"She has something you don't," Derek brutally informs Ivy, and here is the whole problem with "Smash." We're all supposed to believe Karen is this sparkling diamond in the rough with loads of star power. Sorry, McPhee just does not have that X factor that Hilty does. So the entire premise of the series -- that either of these performers could convincingly headline a Broadway show -- falls apart.
The final episode opens with songwriters Julia (Debra Messing) and Tom (Christian Borle) rushing a new lyric to the stage just as the evening performance of "Bombshell" is about to start. Before we find out who is playing the lead, we flashback to 12 hours earlier as the creative team argues over who should replace Rebecca Duvall. Derek dictatorially takes over and demands it be Karen because of his weird visions of her singing "Our Day Will Come" a couple of episodes back.
The company is called in and Karen reacts to the biggest news of her life like a zombie. Ann Harada as Linda the stage manager registers more emotion. We cut to a new version of the "Smash" logo—a more completed, finished product, perhaps as a symbol that the musical is finally in good enough shape to open.
We return after the commercial break to find Tom and Julia feverishly working on a new finale song in the lobby. Of course composers and lyricists can come up with an entire fresh number in a couple of hours, and they can do all their own arrangements. Another difference between "Smash" and the real world: songwriters seldom do their own orchestrations.
Meanwhile, Ellis (Jaime Cepero), everybody's favorite villain, confronts his boss, the producer Eileen (Anjelica Huston), for allowing Derek to railroad everyone into going with Karen. Apparently, he's had a change of heart in the past weeks and is solidly in Camp Ivy, even though he slept with Rebecca's manager Randall to get her to consider doing "Bombshell." In his unthinking rage, idiotic Ellis actually admits he was the one who put the peanuts in Rebecca's smoothie. What a shocker! Here's another problem with the series, the characters do the stupidest, most illogical things just to move the plot along. If I had poisoned a major movie star and risked losing my job with a top Broadway producer and facing possible criminal charges, would I admit it and then demand that I get my way? Eileen promptly fires the little jerk. He ominously warns "You haven't heard the last of me!" and flounces out. Prediction: Next season, Ellis will sue everyone, claiming the musical was his idea in the first place.
Back in rehearsals, we actually see the lighting designer for a split second, before leading man Michael (Will Chase) tells his former lover Julia that he informed his wife about their affair and she has left him. Julia comforts him in time for her husband Frank (Brian d'Arcy James) to see it. Another logic problem: Wouldn't Michael have told Julia about his newly single status last week when he tried to re-seduce her? Anyway, Frank and Julia have a tense scene outside the theater and kinda reconcile. "The good is more than the mistakes," Julia tells her husband. Who talks like that? Of course, this gibberish winds up in the finale song she and Tom have been slaving over to demonstrate that artists can make theatrical gold out of their personal misery. Annoying son Leo (Emory Cohen) saves the situation with his parents by suggesting they all enjoy a high-cholesterol lunch.
Karen is having trouble making her costume changes fast enough and Ivy decides to further undermine her rival's confidence by revealing she slept with Karen's boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey), who inconveniently left the engagement ring intended for Karen in Ivy's hotel room. Karen confronts Dev, who is forced to admit his indiscretion, and McPhee actually displays some feelings by running off in tears.
Tom and his boyfriend, the angelic, butch ensemble member Sam (Leslie Odom, Jr.) have a discussion about the nature of art and Ivy puts on a Marilyn costume thinking Karen has cracked under the pressure. Derek persuades Karen to return to work by informing her she now has experienced heartache so she can play the role more convincingly (I choked on my margarita at this point). Now it's Ivy's turn to run off in tears, only to be met by her mother (Bernadette Peters) who decided to drive all the way from Connecticut on the off chance her daughter will go on and for Peters to collect another residual check. To add to the guest-star quotient for the season finale, Nick Jonas returns briefly as that kid star who invested in the show.
Michael Cristopher as Eileen's estranged ex-husband Jerry also puts in an appearance, and she masterfully resists the impulse to throw her drink in his face. That’s called character growth. Tom and Julia finish the song, and we're back where we started at the beginning of the hour. There's a montage of all the musical numbers by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, which are really quite exciting and fun. But we're asked to buy that flatlining Karen is a major star and she wows the audience. McPhee has a decent voice and she hits big notes in the much-anticipated final number, "Don't Forget Me," as if she were back on "American Idol," but there's nothing beyond her singing. No emotion, no passion, nothing. We all know Megan Hilty's Ivy would have done a better job, but a totally inexperienced unknown from Iowa getting her big break makes a better story than a chorine clawing her way to the top. Plus, it would not have led to the big finish of Ivy taking an overdose of pills Marilyn style. The show ends with Debra Messing telling us to follow "Smash" on Facebook all summer until season two starts (like we have nothing better to do).
Creator Theresa Rebeck is stepping down as show runner to be replaced by Josh Safran of "Gossip Girl." How will the new team drag out the journey to Broadway over 15 more episodes? Another tryout, maybe in Seattle? A whole new score? Another star called in? And is Julia pregnant? Will Karen forgive Dev? Will Ivy ever stop feeling sorry for herself and just audition for another show? Will Leo pass algebra? Will Sam force Tom to see a hockey game? See you next season for the answers to these burning questions.