Well, folks, the finale’s just one week away, and this episode sets us up for the big finish. A dejected and depressed Avery Brown decides to go international, setting off for Afghanistan to support his mom’s big story on the U.S. military’s 17-year engagement there. Murphy’s torn. Any pride she might feel is tempered by fear for his safety. If anything, though, it’s proof that she raised him right. Humbled by his experience with the Wolf Network, Avery’s redoubling his commitment to journalism. As he points out, his readiness to jump on a plane to get the story is a professional quality he inherited from her.
We open to find Murphy holding power to account on national television, grilling a Major J.C. Stansfield (guest star Robert Farrior, who played Oliver North in last year’s American Made) about the war in Afghanistan. She wants him to explain to her why the Pentagon has been deliberately inflating some stats and underreporting others, but he refuses to address her question. She asks, “Are we winning the war?” but he only wants to talk about how safe America is or how historic the negotiations with North Korea are. When she asks why he’s dodging the question, he plucks off his lapel mic, gets up to leave, and says, “I don’t have to sit here and be hectored by you. If you have all the answers, why don’t you just interview yourself?” Oh, no, you’re not getting away from Murphy Brown. She gets up and waves for the cameraman to follow her to the elevator, where she harangues Stansfield about the lives lost and billions spent in the U.S. military’s 17 years in Afghanistan. (This is awesome, Pat says. The last time he saw her move so fast, she was running after a Mister Softee truck on K Street.)
“Seriously?” Stansfield says, abandoning the elevator for the stairs. Murphy pursues him through the building as he struggles to find the exit. “How are you going to get us out of Afghanistan if you can’t even find your way out of here?” she says. “You can’t outrun me, buster. I’ve got two fake hips! I’m bionic!” Now this is television, people.
Murphy may be doing exciting work, but things have been dark for young Avery Brown in the days following his splashy departure from the Wolf Network. We find him slumped on the couch, shoveling pizza into his mouth and yelling at the television. The network has filled his old time slot with Mark Clark’s America, hosted by a sensitive bearded lad who is asking a midwestern working stiff what he thinks about Trump’s “fantastic 10 percent tax cut.” Avery turns off the TV in disgust. He has been keeping busy, though: He’s taught Benny Brown to ring a bell when he wants a treat. Murphy wanders in to ask Avery to keep it down; she can’t sleep with all this noise. Fine, Person with a Real Job, go ahead and rub it in. Two months after flaming out in prime time, the only offer Avery’s gotten is an invitation to co-host the New Year’s Eve ball-drop with Gilbert Gottfried and Mike Tyson. Ouch. Come on, Murphy tells her son. Everyone has setbacks. Her career survived that stint at the Betty Ford, and Tucker Carlson survived “looking like a trained bear in a bow tie on Dancing With the Stars.” Benny rings his bell again. What a good boy!
The next day, Avery unexpectedly rolls into the office just as Murphy’s newest former assistant (Jayden-with-a-Y, college degree in “Comparative Web Series,” goat yoga enthusiast) departs. He’s bored and frustrated, so he’s come by to hang out and crash the Murphy in the Morning team’s story meeting. It’s a big one. Murphy has an informant in Afghanistan who’s prepared to provide documentary proof that the Pentagon is using false stats. It’s “another huge story no one’s paying attention to,” says Corky, who is now wearing a sweater that says “Tuesday.” Frank adds that this reminds him of the role the Pentagon Papers played in ending the war in Vietnam. Oh, Avery eagerly volunteers, he would be happy to get a copy of Neil Sheehan’s book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Bright Shining Lie, and do a report on it for Frank. Uh, it’s cool, Frank says. He has a copy of the book. Sheehan gave it to him personally when they worked together at the New York Times. This is when Avery realizes that he’s only getting in the way, so he’s going to go before Corky resorts to the old tactic of parking him in her office with Power Rangers figurines. Unfortunately for his self-esteem, Diana drifts in from upstairs just as he’s leaving. “Avery Brown!” she says. “Scruffy but smart, telegenic, young — just what CNC could use right now.” Avery self-consciously adjusts his hoodie while she continues: “Unfortunately you trashed your network on the air. Executives aren’t fond of loose cannons.” Avery’s toxic, at least for now: “Nice talking with you, let’s do it again in eight to ten months.” Ooof.
