‘The Morning Show’ Boss Unpacks Season 3 Finale Twist: ‘What if the Women Solve the Problem?’

Note: The following story contains spoilers from “The Morning Show” Season 3 finale. 

Even Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), the king of chaos theory, couldn’t have predicted the rollercoaster “Morning Show” Season 3 finale. Many moves were made, both solid and uncertain, by Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) and Paul Marks (Jon Hamm).

Turns out Bradley was right about Paul Marks, even before he confirmed her suspicions by attempting to silence her on air by threatening to out her big bad secret. He even knew that Laura had searched the hack database to discover that Bradley covered up her brother’s assault of a police officer at the Capitol and that she didn’t report the integrity-compromising news. After Cory tried to convince Bradley that Paul leaked the piece in the Vault that cast Cory as Bradley’s groomer, she figured out that Paul had her surveilled, and she warned Alex that he might be doing it to her too. The moment of truth arrived when Alex texted Bradley to go back to Hanover instead of West Virginia where she is actually from, to see if Paul would pick up on the wording. He mentioned Hanover right when Alex got home, catching him dead in the act.

Alex then visited Laura Peterson to suggest a merger between UBA and NBN to pool resources and ultimately propose an alternative to the deal Paul Marks would have made in acquiring UBA only to strip it for parts and dissolve the legacy media outlet.

Showrunner Charlotte Stoudt answered our burning questions following the Season 3 finale below:

What was the inspiration to have Alex and Paul be romantically involved? Was there any inspiration from journalists falling sleeping with their sources?

Stoudt: It’s always interesting when a character has to sacrifice something that should mean the world to them. I do think Alex is someone who searches for home and wants a partner and wants to be intimate and be seen and be chosen. Sosomeone who is finally her equal shows up and kind of does choose her and really listens to her and I think really is in love with her, but he steps over one line for her that’s unacceptable and she has to decide, is it UBA or this guy and she chooses UBA, for sure.

Why is it so heartbreaking when Alex sends the ‘Hanover” text and Paul says it and she realizes he’s surveilling her?

We always felt there was going to have to be conclusive proof… because on one side you have Bradley saying, ‘Paul is this and he’s that,’ but Bradley’s already lied a couple of times. So ‘Is Bradley completely trustworthy?’ She seems a little unhinged. So is Bradley the truthful one, or is Paul the truthful one? I wanted to put Alex between these two people that she feels very close to, but it felt like there just had to be the moment that’s a gut punch of one simple thing, and I really loved the way Mimi [Leder] shot that — he’s out of focus and that word is almost this disembodied word in space and you just see it hit her like a sledgehammer… I think Jen did such a beautiful job, but we knew we needed a moment where she knew, but he didn’t know that she knows. And then hijinks ensue. Then the build up of ‘What is she going to do?’ We know she’s thinking something, doing something, but we have no idea what it is. So all those little runway moments getting to the big reveal that she’s gonna outsmart them.

So it’s Alex who suggests the merger between UBA and NBN?

“She’s thinking well, what if the women solve the problem and it wasn’t Cory and his mad dreams of empire, and it wasn’t Paul, who just is cut from a different cloth than the media people are. I think in his world, what he’s doing is standard operating procedure. We’ve seen guys like Musk do much worse. He just thinks he’s protecting his interests, but I don’t think Alex can see it that way.

How did you balance Alex and Bradley’s separation this season with moments where they come together?

As soon as we had Jon Hamm I was like, ‘Okay, well, [Alex] is just going to fall in love with him. You see them on screen together, they just seem meant for each other. There’s the same level of talent and charisma. But I think in the end, she always has to choose Bradley. That’s kind of what the show is. I think even when the two women really disagree and get very crunchy with each other, there’s really a deep bond there. So I think it’s funny you say that because I will just say Season 4 they might spend more time together. Who knows?

I spoke with Mimi at the beginning of the season, and I did ask her about the ending shot where Bradley walks into the FBI and Alex is standing there watching her. That all so seemed very symbolic, like they’re going their separate ways, but not, at the same time. What can we take away from that ending?

The big moves that each woman makes, she couldn’t do it without the other one. Bradley is like, “I really think this is who this guy is.” And Alex does the Hanover test and is like “Bradley’s right.” I think Bradley would really struggle to walk into that FBI office without Alex saying you can do this and really giving her strength.

