The Newsroom Episode 7: 5/1
I think I’m looking forward to a time when this show is no longer recounting history. I’m unsure because it could just turn into the L&O of HBO, ripping news from the headlines, changing names, and adding One Big Twist to either upset audience expectations or point the audience to who the Good or Bad guys really are, in the opinion of the writer
s. At least then we won’t be able to title episodes by a date and get away with it. Sloppy much?
The opening scene, in all its frat-house absurdity, fills us in that it’s been one year (and one week) since the launch of “NewsNight 2.0” Or as Will/Sorkin notes, closer to 174.0 and still ‘going to get it right one of these days.’ Could this be a nod to the fact the show Newsroom and the in-show News Night both have a ways to go, and give them a break because they’re trying to do something new here? I’ll take it as such.
The party continues. Partygoers flirt mostly within racial boundaries (though this could also be just within character-role-size boundaries, as those also tend to graduate via race) and heteronormative lines, with the exception of Will and Jim having an intimate acoustic jam session. Well, we couldn’t expect Mackenzie to know how to play guitar, right? She probably accidentally superglued her hand to one at her first lesson.
Here the danger of reviewing-as-one-goes bites one in the ass. Apparently girls can play guitar! Fake guitar! While blindfolded! I’m not sure if there’s a point in there about girls being able to do things via rote memory rather than musical ability, or if Sorkin just has a very specific fetish, but I’m going to have to take what I can get and move on.
Speaking of sloppy, it’s Episode 7, and the love-triangle well is already running dry, so we’ve drawn on the “saying ‘I love you'” well. I get that the time elapse format of the show forces things to move quickly, but at this rate Maggie is going to be having a ‘who’s the daddy!?’ crisis by the Season 1 finale.
But we move quickly on, as the episode does. The President is about to make an announcement, and Will is higher than a blimp and doing his utmost to hide it. (His predilection for weed is the best job of foreshadowing/continuity on the show.) Organized chaos ensues, Mackenzie takes charge and moves people quickly out of the apparently stair-less swanky apartment building to The Newsroom. Jim’s girlfriend shows up, and he ensures she’ll do something stupid by telling her she can come if she ‘sits in the corner and [doesn’t] communicate with anyone.’ *insert note about how Sorkin feels about women in general here*
Flash to a plane, where not only do we discover Sloan set the Treasury Secretary on fire, she also believes using your phone will cause a plane to crash. Even after writing that sentence, I’m unsure which of these things that pass as character developments makes me want to cry more.
Ok, the flight attendant makes me want to cry the most. Points to Sorkin there, and in the traffic scene. Which reminds me: I take back everything I said about solely heteronormative, non-interracial romance. I forgot about Will and Lonnie, who ‘can’t help it that I’m big and black at the same time.’
Another thing this episode does well is address the culture of ‘breaking news.’ Mackenzie states “if I can make [bin Laden] dead five minutes earlier, my whole career in journalism up to this point will have been worth it.” Not only is that a lot of validation resting on 300 seconds, it says she cares more about making a splash by reporting a Big Story first, making it The News, than all her years of being embedded with the troops, telling important stories that otherwise wouldn’t have been heard.
We have to wait another 15 minutes to get a needed diatribe from Charlie about how that’s not what’s important. It would have been nice for him to add a bit about how a man’s death, no matter how deserved or ‘just,’ is not something to celebrate (even if a scoop can be), but I suppose that’s asking too much of my fictional character’s conscience.
While we already know what happened – and if the date didn’t tell us, the prescient 87 mentions of bin Ladin’s name surely did – it’s great fun to watch the various newspeople process by elimination. Not a CDC emergency, not bad news, not a UFO. Check.
Also great fun? High Will, Conspiracy Neil, Opportunistic Sloan. Overall this episode was the most fun I had, and while that’s not necessarily a good benchmark for whether something is great art or not, it’s something this show wasn’t doing well until now. While it still slipped on several details, it hit several, too: Will’s tie being slightly crooked when he finally gets it tied (though raise your hand if you know Mackenzie tying it was where that scene was naturally going); Maggie knowing how to use FaceTime; ubiquitous Twitter notifications for all the younger reporters.
Neil’s girlfriend finally brings the conscience to the party. It’s a little weak and forced, but it’s a conscience nonetheless.
The crowning jewel: finally someone in the control room controlling things and not yelling helplessly into an earpiece! Even if the whole exchange does come across a little . . . catty, it underlines the theme: that breaking the news, and being the face of that news, has become making the news.
So we have a theme, attention to detail, Lisa not tweeting to her magical 10,000 followers that NewsNight knows about Bin Ladin, and scrutiny of how reporting news has become making news. These more than balance out the gross over-explanation of pop culture references, the more muted sexism, and the occasional sloppy shortcuts.
And just how sloppy was that emotional shortcut when Don told the captain ‘we killed Osama bin Ladin for you tonight’ ? I’ve seen 2-year-olds eat McRibs and come out cleaner. That took back all the points scored by the flight attendant, and – along with some poor word choices in McAvoy’s address, but the superior choice to have Obama’s speech instead of a song lead us out – leaves our score at a cozy 6.5.