There were three things I loved about this episode of “The Newsroom”: Maggie and Jim’s interactions; the introduction of Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn); and the scene between Will and Mackenzie that takes place after her ill-fated brush with the new email technology.
Of course, there were also things that I didn’t love. But first, the plot!
Tonight’s episode gave us a glimpse of Will’s apartment, which is gorgeous—all sleek lines and polished countertops, with flat screen TVs constantly running news from different channels. The only downside? His new upstairs neighbors, whose home repair causes part of the ceiling to fall onto Will’s breakfast table as he’s studying the resumes of his staff. Aren’t neighbors the worst?
At work, Will and Mackenzie have a brief conversation before the pitch meeting in which he outlines to her very clearly that she is not to tell anyone any information about how their relationship ended. He stops just short of saying “even under threat of torture,” but the sentiment is there. In retrospect, this was pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing for events later this episode, but since their breakup is basically the number one thing I wanted to find out about, I think I can forgive Sorkin for it.
Will casually mentions at the pitch meeting that he memorized everyone’s names last night, though he’s dismayed to find out that a few of the people with trickier names no longer work for his show. Neal, reminding us all that he’s a technology guy, helps Mackenzie explain the memo from IT regarding their new email options, which include shortcuts to email the entire staff or just one person—depending on how you type in the names. Mackenzie can’t get it quite right, and everyone’s phones go off with her test email. This is important later, I promise.
The big story for tonight (April 23, 2010 in-show) is Arizona’s passage of their illegal immigration law, SB1070, which requires all immigrants to have their papers on them at all times in the state. We find out that Will is extremely anti-illegal immigrant, though many of his staff (notably Neal, who pitches talking to a man from Spokane who’s in the country illegally and had his car taken away) are more compassionate.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Charlie meets with a man named Reese, who’s been meeting with Will daily to go over the show’s ratings. Charlie explains to him that they want content to be driving ratings, not the other way around, and forbids Reese from breaking the numbers down for Will from here on out.
Mackenzie rolls out the new rules of News Night 2.0, which are the boiled-down version of her impassioned pitch speech to Will from last episode: they’re going to report the facts, show both sides of the argument, and give people information that they need to be aware of their world and to make educated voting decisions. I like this sermon a lot better in this list form, I have to say. The dialogue overall in the meeting room is quick, it’s witty, and bounces smoothly from person to person. It feels like the show is really starting to find its speaking rhythm after some of the overwrought monologues of the first episode. If it keeps up like this, I think it could be great.
Olivia Munn’s character, Sloan Sabbith, is introduced at this point. She’s a financial correspondent for the station, and she makes it very clear that she wants to be valued for her PhD in economics rather than her pretty face. It’s partially because of her looks that Mackenzie asks Sloan to come onto Will’s show for five minutes every night to recap the financial news of the day, though she does make it a point to emphasize Sloan’s expertise as well. Given that the main character is a male anchor, I think it could be really interesting to have someone else present to explore the different standards that female news correspondents get held to, and it certainly seems like Sloan is shaping up to show that perspective.
Sloan is also the one who really sets tonight’s Will/Mackenzie subplot in motion by offering comfort to Mackenzie, sharing that her boyfriend cheated on her, too. (And on the week of their wedding, yikes!) Mackenzie is shocked, and vehemently denies that Will cheated on her. She attempts to get Sloan to set the rumor mill straight on that point, but since she can’t share the real details, it doesn’t go over too well.
Maggie and Jim, meanwhile, have an argument over the pre-interview that Maggie will be doing with the press aide from the governor’s office. Maggie is very insistent on being taken seriously, something we saw in her from the first episode, and she resists being supervised by Jim on this call.
Reese and Will meet up to go over the numbers for the show in complete disregard of Charlie’s wishes, and Reese predictably suggests adding in parts that will get more viewers. He wants Will to lead with the continuing oil spill story and show the sinking oil rig because it’s cool imagery. He also suggests shoehorning in a short bit about Sarah Palin’s “Norwegia” comment because the conservative bloggers appreciate that Will is a news anchor that reports on her without taking cheap shots. Despite Will’s assertions that he’s going to do the real news the way Mackenzie wants, you can tell Reese has gotten under his skin.
