I’d like to start off by saying it was so satisfying to see Will McAvoy get drinks thrown in his face for being a complete and utter jerk to people. Any of his poor behavior so far has been contrasted with information about him that puts him in the place of the victim (mostly the reveal that Mackenzie cheated on him and broke his heart), so I was glad to see a little instant consequence for the way he treated his dates this episode.
The story starts on New Year’s Eve with the News Night folks counting down to 2011 with a big party in the newsroom. Will is looking very Don Draper, alone in his office in a tux smoking a cigarette, when Mackenzie brings her boyfriend, Wade, in to talk to Will about the financial state of the country. Wade is an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern district who prosecutes financial crimes, and he tantalizingly says that he has the half of the story Will is missing. Since this barely plays into the rest of the episode tonight, I’m guessing we’ll see more of Wade next week.
Out among the staff, Neal is telling anyone who will listen (and even some people who won’t) about his theories on the existence of Bigfoot until the arrival of his “friend” Kaylee. Maggie teases Jim about working during a party—he’s compiling a feature on stories they missed or didn’t cover enough from the last year—and their flirty chemistry is being played up big time.
Don, though slightly inebriated, must have noticed, because he suggests that Maggie fix Jim up with her roommate, Lisa. Maggie is clearly uncomfortable with the setup, but because she has no real reason to say no (at least, that she could admit to herself), so Jim and Lisa end up on a date.
Will, after a heated conversation with Mackenzie about the state of her relationship with Wade, decides he’s ready to join the party and find a woman to take home for New Year’s. He bonds with Sloan over a mutual dislike of year-end festivities, but just when I was thinking they could be interesting friends, he cuts off her story with a brusque, “Yeah, this is my thing we’re talking about now.” I get that he’s bitter and jealous about Mackenzie, and Sloan brushes it off like a champ, but he could be a decent human being for more than a shining ten minutes every episode.
On her advice, though, he approaches a woman named Nina Howard, who’s also at the party alone. She says that she’s a friend of someone who works for the morning show, and Will manages to successfully flirt and make a West Side Story reference at the same time (apparently, primetime and daytime are basically the Sharks and the Jets).
Nina turns out to be a gossip columnist for TMI Magazine, as Mackenzie tries to warn Will, but he brushes her off because it’s New Year’s and he’s lonely. He asks what piece Nina is working on; it’s a take-down piece about one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and Will only has one question: why?
The screens flash the final countdown to the New Year as everyone kisses each other except for Sloan (who’s checking her Blackberry alone) and Will, who literally pushes Nina away from his face so that he can lecture her about meanness that serves no purpose, like her piece for the magazine. She insists that they do the same thing, expose the truth, but Will not-so-respectfully disagrees. In fact, he informs her that he would hold more professional respect for her if she was a heroin dealer than her current occupation of gossip columnist. Damn. As expected, Nina throws her champagne straight into his face. Now, I agree with his essential point about what effects malicious celebrity gossip might be having on our culture, but there are much better ways to make that argument than Will did.
He lands himself in the gossip columns the next morning, as revealed by Charlie; the article maintains that Will made a drunken pass at Nina Howard and goes on to call him liberal (“I’m a registered Republican, I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage”) as well as comment upon his $4,000 tuxedo that was ruined.
Charlie offers to have a public statement issued on his behalf to argue against the article, but Will refuses it. When pressed by Charlie about why he offended Nina so badly, Will explains the article she was writing and his stance on that sort of thing, saying he’s on “a mission to civilize.” I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes at the television that hard before in my life; Will (or maybe Aaron Sorkin himself, it’s hard to tell) needs to be knocked off his high horse of journalistic integrity a little bit.
When Will gets down to the pitch meeting, his entire staff throws drinks in his face in a coordinated greeting. Of the stories they pitch as the top ones missed from last year (including the Chilean miner story as well as Neal’s Bigfoot theory), they go with a general theme of exposing falsehoods perpetuated by the rest of the media; specifically, Obama’s stance on guns and the real cost of his trip to India.
On that night’s show, Will tackles the popular conservative idea that Obama is trying to take everyone’s gun rights away. He shows clips from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh and then proceeds to explain that Obama actually signed more repeals of gun regulation legislation than Bush did before him. The conservatives, he said, are lying to the American people for personal, political, and financial gain. No wonder all the tabloids are calling him a liberal. This can’t bode well for Will in terms of Leona Lansing and the board of directors; remember last week when she threatened to fire him if he continued to piss off the Congressional majority?
