I was starting to get worried about how The Newsroom was going to stay interesting going through the process of running the big stories of 2010 newscast by newscast, but tonight’s whirlwind recap of six months’ worth of “News Night” made me feel a whole lot better.
Right away (well, right after the overlong opening credits) we could tell this episode was going to be a little different. It opened with a newscast instead of ending with one, and this newscast itself opened with a soliloquy from Will apologizing for how the show was done in the past. I’m quickly learning that these dramatic speeches are just part and parcel of Aaron Sorkin’s writing, but I haven’t decided yet if I like them or not. I usually end up feeling like I’m getting a lecture from an overzealous and slightly pompous journalism professor.
This particular speech, which essentially summed up the new mission for the show going forward for viewers, was definitely an improvement on MacKenzie’s grand appeals in the pilot episode, at least. And showing the editing process for Will’s speech during it also served as a great way to get a peek into the staff members’ lives outside the newsroom—Maggie is back with Don, Neal’s with a cute girl that we don’t see again, and Jim is, well, by himself.
Also interspersed with the opening speech (and the rest of the episode) is a meeting going on in the fancier corporate part of the building with Charlie, Reese, Jane Fonda’s character (Leona Lansing, and Reese’s mother, as we find out), and various other important-looking extras. Everything about News Night— its ratings, what people are saying about it—is being presented to Leona, the Big Boss. As particular “incidents” are brought up in the meeting, we see the accompanying newsroom goings-on that surrounded those newscasts. I quite like this episode structure; it wouldn’t work every time, obviously, but the choice to compress six months’ worth of time was a good one. If each of these newscasts had been played out as their own episode it would have gotten boring fast.
The newscasts begin on May 4, 2010, with Will pitching his ideas about the Tea Party to Charlie. He wants everyone to realize where the party came from and the radicalization that’s been happening within it. Charlie (who anonymously sent him some polling data to get him started) green lights it. Have I mentioned that I like Charlie?
The rest of May passes by in an Elvis Presley-backed montage of Will systematically confronting Tea Party members on air about their conflicting beliefs. I have to admit, it does come off a little like an attack on the GOP (as Leona later points out), but Will does his best to keep it all about the facts in keeping with the whole mission of News Night 2.0.
When the board meeting gets to June 2, 2010, Charlie reveals that Will was a prosecutor before becoming a news anchor; he graduated college at 19, law school at 21, and had a 94% conviction rate when he was a lawyer in Brooklyn. If that doesn’t make you feel like a bit of a slacker, I don’t know what would.
It’s a very interesting piece of back story, especially considering the courtroom metaphor MacKenzie used to describe the news show back in the pilot. Reese, predictably, is not a fan of running the news like the interviewees are on trial, but Charlie shuts him down fast: “The newsroom turned into a courtroom, Reese, because I made the decision that American voters needed a fucking lawyer.”
We also find out that Will has started dating a string of young, beautiful women. The first one, a professional cheerleader/graduate student named Danielle, meets Will in the newsroom on June 2. MacKenzie runs into her and acts supremely awkward, which in no way makes her lingering feelings for Will obvious or anything, and proceeds to confront Will about it in his office.
I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of the way MacKenzie’s character is being conveyed. I’m all for emotional conflict, but Mac often comes across as overemotional and overdramatic. She’s a great journalist and a professional, but the way she acts it’s like she doesn’t know how to handle herself. I don’t know if this is a product of the writing, or if it’s a directing choice, but I’d like to see some more of “fearless war correspondent” MacKenzie and less of “doesn’t even know how to send an email and judges Will’s dates based on their appearance” MacKenzie.
On August 31, we see Will interview Bryce Delaney, a Republican congressman who lost his election to a Tea Party member. He says he made two mistakes: one was answering the question of “Is Obama a Socialist?” by calling that whole debate a distraction from real issues and the other was cosponsoring HR2559 (a bill that provided housing vouchers and counseling services to homeless veterans) with a Democrat.