We really wanted Alex to be strong there and like ‘You can do it ‘and when Bradley looks back and gives that smile, which I find heartbreaking, she’s like, I’m going to do it because you gave me [the strength] so they’re taking each other with them as they go in what is, for now, they’re separate ways. But I think there’s always that connection.

Like yin and yang.

“That’s what makes it a love story. They’re very different people, but there’s a bond. We always reference “Wicked”. They couldn’t become who they are without each other. “You’ve changed me for good,” we would say that in the writers room about once a week. That was a big inspiration for us.

From left to right: Jennifer Aniston, Mark Duplass and Reese Witherspoon in “The Morning Show” (Apple TV+)
From left to right: Jennifer Aniston, Mark Duplass and Reese Witherspoon in “The Morning Show” (Apple TV+)

Season 3 seems a bit removed from the show’s #MeToo roots, how did you make it a background theme still this season?

When I had the chance to do this show, I definitely felt that this will always be a story about women’s agency, about consent in every sense of the word, about autonomy and about how women move in the waters of patriarchy. The show will always be like that, and I felt Season 1 brilliantly explored the ways in which women can be complicit and sexual misconduct and all the gray areas, and I thought that was so well done that we couldn’t beat that. We knew that the Roe decision was going to come down in June or July 2022, and obviously, we knew it was probably going to fall. That felt really, really seismic. And I like the thought of, it’s women’s agency, but it becomes very visceral. It is your body. It’s like a man on high saying, “you can do this and you can do that, you can’t do that with your own body.” Even though it’s not sexual misconduct, it’s very much linked to a sense of, how does a woman move in the world and how much is she allowed to make her own decisions, and how are those decisions different for women of color versus white women, and women of different classes and levels of status. I think there’s still a great deal to talk about in that world, and I’m afraid patriarchy’s still winning.

The merger changes things — as Mia said — “They’re won’t be 2 CEOs, 2 Heads of the News Division” where does UBA go next?

I would just say, it’s going to be “The Hunger Games.”

The show already feels that way!

We’ll just turn it up a little.

The scene where Bradley makes her confession, did she admit in her confession that she had feelings for Cory?

One of my questions coming into Season 3 was “What’s up with Bradley? Why is she the way she is? And of course, the very powerful backstory about her father, which we wanted to show glimpses of in Episode 10: this impossible situation, this young girl is being asked to do something impossibly difficult, but then she’s carrying that burden of “I blew up the family.” The interesting thing is she then becomes her father, and she dodges accountability as well in Season 3. By the end she’s like, I’m going to stop the cycle in the family. Hal’s trying to climb out and move to a better way of being and I have to do that. too.

Bradley wars with the person she wants to be, which is a crusader, a truth teller, a person who takes risks to reach justice. This pure, almost Joan of Arc quality that we really admire her for. And then she feels, because she is the fish out of water there in New York and at UBA ,that she has to be something for other people, and be who they might want her to be. I feel like there’s never been anyone in her life like Cory who was like, ‘you can be messy, and it’s OK.’

Given what he’s done to her and outing Laura, even though it was a long time ago, that he doesn’t deserve her. They’re not ready. They both have to go away and do some personal accounting.

What about Chip and Alex?

I think maybe down the line, there’s a way to redefine that relationship. It was time for him to step out of her shadow.

Is the writers room together for Season 4 yet? Are there any themes you’re focused on exploring?

On a rather serious note, I think the world is not feeling very safe right now, [it’s] feeling like a very dangerous place and we’re going into this election. The normal guardrails may not be there, so the world is feeling like a very, very insecure place. On a happier note, we are gathering some really fantastic writers and I’m super excited to get started and fill up those whiteboards.

Is there anything else you want to just say before we wrap?

I really feel the shadow of Roe is over Season 3. It reminded me of why the show is on TV. It’s a crazy thing that we’re still having these conversations 50 years after the original ruling. It is a bracing reminder of how easily things that women might assume are their freedoms can be restricted. I like that this show is very pleasurable and seductive, and then is able to talk about some uncomfortable things. So that’s what we’re trying to do. Whether we achieve it or not is up to the audience to decide.

All episodes of “The Morning Show” are available to stream on Apple TV+.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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