Meanwhile, Lisa gets ready for her date with Jim, and she voices the concern that he’ll think she’s dumb. Maggie, despite her desire to keep Jim and Lisa apart, reassures her that she isn’t dumb, she’s just been dating guys who make her feel that way. This assurance is then immediately undercut by the realization that Lisa put her skirt on backwards out of nerves, despite working in the fashion industry. It would be a cute way to set up a real Jim/Lisa relationship if Sorkin didn’t consistently make his women characters look like they’re bad at what they do because they have feelings.
Will has another one of his dates, this time with a woman named Carrie that he was set up with by Sloan. They’re soaked from walking home in the rain, but they seem to be having a good time. Carrie casually mentions that Will could get the weed out of her purse if he wanted to smoke some with her, and he finds a loaded gun in there, which he immediately disarms and berates her for bringing into his home.
When Sloan asks how his date went, the answer is not well. She wants him to call Carrie again, because if he doesn’t then Carrie will just keep calling Sloan wondering why Will isn’t getting back to her. Especially if he ends up on page six with another woman again. “She’s super jealous,” Sloan explains. “You haven’t seen the crazy side of her yet.” You know, because that’s just how women are in Sorkin’s reality: clingy, crazy, and a little catty about each other. I was really hoping this portrayal would improve, particularly with Sloan, but so far I am not into the way Sorkin writes female characters.
Will doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson yet on his next date, who brings up the infamous article. He tries to explain his side of the situation, but once he mentions the article Nina was working on, his date shows far more interest in the Real Housewives story than Will’s. He says that the celebrity gossip machine has made us all mean and desensitized. His date asks if she’s mean and insensitive then, and his answer is “Yes, but thank goodness you met me in time.” Instant recipe for a pomegranate Cosmo to the face. Does he really not understand how insulting he’s being? Or does he just not care?
At Don’s apartment, he and Maggie are swapping notes on Jim and Lisa. Jim told Maggie he probably wouldn’t be seeing Lisa again, but Lisa told Don she was going out with Jim tonight. Maggie can’t believe Jim would lie to her, and Don gets her to call him with a work-related issue (the chairman of the House Financial Services was quoted as saying “Washington is here to serve the banks”). While she’s talking to Jim, Don calls Lisa’s cell phone, which Maggie can clearly hear in the background of her call; the two of them were actually in bed together at the time, and she is not happy about Jim lying to her about it.
Another article has appeared about Will in the gossip columns, this one about his wildly unsuccessful previous date. While some of the facts are true (she did throw a drink in his face), others are not (that Will never tips his servers). Charlie again pushes for an official statement from Will rebutting these articles, but Will refuses.
That night’s story is about debunking the myth that Obama’s trip to India cost $200 million a day. Will comes right out to his viewers and says that he has a big problem with people who willfully lie to the American public in order to damage someone else’s reputation and that such people should be registered like sex offenders. I think he’s letting some of his personal bile seep too far into his supposedly fact-based newscast, but nobody else calls him out on it.
He ends up not sleeping a wink that night, and we’re treated to another look at his apartment, complete with gorgeous, jealousy-inducing, full-windowed views of the NYC cityscape. Charlie calls him in for an urgent 11 AM Saturday meeting about the latest tabloid blow-up about Will, this time a cover story called “My Night with Will McAvoy,” a TMI Magazine scoop spilled by Carrie about their gun-and-drug-filled night together.
The staff is having their own meeting at 11 and Neal is once again pitching his Bigfoot research to a tuned-out audience. Jim gets frustrated with a couple of Maggie’s passive-aggressive comments during the meeting about him being a liar, and pulls her out for a serious talk. He puts her on the afternoon assignment desk shift as retribution for her insubordinate behavior, but then apologizes for lying to her about Lisa. He also cryptically suggests talking to Don about it, since Don seems to have instrumented the whole thing.
In questioning Will about the specifics of the story, Charlie realizes that TMI Magazine isn’t owned by one of their rivals, but by their own parent company. He finally explains what went on at the meeting from last episode and about Leona’s threat to create a reason to fire Will if he continued insulting the party majority in Congress. Mac hadn’t known about the non-compete clause in his contract, which Will reveals he agreed to in the renegotiation that allowed him to fire her every week if he wanted.
Their confrontation about this point is interrupted by the breaking story of the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and the news staff comes together over successfully running this story while Coldplay’s “I Will Try to Fix You” plays plaintively across the ending montage.
I ended up only being satisfied with about half of this episode; the Don/Maggie/Jim subplot has me intrigued, but Will’s attitude about “fixing” the views of these women he dates rubbed me completely the wrong way. He doesn’t even seem to suffer long-term consequences for it, since the ending scene of the episode shows him in his breaking news triumph, determined to stick it out and keep fighting the good News Night fight for the long haul. I just hope we see more of Sloan and Neal next episode; they’re the secondary characters I’m most excited to see development from.