Better Late Than Never: 10 Random Thoughts on Studio 60 Episode 21

Credit: NBC

Welcome back to the last Better Late than Never this week. The next episode I’ll be discussing is the series finale of Studio 60 and I am gearing up for a heartbreaking episode full of pain, disappointment, and phenomenal performances. I hope you are too because I have a feeling you might need it. I have a feeling might need it. “K&R Pt III” didn’t give me as many ER flashbacks this time, but I can feel the tension simmering underneath the surface. Things are going to explode next episode, aptly called “What Kind of Day It’s Been.”

I hope you’re ready.

But for now, “K&R Pt. III” picks up right where the second part left off. Jordan develops more complications post-op. Harriet attempts to get Danny to humble himself and pray for his situation because it’s all he has left to do. The insurgents holding Tom’s brother hostage claim they’ve killed one of the airmen captured with Mark. This sets Tom off on a desperate, but what will ultimately probably prove futile, attempt to save Mark and Mary Tate tells Matt that Danny doesn’t have a leg to stand on with the new baby if Jordan were to die.

Read my ten random thoughts below and stick around for the review. Let’s go.

  1. Jack is on the warpath. Of course, he is. It’s understandable since one of his cast members just went crazy on live TV. He was trying to help Tom, but whew that went off the rails. And now Simon won’t apologize. Oh geez. At least Jack didn’t outright fire Simon. That’s a plus. Not going to lie. 
  2. “Why do you think I didn’t fire you? Because I believe you.” Wow, Jack. I’m impressed. He’s still a bit of a jackass, but he’s being a semi-decent man and I’m impressed. What I’m not impressed about is it’s taken this long to get him to this point.
  3.  “I’m cheering you up with a little Holly Hunter. It’s what I’m here for.” “How is it that no one’s hit you in the head with a potato?” “I duck and weave, baby.” In addition to not getting enough Jordan and Harriet in my life, why didn’t I get more of Danny and Harriet? The platonic chemistry is off the charts here and I’m really sad that this is really all I’m getting. They’re cute friends. Give me more cute friendships between guys and girls. Seriously. 
  4. “I think you’re about to find out.” Yeah, Tom is because cue Matt coming in to grab him to talk with Jack, him, and Mary. I’m starting to think Mary isn’t a good person. Why? I don’t know. But thank goodness Tom doesn’t go with it. At least it doesn’t seem like he’s going with it. I think he’s making a good choice. Mostly because that airman captain was snooping around while they were talking. I think Tom trusts this guy even if he doesn’t like this guy.
  5. “That sketch is a ticking bomb and it will go off on Monday.” And I imagine that it totally did and I’m sure it’ll happen and I’m sure we’re going to see it as these flashbacks continue. On that note, the scene after the flashback. Harriet giving Danny two options and one of them is her teaching him how to pray? I’m going to cry. I did cry. I am crying. 
  6. Yup, the ticking time bomb exploded and Matt and Danny are well on their way to getting fired. 
  7. And Tom just decided to go and be probably very stupid. If he goes through with giving the money to Mary, it’s not going to end well. None of the airmen have been killed and giving money to these guys is not going to help. In fact, it’s probably going to make things ten times worse. Someone will die if Tom gives them the money. God, I can’t watch. 
  8. I like how Jack continues to try to get Simon to apologize but Simon keeps bringing up more and more extremely relevant points that have been brought up before with Matt and Danny five years ago. Now, this is a good way to utilize flashbacks. Up until then, they’ve felt kind of tacked on and unneeded, but I like how this is going back and forth now. I also like what Matt is saying. 
  9. Mary is going to be the savior of these episodes, only not in the way I think she’s going to be. She’s going to go in there and tell Matt that Danny needs to sign adoption papers. It hurts like the dickens but she’s right. Of course, she’s right. Matt knows this. As much as he thinks it’s a bad idea, it’s not and when I finally watch the next episode, it’s going to break my heart. 
  10. I’ve never seen anything as devastating as Danny, at the end of his rope (but not really, because it’s about to get ten times worse), getting down on one knee in front of his daughter and humbling himself to pray and all of it done with no speaking, just Whitford, his physicality, and his acting prowess. My heart is in tatters.

