Don’t blink. There’s only one more night of Smash before hiatus and events are starting to hurtle toward the climax, not only of Bombshell’s opening but also of the season’s (sure-to-be cliffhanger) finale. Thankfully producer David Marshall Grant penned this penultimate episode, handling the rapid plot twists with economy and leaving the actors room to act instead of deliver expository plot points – the one brief exception being Karen’s (Katharine McPhee) introduction of Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Dev (Raza Jaffrey).
In our first subplot, Dev awakes and rolls over to find Ivy – a guilty glance, a mutual pact of silence. Enough said. Next subplot, Julia (Debra Messing) chats with her family outside the theater when Michael (Will Chase) exits his cab – a glance, a pause. Again, enough said. Third subplot, Ivy comes to rehearsal early and asks Derek (Jack Davenport), “Were you just not going to say goodbye? Three days ago you told me you loved me.” Derek replies that Rebecca needed his attention. “Is there any other approach?” More than enough said.
As the rapid-fire plot continues, director Robert Duncan McNeill handles every fade and crosscut with a smooth and sure hand. When the curtain rises on the first preview of Bombshell, we briefly see Rebecca (Uma Thurman) in “Let Me Be Your Star,” vocally much improved since first rehearsal but still not as good as Ivy or understudy Karen, and then clips of her in “Twentieth Century Fox” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” The whirlwind continues with a snippet of “Don’t Say Yes” for Darryl Zanuck, played by – hey, when did Marc Kudisch join the cast of Smash? Did I blink and miss that? This male chorus number segues into the female chorus number “Smash,” the one original in this episode, which pairs Zanuck with Ivy (Kudisch’s real-life co-star in Broadway’s 9 to 5) and Karen.
Nursing their wounds after the show, Eileen (Anjelica Huston) shares drinks with boyfriend Nick (Thorsten Kaye) and assistant Ellis (Jaime Cepero), who disses the star and his boss. As Nick escorts Ellis out, Eileen approaches the lounge pianist – hey, it’s Marc Shaiman, who writes the songs for this show … well, not the song Eileen is about to sing, “September Song” from Knickerbocker Holiday. Huston isn’t the belter Hilty is, but her Sprechstimme was graceful and deeply felt, not unusual considering her grandfather Walter made the song famous (and vice versa).
Meanwhile, Rebecca drinks a tainted kale smoothie that lands her in the hospital … but she’ll be fine we’re told. Still, Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) invites everyone to church with him to pray for Rebecca. Really? This is the one truly clumsy setup in an otherwise smooth episode. As everyone files into the narthex, though, there’s a nicely handled awkward moment between Ivy and Dev and another between Tom and Julia.
In church, we hear the firebrand preacher – hey, it’s Hinton Battle. If I blinked I would have missed him. Is he going to sing? … No, but Sam sounds fabulous in “Stand.” Unfortunately, most of the song is given to Karen. As she sings … and sings … and sings, Ivy and Julia get all weepy and Dev is so overcome that he goes outside. As Dev is about to confess his sins to Karen, they are interrupted by a call from Rebecca, who announces she’s not coming back to the show. When Karen breaks the news to the ensemble, Bobby (Wesley Taylor) asks the question everyone is thinking: Who’s going to play Marilyn?
Cue dramatic music and fade to black. With that, we head toward the finale. After an entire season of bed-hopping twists and turns, it seems we may finally return to the heart of the show – back to Marilyn, back to musical theater.