Four years after a spate of #MeToo revelations toppled entertainment titans who abused their power, American culture continues to grapple with what to do with toxic men and what’s next for the movement.
The series’ second season, which began on September 17, 2021, follows a painful rift — both within the world of the show and, in a self-referential way, the world of entertainment after #MeToo. While the show occasionally fails, it also responds to a pressing cultural need to come to terms with misbehavior and find avenues to healing, showing in an all-too-recognizable fictional reality that it’s often the women, not the men, who work the hardest to change themselves and invest in authentic second acts.
A major season two storyline, which incorporates wider cultural concerns about the reverberation of #MeToo, follows Mitch’s faltering attempts to cope with his actions. After being accosted by an angry American woman while eating gelato in Italy, Mitch meets documentary filmmaker Paola Lambruschini (Valeria Golino), who sums up the problematic nature of a second act after society cancels a #MeToo abuser, saying on the US prosecutor: “She doesn’t know what she wants from you. If you apologize, she says it’s insincere. If you try to do good for the world, it’s selfish. If you dare to live your life,” the bile.’ “If you choose to die, you take the cowards out. You must live and suffer. But you must not do it in front of us and you must not try to learn from it.”
Indeed, the series’ second season preoccupation with what’s next for toxic men offers no satisfying answers. Mitch may make some progress in understanding the trauma his actions have caused, and his mentorship of Paola as she works on a documentary about Italy’s rape law represents stopping steps to do good for the world. But when new allegations surface that claim his predatory behavior disproportionately targeted black women, Mitch takes what Paola identifies as “the coward’s way out” — he drives his car over a cliff, raising the question of whether “The Morning Show ” itself an easy approach to the question of what to do with poisonous men.
“The Morning Show” shows that second acts for sexual predators remain unthinkable, but it’s not clear that “cancelling” them, rather than the much more awkward act of holding them accountable, opens up the possibility for what #MeToo- founder Tarana Burke has said the core of the movement is “radical community healing” (note also that canceling here seems to take the form of hiding out in a million-dollar mansion on Lake Como). Mitch dies without taking responsibility for his actions.
The show denies us examples of men improving, although we do see gestures toward growth through Alex’s character. Alex responds to the venomous men in her life by becoming a venomous force of her own, myopic focused on not being canceled herself. However, for all her narcissism, the public is treated to a glimpse of what responsibility could look like through Alex’s journey.
In the season two finale, Alex does a solo, hour-long live stream from her penthouse, where she talks about being diagnosed with Covid-19 and what it’s like to live under intense public scrutiny. Filmed with Aniston staring directly into the camera, the speech becomes increasingly uncomfortable to watch, an indictment of the real fixation on human error and gloating.
Zooming out, all these second-act concerns reflect the real career trajectory of the show’s female protagonists, Aniston and Witherspoon. Expanding the cultural approach to the “America’s Sweetheart” idea, both beloved actresses, along with season two standout Margulies, offer refreshing representations of successful television women. It is a revelation to watch three powerful middle-aged female actors, with their wrinkles and reading glasses, adopt a culture that allows the abuse of power by toxic men.
In her new memoir “Going There,” Katie Couric writes about the circumstances that allowed Matt Lauer and others to prey on women in the workplace. While her story is too simple, Couric deserves credit for writing about some of the tumultuous events associated with Lauer’s firing and grappling with her own responsibility in it.
This kind of research into the past and projection into the future requires messy, emotional labor.
Perhaps the show’s third act will give a glimpse of how a healthy workplace could work — and maybe men will start doing the work.