Alright. I’ve been trying not to do this for three episodes now and I’m sure the finale will end up devolving to this too, but can we please talk about Bradley Whitford in these episodes, particularly this episode? Danny is a man who doesn’t have very many chances left or very much of anything left right now. His entire world is teetering on the precipice of either destruction or redemption and it’s all riding on Matt and Danny doesn’t even know it. Danny is only worried about two things and that is his daughter and that Jordan lives. That’s it, and he’s struggling, and all of this is obvious by Whitford’s phenomenal acting.

Once again, this episode felt more like a connector, a setup, than a stand-alone episode that just so happens to be the third part of a three-parter, if that makes sense. Most times writers will still make the episode understandable because of the conventions of typical procedurals. Sorkin does that well, but at the same time, he’s using it as a springboard for what’s to come in the series finale. I can feel it. The tone suits it. Sorkin introduces new plot elements while still languishing in the previous plot threads that still aren’t anywhere near being resolved. He’s ramping up the tension and the anxiety in steady of giving us tension, resolving it, giving us tension, and resolving it. It’s a good technique, but, for me, it feels a bit too slow, a bit too…schmaltzy in places. It almost feels like Sorkin is intentionally stretching out the last four episodes because he knows the show is ending and he can’t do anything else.

However, this languishing gives Whitford time to breathe and his performance is bolstered by that. There is a quiet, understated way Whitford acts. He uses his entire body to convey emotion and he does so with tremendous success. I’m going to pinpoint two scenes where I feel like this is important. One, is the scene in the chapel with Harriet and two, is the end scene in front of his daughter.

In the first scene, Harriet is trying to get him down on his knees to pray to God, but Danny doesn’t want to. All throughout this season, there is an underlying sense that Danny is a cocky man. While it might seem like he’s running on neurotic, uncertain energy, he does have some hubris. Who wouldn’t? His best friend is a WGA award winner. They’re running an insanely popular sketch comedy show. He has powerful friends and powerful connections. He’s in the business and he’s working the business and he knows how to do this. Yes, Jack is more powerful than he is, but he runs this show, he’s gotten control of his life. To a point. Yes, he runs into things headfirst and sometimes a bit recklessly but that’s his version of control and he’s a bit arrogant about that.

When we see him strutting through the studio in that graceful way that Whitford moves, that’s Danny’s hubris. In the chapel, Harriet is asking him to humble himself and he doesn’t want to do it. He makes some points most people make about God and religion, and he refuses to do it. All of this is a tell, but what’s even more of a tell is the way Danny sits in those chapel chairs. Danny is in a position that forces him to experience what it’s like to be out of control but he’s still wrestling with his hubris. He won’t humble himself because he fully believes he can handle this himself. His posture in that chapel is that of arrogance. His hands are knitted together in front of him; his head’s held high; he’s closed off. He’s also a bit defensive and protecting himself. He is still assuming he has control of the events unfolding around him. When Harriet points out that arrogance, his privilege, he doesn’t like it. He has to leave to preserve what control he has left but he’s starting to break.

That breaking point is finally achieved in the final scene and Whitford knocks it out of the park. He doesn’t fully submit himself. He doesn’t get down on both knees. That’s not Danny. He won’t give up that much control, but he admits, finally, that he needs help and this is him saying to nobody but himself and God that his life is now out of control and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Every movement in that final scene not only proves just how phenomenal Whitford is, but it also signals that the worst is still to come. Danny must face more tests and had Studio 60 continued, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to rebuild Danny as a new character and show even more of his growth. As it is, Danny’s character arc, though rushed for time, is one of the more interesting arcs and with this scene, this final scene of him kneeling down in front of his daughter in the hospital, just shows how much more he’s grown compared to other characters. It shows how much more he’s changed and how willing he is to accept change.

The ending scene broke me and I have a feeling that “What Kind of Day It’s Been”–the second episode Whitford’s been in of the same name, and both times have not been pleasant to him–will force Danny to change even more and force him to confront his own hubris for the sake of his work family, his daughter, Jordan, and more importantly, himself.

Shelby Arnold
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