Maybe the key to making a chaotic show work is to purposefully toss all of its characters into absolute chaos. The Morning Show is never better than when everyone is in total crisis mode, stomping around the building, screaming “What is going on?!” at each other, and barfing in the bathroom — and that is exactly how we find our little UBA babes in “Ghost in the Machine,” when the company is under cyber attack. The hackers shut down the morning broadcast, mess with the power in the building, and release hundreds of internal emails just to give everyone a taste of what they can do before asking for a $50 million dollar ransom. I don’t know, there’s just something about seeing people in nicely tailored suits absolutely lose their shit that really makes me feel alive.
Of course, there is trouble brewing at UBA before the hackers start messing with everyone. The Hyperion One broadcast was a big failure. Oh, the rocket part was totally fine — perfect, even — but the UBA transmission failed, making it seem like Paul Marks’s dreams of safe, private space flight should remain just dreams, which is the opposite of what Paul wanted when he went into business with UBA. The guy is pissed, and Cory’s secret backdoor deal to sell the company to him is in jeopardy before it even takes off. But that’s not the only reason it’s in jeopardy: An angry Alex Levy doesn’t hesitate to take the news of Cory’s plans straight to Cybil. And while Cybil is enraged to hear what Cory is doing behind her back, she’s also clearly still angry with Alex for ditching the Hyperion One launch — she isn’t as strong an ally as Alex believes her to be.
Cybil proves as much when she meets with Cory and Stella the next day to figure out how to handle the fallout of Alex’s actions. Cybil wants Alex punished. Advertisers are threatening to pull out because they are paying big money for Alex Levy to draw in an audience. She’s tired of Alex acting like she runs the company and Cory not doing anything about it. “Isn’t the point of having a dick to throw it around?” should be embroidered on pillows and put in living rooms across America. All three of them, however, know that it was difficult to get Alex to sign on for even doing just two days a week on TMS — a suspension wouldn’t be punishment. Instead, they decide that they should force Alex to do TMS five days a week until upfronts. When Stella tells Alex the news she basically laughs in her face. As if she would ever do that. But when Stella tells her that both Cory and Cybil agreed to it, Alex realizes she has no allies in the building. She is pissed. Unfortunately for her and her chronic self-absorption, there are much bigger things going on at UBA than Alex’s latest temper tantrum.
While Alex and Christina are interviewing No. 1 space visitor Bradley Jackson live on TMS, weird things start happening. The prompter goes out. The doors in the control room lock. The comms between the control room and the anchors are lost. And finally, the power goes completely out. It’s mayhem for a while. People worry there is an active shooter situation, and after Chip breaks down the door with a fire extinguisher (it turns out Chip is great in a crisis?), they rush the talent into Alex’s dressing room to keep them safe. The rollout of this new Christina character has been almost nonexistent, but even one quick scene in which Alex watches a scared Christina call her husband and talk to her daughter makes the woman seem more human than anyone else on this show. It’s nice!
Meanwhile, Bradley wants to tag along with Chip as he tries to get answers as to what’s going on, and in truly one of the funniest moments to ever happen on this show, Bradley Jackson, a woman who is portrayed as “smart” and “trustworthy” and steely and strong in a crisis suggests they take the elevator in the middle of a mysterious event in which the power is going on and off. AND CHIP GOES ALONG WITH IT. Oh God, everyone on this show is so dumb — I love it. Bradley and Chip get stuck together on the elevator for an hour. It’s great.
Unfortunately, what’s going on outside the elevator is not so great for ol’ Brad. The power comes back, at one point loud music is played across the building, the emails — some from HR, others from personal accounts — are released, and the IT team figures out that the entire network has been hacked and all computers, phones, etc. need to be checked. Then Cory gets two messages from the hackers, who at this point are believed to be Russian. One is asking for $50 million dollars in 48 hours, the other shows him just the kind of stuff they can release: a nudie video Bradley sent to Laura while they were away in Montana. As soon as Bradley’s released from the clutches of the elevator she willingly went into, she’s called up to Cory’s office, where Cory, Stella, and Laura break the news to Bradley. Bradley proceeds to vomit. Laura tries to comfort her by reminding her that she’s been violated and she should lean on people, but Bradley just wants to be alone. I know there are bigger things going on here, but it would be cool if there was, like, any chemistry between these two women.
