finally leads to Eileen rolling her eyes, marching over, and telling the kids to stop their whining RIGHT THIS SECOND or she’ll turn this car around and NOBODY will get to go to Disney World.
NEXT: Four reasons to wish Smash‘s fake Imitation of Life musical existed
And with that, everyone starts magically acting like the grown-ass people they are. Kidding! But Jimmy, at least, starts behaving a little less petulantly, mostly because Karen puts him in time-out (a.k.a. Hit List‘s audience) and he realizes that the show will be Kyle’s legacy, whether or not his dearly departed pal gets recognized by the American Theatre Wing. Julia also slinks up to Jimmy after the performance, telling him that while she’s not going to lie about what she did for Hit List, she’s also not going to lie about what Peter the Dramaturg (hey, remember him?) did for her and for Bombshell. “Artists shouldn’t feel ashamed about helping each other,” she says as “The More You Know” music swells. “It shouldn’t always be a competition.” Spoiler Alert: Soft thinking like this is what leads to a dead kid beating you for Best Book.
Karen and Derek’s Muse/Artist connection is so profound that she just knows he’s sitting at Table 46 that night, waiting to meet up with Ivy. She and Ana go from Hit List‘s theater to the bar, where Ana tells her ex-director that she’s going to take his Once buyout and drop the suit. Wait — why? There must have been some explanatory scene here that got cut for time; otherwise, there’s really no good reason given for Ana’s quick 180. Anyway, she does add that she still hasn’t forgiven Derek, and that she knows he wouldn’t have stopped his gross behavior unless she had exposed him. Then Ana leaves… revealing Ivy, who suddenly starts rethinking the whole baby daddy thing. She, too, leaves, after sadly telling Derek that he’s never done the right thing.
Bummed out? Don’t be — because here come Christine Ebersole and Cheyenne Jackson to announce the Tony nominees! The ones we care about (sorry, Best Scenic Design for a Play):
Featured Actress in a Musical
Leigh Conroy, Bombshell
Ivy Lynn, Liaisons
Lindsay Mendez, The Last Good Year
Anika Noni Rose, Imitation of Life
Daisy Parker, Hit List
Casey Nicholaw, The Gathering Storm (Easter Egg alert: He also directed an episode of Smash earlier this season)
Susan Stroman, Imitation of Life
Derek Wills, Bombshell
Derek Wills, Hit List
Book of a Musical
Kyle Bishop, Hit List
Harvey Fierstein, The Gathering Storm
Julia Houston, Bombshell
David Lindsay-Abaire, The Last Good Year
According to the announcers, Kyle’s the youngest person ever nominated for this award. (For what it’s worth, Larson died at 35 and would have been 36 if he had lived to collect his own Best Book Tony.)
Tom Levitt and Julia Houston, Bombshell
Jimmy Collins, Hit List
Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner, Imitation of Life
Wow, Imitation of Life has an amazing team. Anyone else really starting to wish it existed?
NEXT: And finally, the category we’ve all been waiting for…
Director of a Musical
Rob Ashford, The Gathering Storm
Tom Levitt, Bombshell
Diane Paulus, Oliver!
Derek Wills, Hit List
Derek, apparently, is the first person to be nominated for three Tonys in one year since Bob Fosse, who managed that feat in both 1986 and 1976.
Lead Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Seesaw
Karen Cartwright, Hit List
Sutton Foster, Oliver!
Audra McDonald, House of Flowers
We’re friends, so I can admit that this is precisely what I wrote in my notes after these nominees were announced: “WHAT?!?! THIS IS BULLSH– I HATE EVERYTHING.” And then Christine Ebersole opened her beautiful mouth and announced that she’d actually missed one name: Ivy Lynn, for Bombshell. Heart attack averted!
All in all, Bombshell gets 12 nominations and Hit List gets 13. Not a bad haul, especially for Derek “Fosse Jr.” Wills — but alas, the wretched womanizer can’t enjoy his moment of glory because Ivy’s words have cut to the very core of him. (She’s his Baxter.) There’s only one thing that might put the director out of his misery: Confessing the whole sordid Daisy/Ana saga to Michael Riedel, on the record. And all of a sudden, this finale just got more interesting.
