Flash back to a girl with a song in her heart
When we first meet Ivy, she’s at an audition. It’s clear she’s been to more than a few in her time. We discover that she is in the ensemble in ‘Heaven on Earth’ (Tom and Julia’s awful looking ‘hit’ musical on Broadway). Tom confirms that she has ten years of Broadway experience (including a year in Wicked). Ivy is asked to perform a demo of the first song that Tom and Julia write for their proposed Marilyn musical. When the buzz around the show picks up, Ivy is invited to audition. Ivy shows up to the audition carrying a biography of Marilyn and reveals that she’s read ‘a lot’ of books and watched all of Marilyn’s movies in preparation. After exhaustive auditions, during which we are subjected to ridiculous conversations about why Karen ‘feels like’ Marilyn. Which is good because she doesn’t look, sound or act like her. Anyway, eventually Ivy is given the part. From there on, it’s pretty much downhill for our girl. She is ridiculed and humiliated by Derek. She slides into drug use, causing her to mess up onstage during Heaven On Earth and ultimately to lose her job as Marilyn. She is then forced to watch Karen, Uma Thurman and then Karen again, get to play her part while she languishes in the chorus. At the end of the season, we see Ivy sitting in front of a mirror, with a bunch of pills in her hand…
Let’s Be Bad
Throughout the first season of Smash, Ivy Lynn was presented as ‘the villain’. How did we know she was ‘the villain’? Well, quite simply, she wasn’t Karen Cartwright and therefore had to be the villain, right?
Let’s take a look at her villainous behaviour....
She has sex - The show has a bit of a Madonna/Whore thing going on, both regarding Marilyn herself and with its leading ladies. More than one character comments on the fact that Ivy slept with Derek prior to getting the part. (Indeed, Ivy herself questions whether or not that is why she got the part). No-one bothers to then say that Ivy and Derek actually go on to have what is a fairly long-term and pretty affectionate relationship following the initial shagging. Ivy is consistently presented as a slut and, as such, we are supposed to hate her.
She’s mean to Karen – Yes. Yes, she is. Repeatedly. Is she given reason to be nice to her, though? While Karen appears to believe that she deserves the part just for existing, Ivy works hard to get it and expects it to be difficult. Karen appears from nowhere, with no experience and is (apparently) giving Ivy a run for her money during the auditions. Even after Ivy gets the part, Karen keeps singing over her and not fitting in with the rest of the ensemble. Why should Ivy like her? Actually, I think the relationship between Ivy and Karen could be one of the more interesting dynamics on the show. Their later interactions are intriguing. They’re never friends and, especially on Ivy’s side, there’s always a competition going on.
She sleeps with Dev – Um. Okay, there probably is no excuse for this one. Although, to be fair, he was the one cheating on Karen, not Ivy. Ivy has very little reason to give a fuck about Karen’s love life. And she does seem to feel guilty about it.
In reality, Ivy is an ambitious and talented young woman who wants to play the part of Marilyn Monroe to the best of her ability. Sure, she’s not a ray of sunshine all the time, but neither is she the devil incarnate. And at the end of the day, do a Broadway audience pay to see a ‘nice’ performance, or do they pay to see someone who embodies the role? Ivy gives it everything she’s got and more. Do you get the impression that Karen does?
Something Second Hand and Broken
Somewhat problematically, the show insists on looking at everything and everyone through a Marilyn filter. Ivy has huge parallels with Marilyn – a lack of maternal affection, a need for affirmation, a tendency to turn to pills to fix things, poor taste in men, her suicidal thoughts. From these parallels, I suppose we’re supposed to draw conclusions about what should/will happen to Ivy. But, to be honest, the show is so wildly inconsistent in its own view of Marilyn, that it’s difficult to know what we’re supposed to think of her and/or Ivy at any given time.
What we haven’t mentioned yet is that Ivy’s mother is a renowned Broadway star (played by renowned Broadway star Bernadette Peters). And we learn that she’s never had much time for little Ivy. Ivy seeks her mother’s recognition and praise, but it isn’t forthcoming. Nothing is said about her father, but I think we’re safe in the assumption that she had little to do with him, if anything. So, as with many performers, she craves attention and affirmation. (Karen, meanwhile, comes from a cookie cutter town and family. So she has no issues.)
This need for praise is not fulfilled by her relationship with Derek. He consistently criticises her performances, or ignores them. When she finally gets drunk enough to call him on it, he dismisses her with absolutely no acknowledgement of her complaint:
“You blow so hot and cold, I don’t even know what day it is anymore. You are so hideous to me in rehearsal…”
“I’m hardly hideous.”
“You humiliate me! When you’re not ignoring me. Half the time I feel like I don’t even exist for you in there.”
“No-one does. I’m not kidding. This isnt’ some big romantic statement about who I am as an artist, it’s just a fact. […] Look, I am building something in that rehearsal room and, with all due respect, it would be a lot easier if everyone pretended, just for five minutes, not to have all those annoying feelings, because frankly they get in my way.”