And now comes the part that Leona and her board seemed particularly concerned about: Will offending David and Charles Koch. In interviewing two Tea Party members, Will asks if they were aware that the summit they attended in July was paid for by Americans for Prosperity, a group that is essentially consists of the Koch brothers, who own the second largest private company in America. The problem? The Tea Party was founded on a resistance to central structure and private interests in government. Reese tells Charlie that under no circumstances should Will have gone after the Kochs without checking upstairs first.
Additionally, the Jim and Maggie subplot continues to thicken. When she leaves a pitch meeting in distress, Jim finds out from Don that she suffers from frequent panic attacks. Don’s solution is to just leave her be, but Jim follows her onto the rooftop terrace where she’s trying to calm down by calling her roommate, Lisa. As it turns out, the reason Maggie has no Xanax on her to solve the problem is because the guys Lisa has over keep taking them. Luckily (and conveniently), Jim is well-versed in panic attacks thanks to some of the guys he was embedded with overseas, and he checks her pulse and gets her back to a pretty normal state. While I am a little uncomfortable with how often Jim seems to “save” Maggie—I’m starting to see a pattern of helpless women in Sorkin’s scripts—I do like the two of them together.
They end up talking about Maggie and Don’s relationship, and over the five months that Jim has been there, they’ve broken up four times and gotten back together five times. He says, completely sincerely, that they just need to learn how to have a fight. When he leaves, Maggie picks her phone back up; her roommate, who heard the whole interaction, asks something and Maggie replies “Yeah. That was him.” Guys, I think this crush might be mutual.
Not long after this conversation, Neal tells Jim at the karaoke bar that Maggie and Don have broken up. For real this time, he swears, and suggests that Jim go for it with her. I knew Neal was rooting for Jim and Maggie! Jim, in consideration of her feelings, doesn’t think that’s such a good idea. At least, not right away.
The last two sections of the episode are election night (November 2, 2010) and the following day, which is when the big meeting is taking place. Election night coverage includes Sloan, Elliott (Don’s new boss who does the 10:00 show), and another analyst named Kyle on the air. Amid all the regular chaos of the newsroom on election night as the official counts keep rolling in is some relationship chaos.
Will, after talking to Maggie, decides to go to the control room to apologize to MacKenzie, only to discover that she has a boyfriend of three months (Wade Campbell) who’s come to watch the show. Now it’s Will’s turn to be jealous, although (because he’s not a woman like Mac?), he gets to handle it quietly and introspectively.
In other bad timing news, just as Jim is about to make his move on Maggie, Don gets there first and the two of them kiss. Don is potentially only back together with Maggie to save his job, though; after he mouths off to Elliott, his boss, he’s given a choice—get his attitude together by either getting back with Maggie or getting over her, or get fired. I think he made the easiest of the three choices, but we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Leona finally gets her chance to have her say in the penultimate scene of the episode. She lays it all out on the line for Charlie—she has business to do with this Congress and she doesn’t want Will humiliating its members on air. She admits that she has the same low opinion of most of them that Charlie does, but she is a businesswoman, and she has to do what’s necessary in order to keep her shareholders happy and her company running. If Will doesn’t tone it down, she says, he’ll be fired. And because of the non-compete clause in his contract, he wouldn’t be able to be on TV for three years after his termination, which Charlie knows essentially means death for Will’s future as an anchor.
The episode itself ends at the karaoke bar with “just the guys” (and Sloan) out for a celebratory drink after all the election night coverage. It seems like this setting is going to be pretty regular, and if they don’t use it at least once as an excuse to have John Gallagher Jr. (Jim) show off his Broadway singing chops, then that is one waste of a karaoke bar. In any case, Charlie gets a 2 AM email from Leona calling the meeting we’ve seen all episode, and it ends with his toast to the news and to the team.
Now the question is, how much of that meeting is Charlie actually going to tell Will about?