Before we move on to episode 2, let’s breeze through a few quick Footlights:
– Derek quotes his “good friend Ronnie Moore” before telling Riedel all about the scandal. Wondering why Ronnie wasn’t nominated for Lead Actress for that revival of The Wiz we heard so much about, and also why she never popped up again this season? Blame scheduling conflicts.
– Josh Safran also tells EW that originally, he planned to bring Ronnie back to playsThe Diva in Hit List — pitting her against Karen and Ivy as a lead actress at the Tonys. Aw man, that sounds much better than this Daisy business. If only they had cast someone slightly less famous to play Ronnie! (Speaking of Anika Noni Rose, she would have killed.)
– Ivy’s assessment of Hit List apparently created a backlash against Jimmy’s show, though this is mentioned and dropped so quickly that it might as well not have happened at all.
– Tom’s ultra-awkward assessment of his relationship with Derek, as said in his Outer Critics Circle acceptance speech: “You and I go together about as well as Lena Dunham and a bra.”
– Yo Jimmy — if you’ve got a debilitating cough, maaaaybe stop smoking for a few days. Also: Guess he wasn’t nominated for Lead Actor, huh?
– Also, groan — Frank has reemerged, in order to remind us that Julia a) used to be married and b) had an affair with Michael Swift. This information will be sort of important in hour 2. Mostly, though, it feels like a storyline shoehorned in just in case Smash somehow ended up landing another season.
Onwards and upwards to the final finale! We begin with another dream sequence, courtesy of Tom, which finds the entire cast singing “Under Pressure” and slowly gathering on the stage of the Marquis Theatre — where the Tonys will take place that night. It’s cool to see everyone in one place, singing together, even if the overall effect (the way they trade lines of the song, the spinny camera) is a hair too close to Gleeville for my liking.
NEXT: Jimmy ruins everything, again
Tom wakes up — fortunately/unfortunately not next to Ellis this time — and gets to work. It’s Tony time, and he and Julia have an acceptance speech to write. (At some point, they also apparently pen a closing number for the awards show… though I guess that detail was supposed to be a surprise.) Julia also has to take care of some boring divorce business that’s just as snoozeworthy as last season’s adoption story. All you really need to know: She writes a detailed history of her affair with Michael, then meets up and sort of makes amends with Frank, then heads to the Tonys. Cut, print… moving on.
Derek, it seems, has been in downward spiral mode since he came clean about the Daisy chain. It’s so bad that the same tinkly snippet of “Let Me Be Your Star” that played when Ivy lept off the wagon last season is underscoring his scene. Scratch that: It’s so bad that even Karen Cartwright, muse to all, friend to none, can’t convince him to get out of bed. So Karen does something genuinely kind: she tells Ivy that Derek’s in a bad place, and admits that in this case, she doesn’t have “the magic touch” Ivy apparently does. (But… but… the magical Karen Cartwright!)
So Ivy heads to Derek’s formerly spotless bachelor pad and speaks from her heart, saying that she doesn’t want to go to the awards that night without him. Oh, and that she still loves him. Oh, and that he could really, really use a shower. The baby, though, stays under wraps, because you really shouldn’t tell a dude he’s going to be a dad unless he’s clean.
Originally, Hit List‘s gang was planning to do “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream” at the awards. Great choice, guys — it’s the show’s best song! Oh wait: Because Jimmy doesn’t want to perform at the show for some reason, the cast is told that they’ll actually be performing “I’m Not Sorry” instead. Booooo. Karen and co. feel the same way I do about the song, only in their case, it’s just because they all hate Daisy. So they resolve to handle this the mature way: by telling Jerry that Daisy can’t
sit with them peform with them at the show. Jerry, magnificent bastard that he is, tells Daisy that this simply means she’ll be doing a solo number at the Tonys. Jimmy, this is all your fault!
Hey, wait a minute — where is Jimmy? Oh, you know, just leaving his palatial Greenpoint apartment with all his belongings packed in a few suitcases… uh oh. Is he running away to join Dev and Ellis and Leo in Hated Smash Character Siberia?
