It’s tough for me to say this is one of the better efforts from The Newsroom this season. Last week is still better, I feel. But there was something about the containment of the many threads that made this week’s episode a bit satisfying. Rather than briefly touching on the many subplots ongoing in this show, Sorkin was able to confine much of the drama to three major plots that seemed to coalesce naturally. This week a severely underdeveloped Jerry Dantana is teamed with Neal as they hope to dive further into the Genoa issue. This ties the Occupy Wall Street plot line with the Genoa plotline and feels natural running alongside Maggie’s story. Maggie’s terror in Africa is finally revealed as she cares for a young boy at an orphanage and then sees him shot to death. Jim’s road story seems to be coming to an end after four episodes leaving him in a romantic flux, yet again.
It feels like all of these professional journalists shouldn’t be so damned stupid. Is it just me here? Not that Will should have apologized to Shelly Wexler (Aya Cash), the Occupy Wall Street non-leader. But everyone takes the chance to apologize to her by instead presenting their superiority and being “smug”. It became a bit annoying only to end with Will visiting her at her classroom to explain himself (not apologize). It wasn’t very satisfying and this plot seems to be delaying any actual point or reason by extending a forced love story for Neal. I keep thinking, just get on with it already. Now, if Sorkin’s point is to make us feel a bit annoyed by the apparent aimlessness of OWS, but creating an equally aimless subplot, than he’s succeeded.
Maggie takes center stage here as the episode hinges on her deposition regarding Africa. Sorkin could have gone so many directions with this story but he wrote an elegant, small and contained story about Maggie connecting with a little boy at an orphanage. Given that we know she’s chopped off her hair and dyed it red, we know that when the boy, Daniel, plays with her blonde hair, that something bad is going to happen to him. We become further aware of this when it’s explained that he’s not even supposed to be there because he’s not an orphan. His parents just sent him there “to be safe” while they work. All of these telegraphed moments lead up to his demise when the cattle killers come at night. It had all the makings of an amazing story, especially for my least favorite character, but it was far too predictable. Despite this, I’m much happier with Maggie for the time being. We’ve moved from that ridiculous love story with Jim and on to a more rich and fulfilling character study. I’m not fully invested, but I am interested in seeing how she copes with this down the line. Will she just run away, like she has in the past, and get out of journalism all together? Or will she stand up, face the horrors in the world, use these experiences, and become the next Mac? Or will Sorkin throw her back into Jim’s reluctant arms and annoy the hell out of the audience?
On the other side of the spectrum, in terms of character building, a once promising Jerry Dantana seems muddled. I no longer care for him because we just don’t know him. I was fine with him being the new guy and a bit too gung-ho. But that was pretty much all they gave us. Now he’s just grabbing tweets and saying things like, “the trail is going to run cold!”. In favor of developing characters we’ve known from the start, Sorkin has disregarded anything about this guy’s past or motivations, leaving him to exist merely as a plot device. He retrieves and then relays information and eventually (so it appears) will just fuck everything up for everyone. While that leaves the core group in tact (in terms of legal ramifications and possible job loss), it doesn’t make him very interesting. Which is unfortunate, because Hamish Linklater is a fine actor and deserves room to develop this character. His dedication and drive could potentially make him a sort of stand-in for future Neal or what Neal could become later in his career. So having them splinter off and join forces for their respective stories could provide a fun subplot and repartee. I’m not giving up yet on this character but I’m about to.
Will and Mac take a back seat for the most part, which provides a fuller story for the episode. There’s a flimsy, yet satisfying unified theme apparent in the subtext. There’s mistakes made decisions decided which, as the title suggests, have unintended consequences, leaving the characters to struggle to pick up the pieces. Take Jim for instance. He’s got a louder voice of conscience (especially expressed in the form of Mackenzie) telling him that he shouldn’t be embedded in the Romney press corps. Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) even starts to discuss the cost of having a senior producer doing the work of an underling. As things come to a head with Jim’s journalistic revolution leaving him, Hallie and Stillman off the bus, things are hitting rock bottom. A slip of the tongue from Taylor (Constance Zimmer) gives him the chance for a one-on-one with Romney. It’s what he’s been begging for since the first episode. However, whether out of professional respect, empathy or plain love, he gives it to Hallie. The consequence here is when Hallie feels disrespected. They eventually kiss and make up and despite this new relationship blossoming, the other unintended consequence is that Jim is taken off coverage. The episode ends with him dealing with the fact that he’s now going to return to New York and the life he’s been trying to avoid.
With all of these interesting stories taking place we’re still faced with a sort of middle episode. One that exists simply to branch off into the next episode. A “what will happen next?” episode. Which is fine, but looking back, it feels like not much happened. It just raised more questions. If I felt that Maggie cut her hair off symbolically in respect to Daniel dying, because her blonde hair is “nothing but trouble”, rather than she was prescribed a strong psychotropic and she’s just not taking them, than I might feel like she had an arc in there somewhere. Instead, her arc just plummeted into a chasm. Jim thought he had an arc, but he’s back at square one. Jerry Dantana is just a flat line. And Will is still an ass.
It’s been a rough season thus far, for me at least. It’s just messy and seems unwieldy for Sorkin. Even after last week’s stronger effort that carried the roots from last season, I feel like we’re thrown back into a purgatory. We had something happening last week and now we have to wait until (hopefully) next week until something good happens.
After-Thoughts on The Newsroom:
- I guess I’m like Will and most of the staff when it comes to OWS. I’m down with many of the sentiments expressed, but it was a mess. They marched past my office last summer at one point and all I felt was, “get outta my way, I need to get some coffee”.
- Will’s role in this episode was heavily reduced. I was fine with that because most of his screen presence was at the news desk. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I like him there. Filtering these news stories through Will at the desk is one of the show’s stronger aspects. Consider his work during the BP Oil Spill in the first season.
- I wanted to see more Don. Don is awesome. Don is interesting. Don is developed.
- Same goes for Sloan. She appeared for a brief moment, but didn’t do anything that anyone else didn’t already do.
- Anyone else feel that Sorkin should have not only hired a team a writers after firing his first season team…but maybe use these writers?
- Marcia Gay Harden as Rebecca Halliday, the ACN lawyer, is amazing.
- One of my top 5 favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt, is to appear this season as the VP of Human Resources. This knowledge hurts my brain every moment he’s not on screen. When will he show up?
Sound off. Tell me how wrong I am down below.