Anyway, Diana’s thrilled with the ratings from the Stansfield interview and wants to keep that momentum going, but she’s less convinced that the best way to do so is by letting Murphy in the Morning devote an entire hour to the story on Afghanistan. In case you missed it earlier, Frank tells Diana that this reminds him of the Pentagon Papers and the war in Vietnam. Do they really think that audiences will watch an hour of anything, much less something so complicated, while having their coffee (and, in Diana’s case, a half-piece of dry toast and three almonds, which probably explains her demeanor)? “Miles,” Murphy says, “tell her why she’s wrong!” Sure, Diana says. Come up to her office and tell her why she’s wrong. Oh, no. Diana plays dirty. The last time Miles went up against her, she retaliated by giving him the parking spot under the exhaust fan from the P.F. Chang’s kitchen. “Getting into my car was like getting into a pork dumpling.” He’ll try, he says, just as Murphy realizes that her source in Afghanistan may have gone dark, which won’t help his case. If he doesn’t come back from her office in half an hour, someone should feed his cats and cancel his HBO subscription.
Avery rolls right out of the CNC offices and into Phil’s, where he’s trying to ask a harried Phyllis whether it was a mistake to quit his job. No, she says, but she’s also trying to run a restaurant here, so he needs to order something or get off her bar stool. (Just behind them, a small chalkboard lists “Today’s Special: A Dish of Cold Revenge.”) Things get busy, so Avery pitches in, serving an entire bottle of Scotch to a nervous-looking man who has an interview with Robert Mueller in an hour and a couple of glasses of pinot noir to a couple of suits who do not care to share their opinions about the president’s immigration plan. Things get really embarrassing when Pat comes in to grab a cup of coffee to go — can the coffee be that good? This seems like a setup — and sees Avery behind the counter. “Whoa, dude, you’re a busboy now?” He doesn’t work there, he’s just helping out, okay? Sure, sure, sure. He pays for a cup of coffee with a $10 bill and tells Avery to keep the change. “It’s not a handout, champ,” he says. “It’s a hand-up.” Ooh, call the police. Someone’s done a murder!
Corky takes pity on Avery and invites him to join the gang for lunch, which is more or less a continuation of the story meeting. In exchange for buying four tickets to her niece’s play (“The Vagina Monologues. Her niece is 12. This is going to be very uncomfortable”) Miles has persuaded Diana to give them an hour for the Afghanistan story. But without Murphy’s source, there’s nothing to report, and they may not be able to find him. These days, news organizations don’t devote the same resources to international reporting that they once did; CNC has no Kabul desk. This occasions nostalgic musing from Frank and Murphy about the good old reporting days. Do they understand, Frank asks, that Walter Cronkite’s reporting changed the course of — wait for it — the Vietnam War? If they still had those resources, their Afghanistan story could have the same impact. Today’s reporters “will never know what it’s like to be “shoved into the back of a van, blindfolded, and driven to an undisclosed location.” Ahh, he and Murphy sigh. “Good times, that was fun.” If only.
At home that evening, Benny Brown’s working his bell, sending Murphy running between the kitchen and the living room to reward him with Snausages. “This is just abusive,” she says, gnawing on a cheese stick that she had meant to give to him. The two wander upstairs to Avery’s room so Murphy can ask him about dinner — but they find him packing his bags. Where’s he going? To see friends? Good, great idea! Take your mind off things! No, Mom. He’s going to … Afghanistan. Murphy needs someone to find her source and Avery “needs to feel like a journalist again.” (This is some sort of wounded masculinity thing, right? It’s only been two months, Avery.) The networks may not have the same resources on the ground these days, but through the magic of the internet, Avery’s gotten a visa, connected with Afghan security forces, and hired a translator and driver. “That’s it,” she says. “I’m suspending your computer privileges.” She would have done the same thing back in the day, he points out. Well, sure, she says, but this is different. Avery is her son. He promises her that he’ll be careful and call her every day to let her know he’s safe, and then she plays her last card: he can’t leave Benny with her. “I just stole cheese from him! There’s no end to what I’m capable of!” Oh, Murphy. He has to do this. He has to. He walks out of the door, and we’re left with a shot of a bereft Murph and a whimpering Benny Brown. “Tell me about it,” she says, her face crumpling. Godspeed, Avery Brown! We better see you back here next week. We’re not doing a finale without you.
Misc. & Assorted
• It probably would have been more efficient to go Pop-Up Video with the Pentagon Papers references, instead of having Frank reference the Vietnam War 50 times.
• Sure, the mural Eldin painted on Avery’s bedroom wall so many years ago is charming and cute. But the USA Ultimate Frisbee sticker tacked onto a bulletin board tells me that Avery has a dark past of his own.
• Besides Corky’s day-of-the-week sweaters, a wardrobe highlight in this episode is the jacket Pat’s wearing when he comes into Phil’s for coffee: bright yellow, with a leopard-print collar.
• This dog is everything.