Tonight’s episode starts with the News Night team still in the dark after last episode’s blackout ending. The power has gone out in the entire building because the backups to the backup generators fell victim to budget cuts. Will asks if there’s a contingency plan if power doesn’t come back by show time. By way of an answer, Mackenzie starts in on a speech about teamwork and getting back to their values, going so far as to rally support for doing the show from outside if they have to. Mercifully, the power returns before she can ramp up to a cheering-crowd finish, and the crew trudges back off to do the pre-taped interview with Sandy.
It’s all for the good of the debate, Will keeps reminding us. The associate producers are having a hard time watching him cover the Anthony Weiner debacle, so Jim smartly suggests they practice for the mock debate instead. Will has chosen to cope with his inner turmoil about Sandy’s interview by lighting up a cigarette onstage while the pre-taped footage is rolling. That has to violate health and safety codes, but nobody really seems to care.
In the newsroom, Sloan is upset about the “journalistic malpractice” being committed by pushing her coverage of the debt ceiling crisis in favor of Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner. Neal agrees wholeheartedly, and uses this opportunity to resubmit his request to troll her for the story he’s working on. Despite the negative impact this could permanently have on her image, Sloan agrees to it because she thinks it really is a good first story for Neal.
At the karaoke bar, Brian and Mac are talking. Brian’s still insistent on his point from last episode- that Mac was cheating on him with Will and not the other way around- and Mac is still insisting on the true version. Brian manages to make one good point, though: Will is a fundamentally lonely guy. The reason he cares about the audience isn’t the money, it’s for the feeling of being less lonely. Looks like Dr. Jack Habib isn’t the only one analyzing the inner workings of Will McAvoy.
Speaking of Will, he has a very pretty bouquet of flowers in his office when Mackenzie comes to talk to him. Naturally, this derails whatever conversation they were going to have, and Will tells her the flowers are from him, not for him. And not for her either, as she asks point blank.
At the story meeting, Will emphasizes yet again the importance of them scoring the RCN debate. The only way they can do that is to get more viewers with a brand-new Casey Anthony guest. Turns out, Maggie has one conveniently located right in her own apartment: Lisa went to high school with Casey. So far she’s refused to talk to news shows, but Will and Mac want Maggie to convince her to talk to them.
Jim and Maggie head out to visit Lisa at work, where she’s trying to help a customer find the perfect dress to wear to the Tonys. In between the customer waffling over her choices and Jim being almost impossibly awkward, Lisa insists that she can’t provide any insight into Casey Anthony and that the whole affair is a tragedy, not a television spectacle. Jim and Maggie agree with her on that point, and try to sell her on the debate, but what really gets Lisa to do it is that Maggie needs her. That’s actually really sweet; I hope Maggie feels bad for all those times she said mean things about Lisa behind her back because it doesn’t look like she deserves them.
Back at ACN, the solution to the flower mystery turns out to be Don. They’re for him from a girl named Jenna, whom he was seeing when he and Maggie broke up yet again. He confesses to Will that he’s actually been out with several women, each time he and Maggie have broken up. Naturally he hasn’t ever told Maggie about any of them. Jim signed for the flowers and read the envelope-less card, so now both he and Will are in on Don’s secret.
Over at Dr. Habib’s, Will is getting some psychoanalysis from someone who’s qualified to give it. Jack says that Will is hypersensitive to betrayal because of his issues with his abusive father. Will wants to know if he shares some part of the blame for Mackenzie cheating on him. Jack says he wasn’t even part of the equation – Mac saw a chance to get un-rejected by Brian and took it. Will is still trying very hard to forgive her, but he can’t, though intellectually he knows he should. Jack says he can’t because he was betrayed, not rejected. It’s good insight, actually, but I think it’ll take some extreme circumstances for Will to finally get over it.
Sloan checks in with Neal on his trolling progress back at the newsroom. At first it was a no-go, but then Neal tried using the analogy that if he could balance his checkbook, why can’t the government do the same with the national debt? Considering that it gets Sloan shouting mad in about two seconds in person, Neal’s done well online, though he’s not in with the trolling community yet.
In the only real mention of Solomon Hancock this episode, Jim checks in with Charlie, Will and Mac with his report on how the source vetting is going so far. Hancock is starting to look a little less than perfect: he performed poorly on a psych evaluation, had his security clearance level lowered, and violated a restraining order his ex-wife had on him. Hopefully they tie this storyline up next episode, because this plot got lost in the shuffle this episode. It had no real place in the overall story, I agree, but I really don’t want to wait until season two for the resolution here.
Before Lisa’s interview with Will, Jim comes to talk to her in the makeup room. She says the reason she hasn’t returned his calls or gone out with him again is because he and Maggie clearly have something between them. Jim says he’s nobody’s second choice, and Lisa says neither is she. More Lisa please, I quite like her. Maggie unknowingly interrupts to bring Lisa some stats on missing children cases over the last year for her interview.
