Julianna Margulies and Reese Witherspoon

Season 3 of ‘The Morning Show’ has it all: A lesbian love affair, rural Montana and Jan. 6

This article includes spoilers for this week’s episode of “The Morning Show,” titled “Love Island.”

When they set out to redevelop the soapy sophomore season of “The Morning Show” in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the executive producers of the topical Apple TV+ drama series wanted to create a female character who would be a kind of foil to the protagonists: someone who shared the gravitas of Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) but not her history of morally questionable decisions; someone who could not only act as a kind of mentor to Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) but also open her up to the possibility of dating another woman.

By those measures, Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies), a veteran journalist who rebuilt her career after having been outed as gay in the ’90s and lost her seat at the table of the titler morning show, seemed to fit the bill. Since her introduction in the third episode of the second season, Laura has remained a constant presence in Bradley’s life, helping the younger woman navigate her sexuality under the public spotlight and her dysfunctional relationship with her conservative family behind the scenes.

Julianna Margulies in “The Morning Show.”Erin Simkin / Apple TV+

It’s a lesbian romance that has, in a case of life imitating art, sparked the interest of fans on social media, who Margulies previously said have been quick to voice their approval.“Bradley and Laura have an elemental, yin-and-yang connection that keeps them circling each other, no matter how badly things get between them,” said Michael Ellenberg, an executive producer and the chief executive of Media Res, the studio behind the series. “Laura, to Bradley, represents every ideal she aspires to. She’s everything she’s not — polished, calm, professional. She’s got her life together and, like Bradley, has a very strong moral core.” 

Ellenberg said Bradley is everything Laura may secretly desire to be: rebellious, instinctual, passionate, pure. “They both move in each other’s direction at times, until the flame burns too bright and it ignites once more,” he said.

“The Morning Show” has always forced viewers to re-examine recent history, having explored the fallout from the #MeToo movement in the first season and the months leading up to the pandemic in the second. But with the show’s latest 10-episode outing, veteran director and executive producer Mimi Leder said, the creative team wanted to “pivot” the show’s focus away from men’s sexual misconduct and toward “women’s autonomy and how it’s undermined” after the fall of Roe v. Wade.

“Women’s power is being challenged right now, so we wanted to speak to women’s agency, abortion rights, reproductive rights,” Leder said, “and we wanted to focus on minority rule, the ‘big lie’ and the threat to journalists all around the world. And most notably, we wanted to speak about the state of the truth.”

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The third season, which picks up in March 2022, finds a noticeably single Bradley in a greater position of power than ever before — she’s now anchoring the evening news at the fictional UBA network and has a swanky new apartment — but hiding a secret that could lead to her undoing.

Bradley “has been our truth teller; for so long in season one and season two, you can always rely on Bradley for the truth,” said Kristin Hahn, who executive produces the show with Aniston through their production company, Echo Films. “It’s interesting to see her have to tell a lie that ultimately determines her future and her trajectory, and for Alex to be able to be there as an ally for her in the aftermath of that, I think, is really powerful.”

While the first four episodes merely alluded to what happened to Bradley and her once-burgeoning relationship with Laura, the fifth episode, which premiered Wednesday, helps contextualize Bradley’s actions during the first year of the pandemic with a series of flashbacks. A few months after effectively having brushed off UBA executive Cory Ellison’s (Billy Crudup) declaration of love for her and having decided to move to Laura’s ranch in Montana, where they would be able to anchor the morning show remotely, Bradley lost her mother, Sandy, suddenly to the coronavirus.

During a heated argument one evening, a bereaved Bradley insisted that Laura never liked Sandy and that she was the reason Bradley stopped speaking to her mother in the first place. Laura, being put on the defensive, suggested that there was a part of Bradley that was actually relieved that her mother had died, prompting Bradley to leave the ranch the next morning under the guise of covering the lead-up to and the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election in Washington, D.C. 

“We’ve always seen her as this very polished character with great confidence,” Leder said of Laura. “And now, we see her as this woman who is very vulnerable and imperfect, and underneath it’s a whole other story.”

Given that Bradley and Laura have “meaningful” and significant differences grounded in their class, families and upbringings, “The Morning Show” continues to explore “how and if two Americans from such different walks of life, even if they’ve ended up in similar professional situations, can make it work together,” said Ellenberg, who teased that those values will be put to the test later in the season.

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Reese Witherspoon in “The Morning Show.”Erin Simkin / Apple TV+

Later in the episode, viewers learn that Bradley covered the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol from inside the building. 

“Amazingly, there was a serious, actual protest happening outside when we were prepping that day, and we were concerned that some of the wardrobe and signage for the insurrectionists would be read as ‘real’ and not props for our show,” Ellenberg recalled of the riot scenes shot at Los Angeles City Hall, which doubled as a small-scale version of the real Capitol. “It was pretty haunting being on set that day; it was intense for Reese as an actor.”

After Bradley is separated from her camera crew in the episode, she decides to use her phone to record the mayhem unfolding around her until she sees her brother, Hal (Joe Tippett), assaulting a police officer. The realization that her brother, who is newly sober and expecting his first child, committed a felony as she was recording is enough to knock the wind out of Bradley, who decides to delete the video and lie to the FBI in a misguided effort to protect him.

Leder, who directed the season finale, said viewers will finally learn about the role Bradley played in sending her own alcoholic father to prison after she revealed in the first season that he had struck and killed a child while he was under the influence.

“She thought she was doing the right thing, and doing the right thing ruined her family, and she was blamed by her brother and her mother for what she did,” Leder said. “The consequences of her telling the truth in her early young age haunted her for the rest of her life, so she does the wrong thing here. She is harboring this horrible secret, and this secret is eating her alive.”

Lauren Neustadter, Witherspoon’s producing partner through their banner, Hello Sunshine, thinks Bradley is caught between her commitment to journalistic integrity and her love for her family. 

“I think she’s in an impossible position where she has to make a very, very difficult choice, and it’s a choice that’s going to determine what’s going to happen next in her life and in her career,” she said.

New episodes of “The Morning Show” premiere every Wednesday on Apple TV+.

Max Gao

Max Gao is a freelance entertainment and sports journalist based in Toronto. He has written for NBC News, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, The Daily Beast, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Men’s Health, Teen Vogue and W Magazine.