This could almost be acceptable, if he didn’t go on to coddle both Karen and Uma Thurman in the role. He later tells Ivy ‘Rebecca needs my attention, and I’m giving it to her. Is there any other approach?’ HE SAYS THIS TO IVY AFTER SLEEPING WITH REBECCA WHILE HE IS GOING OUT WITH IVY AND NOT EVEN ACKNOWLEDGING TO HER THAT THEIR RELATIONSHIP IS OVER. Like, who does that?
While there are various motivations floating around backstage at ‘Bombshell’, Ivy’s only motivation appears to be a desire to give a great performance. During the audition process (which Karen is complaining about to anyone who will listen) Derek apologises to Ivy for all the hoops she’s having to jump through. She simply says ‘It’s Marilyn. I never expected it to be easy.’
When Ivy’s part is taken from her, leaving Karen to fill the gap for a week, Ivy’s advice to her is ‘Karen, you get to be her for one week. Don’t waste the chance.’ She doesn’t say ‘You get to be the star’. She says ‘You get to be Marilyn’.
When Uma eventually turns up, Ivy and Karen are watching her and Karen says ‘I’m thinking she’s beautiful and famous, and I wish I had her life.’ Nothing about talent, nothing about giving a good performance – only beauty and fame.
While I think that some people might view Ivy as fame-hungry and ruthless in her pursuit of it, I’d have to disagree. I don’t think she comes across that way at all. Yes, she wants the part of Marilyn, because she genuinely believes she can play it better than anyone else. She doesn’t just want any part, she wants to play Marilyn.
The price of fame that no-one can repay
More than anyone else in the show, Ivy is punished for her perceived ‘villainy’. Ivy very rarely ‘gets away’ with ‘bad’ behaviour. She’s mean to Karen in rehearsal? Derek will make Karen teach Ivy how to ‘do’ Marilyn. She carries an entire presentation on her shoulders in a heatwave, stumbling only once? She gets yelled at and told she’s not giving enough to the performance.
One of the show’s, many, flaws is that it attempts to present Karen as a serious competitor to Ivy, without actually demonstrating this. So, we see Ivy give a stellar performance of one of the songs, and suddenly Derek is yelling for Karen to come and show her how it’s supposed to be done. IT JUST DOESN’T WORK. Except as a way to humiliate ‘the villain’ and bring her down a peg or two.
Here are some of the ways Ivy is punished throughout the season.
- Her performances are unfairly criticised – Seriously, how anyone can watch the performances that Megan Hilty gives as Marilyn and offer any criticism is beyond me. But Derek seems to find something wrong with everything she does.
- Her friends inexplicably decide to be Karen’s friends instead, seemingly because Karen tells them that they should be.
- The ritual humiliation and unfair pressure put on her (by Derek and by Eileen’s insistence on rushing everything through) lead to her damaging her voice, causing her to take drugs, which result in her going onstage in ‘Heaven on Earth’ completely high - and of course Saint Karen is there to witness her fall from grace.
- The part of Marilyn is taken away from her and given to a ‘Star’.
- Her boyfriend inexplicably starts shagging someone else, and doesn’t bother to tell her that they’re no longer an item.
- As a final slap in the face, she is not chosen to replace Rebecca Duvall, Karen is.
Protect them and take special care
The only people who are presented as solidly on Ivy’s side throughout the show are Tom and Sam. Sam is a little more objective than Tom, and calls Ivy out when he thinks she’s out of line. Tom clearly adores Ivy and would have given her the part without an audition process. You can see it kills him when they have to go with Rebecca. ‘You were wonderful. You are wonderful.’ ‘But I’m not a star.’ I don’t know how anyone could watch that scene and come away not wanting to bundle Ivy up in a huge hug.
Julia, for some reason, seems to have little or no regard for Ivy. They barely interact except at Lyle’s party. Eileen vacillates wildly and really only cares about getting the damn thing onto a stage. Derek is quite clear that he ‘sees’ Karen as Marilyn. Ivy’s own friends jump ship to Karen. Her mother is distant. She has no-one to turn to but Tom and Sam. (And, bizarrely, Karen on occasion.)
At some point, I believe all of the characters acknowledge Ivy’s talent. Even Karen says, more than once, that she is amazing. And yet, none of them seem to think that talent is what should be taken into account when assigning the role of Marilyn. They say stupid things like ‘Karen feels like Marilyn’. How about Ivy can sing, dance and act and has demonstrated all three consistently and repeatedly? Again, it’s down to the writing, but it is beyond belief that Derek would choose to go with Karen who clearly cannot dance, or act and does not have anything close to the voice Ivy has.
Let Me Be Your Star
In conclusion, I believe that poor writing and dubious casting have left Smash flailing in its central premise: that there’s serious competition between Karen and Ivy. I have not been shown anything which leads me to believe that the part of Marilyn should go to anyone other than Ivy. I can’t imagine what next season will bring. More rewrites. Further recasting of the main role. Someone going to another show. Who knows? All I know is that I will be there as long as Ivy is, even if it hurts my heart to watch her be treated so poorly.
Ivy, you will always be my star.