No, he’s just heading to tea at Tom’s apartment. (Aw, remember our season 1 drinking game? There’s tea! Everybody swig!) Clearly, though, Jimmy also has something else up his sleeve — during the tea party, he tells Julia that if Kyle wins Best Book, he wants her to accept the award on his friend’s behalf. It’s looking an awful lot like Jimmy might be skipping town before the Tonys… that is, until he arrives at Karen’s just in time for the show. Well. I’m glad we figured that out so quickly.
NEXT: Tony Tony Tonyyyy
Welcome, everyone, to the 67th Annual Tony Awards, a ceremony with no host, about 100 guests, and zero nominated plays! Stil, you’ve got to admire the efficiency of this episode. In short order, we see Daisy nab the Featured Actress award (… over not only Megan Hilty but also Bernadette Peters. Like, the voters remember how she got this part, right?), Kyle get his posthumous prize, Jimmy deliver a surprisingly heartfelt and moving speech, and Tom and Julia win the Original Score statuette they so richly deserve. A moment of silent, respectful awe, please, for Shaiman and Wittman, Smash‘s true superheroes. Also: The way that these two keep joking together, unaware that they’ve been declared winners, really brings back the good old days of their best friendship.
Bombshell has only barely broken Hit List‘s winning streak when Derek wins the Choreography award… for Hit List. Does the audience smell a sweep? Anyway, Derek surprises everyone by actually showing up to accept the honor in person. His peers are this close to tossing tomatoes at him, yet the majority of them still voted in his favor even after the Daisy story broke out. Capriciousness, thy name is theater people!
Backstage, Derek realizes that he can’t really make up for what he did to Ana — but he can manage the next best thing, which is making Daisy feel really, really awful. He removes the newly-minted Tony winner’s “Reach For Me” harness, lets her know that she’s not going to perform after all, and paves the way for Karen and the Hit List crew to put on an impromptu, a cappella version of “Broadway, Here I Come” instead. The bad news: Some poor crew members spent hours rigging up Cirque du Soleil silks for no damn reason. The good news: The cast’s Stomp-inspired beat is cheesy but cute, the vocals all sound great, and it’s an appropriate way to bookend the season. Remember Jimmy singing this song alone (or so he thought) at the bar? We were so young then!
Immediately, though, I forget about how much I liked the number… because it’s Best Actress time. All our lives, we were only waiting for this moment to arrive. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this. Just a moment… one peculiar passing moment… ahem. We of course cut to a commercial before can learn whether Karen or Ivy is victorious. (Thank Sondheim that Safran didn’t decide to punish us by cutting to black, Sopranos-style.) And then the show returns, only to reveal that…
NEXT: I mean, I already wrote who wins at the top of the recap. But if you’ve forgotten already…
IT’S IVY! IVY GETS THE TONY!
FOUR ONE FOR YOU, IVY! It was not until this very moment that I realized how completely invested I still am in Smash, and how much I’ll truly miss it once it’s gone forever. Broadway’s pregnant princess strides up to the podium, where she accepts the prize that was always hers and praises the people, both little and big, who have helped her achieve this milestone: “The magnificent Leigh Conroy, for giving me a life in the theater. Tom Levitt, for being an amazing friend until he suddenly wasn’t. Josh Safran, for allowing me to be much more likable this season, though I personally could have done without the whole baby thing.” The only way I could be happier right now would be if Terrible Ellis suddenly scuttled out from underneath the stage, snatched away Ivy’s trophy, unfurled his leathery wings, and flew with the statuette into the balcony, where — after unleashing a single, piercing cry — he disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Sigh. Clearly, that marginally amusing paragraph is my way of treading water, because I don’t want to admit that the episode — the season — the series — is almost over. Anyhow, we don’t get to see Best Director presented — but we do watch Rosie O’Donnell announce proudly that Bombshell has managed to wrest Best Musical from Hit List‘s edgy, iPad-encrusted grasp. It had to end this way, as this ended up being the series finale. And as our onetime heroes hold their awards aloft, basking in the applause of an unfortunately puny-sounding audience, it’s almost possible to hear an echo of the show Smash always wanted to be.