As they begin to think about how to handle this ransom, Cory decides to call Mr. Cybersecurity himself, Paul Marks — whose number he has memorized for some reason? — and implies that maybe Paul is behind the hack in order to hold UBA ransom until Cory agrees to his offer. Why Paul is still remotely interested in UBA when time and time again it proves to be a complete shitshow is beyond me. Anyway, it turns out Cory is secretly pretty hyped that UBA got hacked. He thinks he can spin it to look like UBA is some bastion of democracy that is under attack “by shadowy enemies of free speech.” Cory gets off on the weirdest shit, we know this.
He does actually seem to have some empathy for people’s lives being ruined when later, Bradley asks him to come talk with her. He starts in with how they will do everything in their power to protect her if that video gets out, but she stops him. She’s less worried about that video getting out and instead, is terrified about the Big Mysterious Thing that happened last year getting out. Billy Crudup is great in this scene, switching from the slick CEO to a man who seems genuinely concerned for this person he cares about. As much as I get teasing things out, I do think this much mystery around whatever happened is actually detrimental to the cause. If we have more details, it makes it easier to be invested in what Bradley and Cory are going through here. Let us care about these people!
Bradley makes it clear to Cory that it is imperative that he gets the board to agree to pay the ransom. He’s going to do his best. Bradley even tries to get Alex to sure up the board by appealing to Cybil but, one, Alex is still so angry about her punishment and can only think about herself right now and how she does not give a shit if this network gets exposed, and, two, as she informs Bradley, it turns out she has no sway over Cybil. Why does Bradley care so much, anyway, Alex asks. Bradley is a Girl Scout. “Did you fuck a predator?” she asks her point blank. Then she’ll be fine. And as for all of UBA’s secrets getting out, why should Alex care? UBA didn’t protect her when the Maggie Brener book came out. But as Bradley reminds her, there are other people’s reputations at stake here and even if UBA didn’t protect her, Bradley did. Okay, Alex feels bad after that.
Alas, Bradley’s mission to get UBA to pay the ransom fails miserably. Part of that is because most companies wouldn’t negotiate with hackers holding them hostage, but part of it is definitely that Cybil has it out for Cory. Cory gives one of his big, dramatic speeches about how they must pay the ransom because a leak going wide would be “nuclear” and Cybil just rolls her eyes. Then she wins the board — which includes Stephen Fry now? — over to her side by reminding them that there’s no guarantee the leak won’t get out even if they do pay and also, uh, it wouldn’t be a great look to be funding Russia. After everyone agrees not to pay and let the chips fall where they may, Cory has some choice words for Cybil. But she counters by letting him know that she knows all about his discussions with Paul Marks and to slow his roll. She’s seen a whole bunch of men arrive at this company with a God complex just like Cory’s and all of them have failed. Oh baby, the war between Cory and Cybil is on and you know there can only be one left standing at the end of this.
We’ll see who is left standing at UBA when we hit the 48-hour mark and the hackers don’t receive their money. Bradley is the one left to break the news of the hack and UBA’s refusal to give in to the ransom on her evening news show, warning about some uncomfortable things coming to light that were meant to be private. Hey, at least Bradley does actually have a friend in Alex, who, later that night, shows up at Bradley’s place with an apology. Laura told Alex about the video — she wants to help Bradley figure out what to do next. It’s nice! There is a part of me that believes The Morning Show is much more fun when Bradley and Alex are at each other’s throats, but nice is good, too.
While I’m sure this hack should be able to fuel drama for some time with information that hasn’t even come to light yet, the end of the episode reveals one little tidbit that should add a new wrinkle to Cory’s plans to sell the company (as if there weren’t enough already). When Stella’s handed back her phone after it’s been cleared by IT, she scrolls through her photos. Deep in that photo library is a very interesting picture — and no, it’s not one with Blake Griffin, who she apparently dated for a while last year! It’s an old photo of her hugging Paul Marks.