Maggie ends up blowing the phone call with the governor’s office because she once dated the press aide in college and he hooked up with his ex while Maggie was hiding under the bed. So, she made a well-deserved (although poorly timed) joke about him “racing to the finish,” and he pulled the governor’s office from the segment. Jim, who tells her she’s the only person in the entire world who would’ve agreed to hide under that bed, takes the fall for her when they tell Mackenzie.
Mackenzie gets really upset when she finds out they’re all afraid Will’s going to fire someone over this mistake, and she dashes off an email to him to let him know about the rumor going around that he cheated on her. She feels terrible, she writes, because she was the one to cheat on him and break his heart and she can’t stand that people have the wrong idea of him.
This email, of course, ends up going to the entire staff. Mackenzie completely freaks, and goes so far as to destroy two people’s phones (one by smashing, one by drowning in coffee). It’s too late, though, because Will walks in already having read it. He’s very, very angry, and their confrontation in his office is my favorite scene this episode. Mackenzie apologizes for the email and for the infidelity, and she tells him that he’d been in love with her from day one but she didn’t know she loved him too until she was with her ex-boyfriend.
Jeff Daniels’s acting here is impressive. Until now, I had only seen him in Dumb and Dumber, which, while mildly amusing, isn’t really the biggest lender of acting credibility out there. But he really pulls this scene off, blending the hurt and the anger of the situation together seamlessly. The look on his face when he asked her why she had to tell him that she cheated on him is damn near heartbreaking. He admits quietly that he would much rather that she never told him, and the conflict he feels between his love for her and his pain over the betrayal is a great place to start his character off in terms of potential development.
I’m glad this secret got out so early; I think having to wait around half a season for this reveal would’ve gotten boring fast. Plus, now we get great one-liners like from Jim to Mackenzie: “So, did we go to Afghanistan because you cheated on Will?”
The news team ends up slapping together the worst panel of interviews ever (a member of the citizen’s militia, a very eccentric professor, and the second-runner up for Miss Oklahoma) as a substitute, and the show predictably bombs. Maggie offers to resign and go to the 10:00 show with Don, but Will very kindly tells her that he wishes she would stay. She clearly admires him, and I really hope they get to interact more as the show goes on, I think it would be good for Will to be a mentor for her.
Will heeds Reese’s advice, and sneaks the Sarah Palin bit in near the end to pander to that conservative audience that he has, and Mackenzie is not pleased. She tells him he has until Monday to say if he’s in or out on their whole News Night 2.0 idea.
The staff goes out to a local karaoke bar that serves cheap drinks and even cheaper food, always a plus. Maggie, who is apparently tipsy off of just one drink, talks with Don at the bar. He tries to convince her to come with him to 10:00, but Maggie wants to be part of what Will and Mackenzie are trying to do with the news. Don, as I expected, is completely unsupportive, and Maggie threw me for a loop when she coolly announced that maybe they should break up. Don agrees, and leaves. I did not think Maggie had it in her to do that, especially after hearing her disastrous college story. I say good for her, because Don was kind of a jerk.
Maggie goes on to further surprise me (and the rest of the staff) by insisting upon having a word with Jim about him taking the fall for her. She’s sick of guys thinking they have to protect her, and she’s mad that Jim (and Don) came in like she needed a white knight to save her. Jim explains that everyone just covers for each other because no one could possibly feel worse than the person who screwed up in the first place. And just when I get my hopes up on behalf of Jim, who is very clearly crushing hard on Maggie now, she says that when she and Don break up she just apologizes to him and then it’s better. Jim has Tess escort her to Don’s apartment to do just that, and I guess we’ll have to wait and see when Maggie is strong enough to really walk away from that dead-end relationship.
Will calls Neal from his beautiful apartment after getting an apology card from his upstairs neighbors and has him offer to pay for cab rides for that guy from Spokane who lost his car so that he can get to work. Neal wants to blog about this generosity, but Will says he doesn’t want his name attached to this. It’s a nice gesture and everything, but it seems like a cheesy moral to a made-for-TV Christmas special or something. You know the type— a surly Scrooge stand-in character learns an Important Lesson about generosity and turns into a charitable good guy overnight. It’s just a little too easy.
The episode ends with Will telling Mackenzie that he’s definitely in, and he’ll see her Monday. Despite the occasional heavy-handed writing and the overwrought monologues about journalistic integrity, I’m in for “The Newsroom” too.