All that’s left to do is wrap up everybody’s storylines — and, of course, pair the spares. Tom and Julia are approached about writing a movie musical — by none other than Patrick Dillon, the cute closeted dude who would have been Tom’s love interest in season 3. Their separation, it seems, is off; better finish writing that Gatsby play anyway, Julia! Tom and Patrick kiss; Julia, during the final montage, surprises Michael Swift with a visit, which, eh. We don’t see Ivy actually tell Derek about the baby — but from the way he’s gently touching her belly, it seems like he’s finally chosen the blond Marilyn over the brunette. Eileen is once again dating bartender Nick, freed from prison and ready to make some more shady deals.
And speaking of shadiness: More Jimmy backstory, because that’s exactly what season 2 didn’t have enough of! As he tells Karen, five years ago, he watched a girl overdose and ran away instead of helping her. That decision haunted him… but thanks to Karen’s good influence, he’s finally decided to turn himself in. Because the girl didn’t actually die — hooray, no real consequences! — Jimmy will just have to serve 6 to 18 months in jail. And all the while, Karen will be waiting for him, sniffin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ that one day she learns his actual name.
NEXT: Curtain call
Which leads us back to where the recap began: “Big Finish,” the Karen/Ivy duet that plays Smash out. Why are these two actresses singing the Tonys’ closing song? Why, especially, are they doing it in front of a sign that says Smash? When did they rehearse this, and when did Tom and Julia write it, and why didn’t we know it was happening until the moment it did? Who cares — the number is old-fashioned, catchy, performed with panache… and fairly nonsensical, which is always how I’ve preferred my Smash. Farewell, my Broadway babies: You certainly left me wanting more.
It’s the laaaaast Footlights:
– Update: Uh, guys? At the beginning of the episode, Anjelica Huston’s name is totally spelled wrong.
– Is “Under Pressure” the first time we’ve ever seen Derek sing? Is it okay that during it, he kind of reminded me of Spike performing “Rest in Peace” during “Once More, With Feeling”?
– “Now’s not the time to get fat, my dear!” “Taaaake tiiiime off!” Bernadette Peters, you beautiful monster. Please play Megan Hilty’s mother on her next TV series. Also, here’s the full version of the Tony acceptance speech she was making Ivy watch — guess Leigh, too, starred in Annie Get Your Gun.
– I know we’re not supposed to, since she got the guy and everything — but man, I do worry about what’l happen to Ivy’s career once she has that kid. This does, however, mean that someone could conceivably reboot Smash 25 years from now, revolving the show around Liberace or Liberacia Lynn-Wills’s bed-hopping Broadway adventures. Note to the future: Make this show.
– Ivy: “Let’s Be Bad.” Karen: “I’m Not Sorry.” They’re song titles — and things both characters commonly say in conversation!
– We catch a glimpse at an article about Daisy that trumpets her journey “from victim to vixen.” Maybe this sort of explains why she hasn’t been blacklisted from Broadway society like Derek has… but wait, no it doesn’t. Why don’t people seem to care that she blackmailed him?
– Here is a thing that Josh Safran had to cut from the finale, due to time: At the Tony afterparty, an agent played by Nadia Dajani approaches Karen and tells her, “I I know you didn’t win tonight, but I want to tell you I think you’re incredible and I don’t just think you’re a stage star — I think you’re a movie star.” I’m so glad this didn’t make it in; after watching it, I may have gone blind on account of excessive eye-rolling.
– That moment was meant to set up season 3. Here’s the rest of what Safran dreamed up: The season would indeed have revolved around the making of a movie musical, one “still using Broadway actors, still using Broadway stages; maybe it would have even been set in the world of Broadway.” Tom and Derek would fight over directing the film, while Jimmy would write its score with Julia. (From jail, or…?) Michael Swift was going to go through some “image rehab” after Julia found out that she had to work with him, then realized she was still in love with him. Tom was going to struggle with dating closeted Patrick. Eileen would have been given a “powerful film producer” love interest, “sort of a Harvey Weinstein.” Ivy… would still be on the show as well, though Safran doesn’t reveal much more than that. But hey, she’ll always have that Tony.
And now, the end is here
And so we face the final curtain
My friends, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
We’ve watched a show of fools
Who both lit and stunk up the airwaves
But in the end, who cares: They did it theeeeiiiiir way.