Smash season finale recap: Gentlemen Prefer Cartwrights

One of our leads snags the part of Marilyn, while the other recreates the star's fatal overdose. Guess which is which?
Ep. 15 | Aired May 14, 2012

WHO'S THAT GIRL? I'll tell you who she isn't -- Jessica, that's who. When will it be Jessica's turn to shine? Does anyone else remember who Jessica is??

Eric Liebowitz/NBC

Here's the last thing I wrote in my notes while watching Smash's fittingly exasperating finale: "Guhhhhhhhh." And you can quote me on that.

Why am I so frustrated? Firstly, Smash has a nasty habit of telling rather than showing. Throughout the season, we've heard characters praise Karen's mysterious star quality. This quality is apparently inexplicable -- which is convenient, since it saves the show from having to justify why everyone in the universe looks like they've seen the face of God whenever Karen opens her mouth to sing. (Maybe that's why Katharine McPhee always keeps her lips slightly parted.) We're asked to believe that there's simply something about Karen that makes her perfect for Marilyn without ever once seeing evidence of that something. And since we can see that Ivy sings and dances just as well as her rival, the idea that Karen's got some enigmatic talent makes even less sense.

This problem is exacerbated by another glaring flaw: Ivy's complete character assassination. Back in my recap of Episode 4, I worried that Smash was stacking the deck in Karen's favor by transforming the sweet, likeable Ivy we once knew into "a catty, cruel diva hellbent on making Karen miserable." 11 episodes later, Ivy is even worse -- she's now a hot mess who screws up onstage, pops pills with abandon, and indulges in spiteful revenge sex just because she can.

Ivy's final, desperate, selfish act not only strains credulity but also renders the character totally unsympathetic. The moment she takes those pills -- and yes, we don't see her actually consume them, but do you really think she just put the dolls back in the bottle? -- Ivy becomes the equivalent of a snotty kid planning to teach his mom a lesson by running away. There's no way to feel for Ivy here; instead, we're left resenting her for trying to steal the spotlight on Karen's big day.

And what, by the way, is the lesson of the entire Karen/Ivy opposition? That trying is bad? That if you're not born with some intangible essence, you might as well give up on your dreams altogether? Honestly, part of me hopes that Ivy kicks the bucket backstage before Season 2. If nothing else, it'd allow Megan Hilty to ditch this show for better material.

Like I said before: Guhhhhhhhh. But hey -- there's more to this show than Perfect Karen and Screwed-Up Ivy. And not everything about the finale made me want to shake my fist at the heavens while yelling "WHYYYY?" Take, for example, the episode's zippy opening, which easily establishes the tension filling the Bombshell crew. Their next preview is in just 12 hours, but they still haven't chosen a new Marilyn. Karen is the understudy, but understudies never get rehearsed in until after previews; Ivy, on the other hand, knows the entire part. How will the creative team choose between them? This looks like a job for Derek's patented Hallucination Method.

NEXT: Terrible Ellis, you're fired!

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