On air, Lisa uses this research to make the argument that Will probably would have made if he were able to: why do we only care about Casey Anthony and her daughter? What about all the other thousands of missing kids across the country? Lisa wonders if it maybe has to do with race, suggesting the media only covers stories about white kids gone missing. So far there hasn’t been much said on The Newsroom in terms of racial representation (beyond the argument Will had with Rick Santorum’s staff member), and I’m glad it’s handled here without too much over-the-top speech making.
But then things get a little out of hand when Lisa goes off-book. Will and Mac were on board with her racial representation argument because they agreed, but Lisa then brings up a loaded question: what if Casey Anthony had wanted an abortion? What would the story be, and why don’t the people who care so much about denying abortions care as much about the consequences of forcing a mother to birth and care for a child she doesn’t want?
Whether you agree with Lisa or not, I admire her for getting something that was important for her to say out there when she had the chance. It has some serious negative consequences for her, though; after the show, somebody tossed a rock through her work’s window and spray painted “baby killer” across the storefront in angry red letters.
The fateful day of the mock debate arrives, and with it comes Adam Roth (Adam Arkin) and Tate Brady (Jake McDorman) from the RNC. Adam and Will are old friends from when they worked at the White House together. Tate starts to lay out the ground rules for the debate when Charlie tells them they’ve got another format planned.
Will explains: they want to hold candidates accountable for their campaign rhetoric, call them out when they’re speaking contrary to the facts, and stop them when they aren’t actually answering the question at hand. With that, Will starts the mock debate. The participating staff members are all wearing gray hoodies with their candidate’s name on it, and Will fires one question after another at them. They’ve clearly done their homework, but Tate grows increasingly uncomfortable and finally calls a halt to the whole thing.
In Will’s office, Tate is past the point of polite conversation. He yells that Will is trying to make their candidates look like idiots. Will tries to explain that he’s really trying to hold them accountable for their statements and raise the level of debate, but Tate insists the questions were brutal. Adam’s on Will’s side, but it’s not enough. Tate says he can do the debate, but by their rules, and without Mackenzie – he wants the old Will McAvoy, not what she’s turned him into. Will takes offense at that, and blows cigarette smoke square in Tate’s face. Glad that therapy’s helping fine-tune his mature emotional responses.
Adam says they need ACN because they have a lot of Independent viewers, so Tate tries to get another anchor. Alas, all he gets is the kiss-off from both Don and Sloan, and he leaves in a huff. Adam apologizes to Will, but he can’t risk losing his job with his son starting at Stanford in the fall.
They’ve got an hour until air, and Brian chooses this moment to talk to Mackenzie. It’s not like she has an important job to do now or anything. He agrees with Tate, Will was attacking the candidates, and he thinks Will’s going to cave so he can host the debate. Mackenzie loudly disagrees, and says one of the things she likes about Will is that he struggles; she means with what is right or wrong, but it’s beautifully juxtaposed with Will having problems getting into his suit pants.
After helping Will up, Mackenzie confronts him about Brian writing the story. She urges him to reconsider, and somehow devolves into a hysterical, yelling mess. I really wish I could say this was atypical. She recovers quickly, though, and Will makes the snap decision to throw out the rundown. No more Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner – tonight, Sloan gets two segments to talk about the debt ceiling. Will advises Brian to just “write the truth” and rushes off to work on tonight’s show.
Mackenzie spends more time than she probably has staring between Brian and Will, as if the viewers have any doubt as to who she actually has feelings for. She calls Jim over to give him romantic advice, of all things, by quoting Robert Herrick’s poem that starts “gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” But, you know, he should wait to seize the day until after the show airs.
Jim shows up to Lisa and Maggie’s apartment about thirty seconds after the two of them were just talking about him. Maggie admits to having a crush on him when he first started, but now she thinks Lisa should go for it. She’s lying, mostly to herself, but she’s going to have to come to terms with her feelings eventually. At the door, Jim says he’s here to talk to – he cuts himself off when he sees Don there, but it definitely started with an M. Lisa obviously assumes he’s here to talk to her, and she saves him a speech (she thinks) by kissing him, and they leave on a walk.
Don knows that Lisa isn’t who Jim came to see, and he takes this opportunity to come clean with Maggie. We don’t get to hear what he says, as this has started an episode-ending montage. Tate and Adam are watching the Republican debate they’ve given to someone else, and the questions are trivial at best. Charlie is poring over Hancock’s psych evaluation. Neal is trolling away on his laptop, and he comes across the person who actually wrote Will’s death threat. Thankfully, he’s got some sense in him, and he immediately calls Lonny. Maggie is listening stone-faced to Don’s explanations, and Will is browsing a relationship advice site.
And that’s where it ends for this week’s episode. Next week is the season finale, and they’ve got four main plotlines to tie up, as far as I’m concerned: the matter of Will’s death threat, the Maggie/Jim/Don/Lisa situation, the Solomon Hancock and TMI hacking story, and the looming shadow of Leona Lansing firing Will. Considering there is a second season ordered, the show may choose to play out a couple of these, but I’m hoping at least for some closure with Hancock and Neal finding the person who made the death threat.