'Smash': Karen goes 'Bad' and Ivy's actually really good

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smash-lets-be-bad-karen-nbc.jpg "It's not just a love story. We're trying to explore some bigger themes." -- Julia Houston

Julia's ( Debra Messing) sentiments about "Marilyn" intimate one of the very things I love about NBC's "Smash" -- it's not just about exploiting the love (or lust, as it were) story lines. It's about art and music and acting and subtlety -- and yes, relationships. But above all, I think it's about passion, as a larger theme.

And in "Let's Be Bad," "Smash" was passionately on its A-game -- for the most part. Let's take a look at what worked in Monday's (March 5) episode.

The music, the music, the music. Despite having already seen and heard all of the songs from tonight's episode (really, as much as I love the early look, it's not necessary to release all of the songs), seeing them in the context of the episode as a whole -- with all of the seamless transitions in and out of song -- made them all the more brilliant, which leads to the next thing that totally worked ...

Ivy as Marilyn. Just like I think we're all supposed to be -- at least the way I think the writers have been nudging us thus far -- I've been Team Karen ( Katharine McPhee) from episode one. But in this episode, for the first time, I really saw Ivy ( Megan Hilty) as Marilyn during the Broadway fantasy for "Let's Be Bad." The acting, the singing, the look -- it all said Marilyn. Bravo, Ivy (and, in turn, Megan).

Hinting at a not-so-perfect side to Dev. Thus far, we've only seen the ever-supportive boyfriend, who only gets slightly irked when he doesn't get to see enough of his girlfriend. Ah, but then a hot, young, female New York Times reporter surfaces and now maybe it's Karen who might have a reason to be jealous. Intriguing.

Tom and John's bad sex. OK, a very small thing in the grand scheme of the episode and the show as a whole, but the honesty of Tom ( Christian Borle) and John ( Neal Bledsoe) laughing their way through the awkward morning-after was pretty great.

Less Ellis. Enough said.

And now for the not-so-"Smash"-ing elements of the episode ...

Michael and Julia. I just can't get behind this pairing. I get that they have a history, but I'm not feeling where his sudden desire to be with her is coming from -- nor am I understanding her willingness to go along with it. I find it distracting at best, which is exactly what I think it'll be to the show "Marilyn" if the relationship continues.

Derek, the artiste. He's dedicated to his craft. OK, fine. But not being able to point out anything redeeming about Ivy's performance and brooding around like a moody teenager in the name of his art seems downright implausible. Pull it back a little.

Next week: Looks like Ivy's on the brink of losing her job, just as she was starting to convince me she deserved it. 
Photo/Video credit: NBC