The Newsroom Recap: Episode 1.2 “News Night 2.0”
I agree with almost all of Ian McIntyre’s analysis of episode one. It was a promising pilot with some intriguing performances and interesting twists, particularly the tactic of tackling stories that happened only two years ago. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about episode two. This follow-up episode should have brought things together and smoothed out some of the rough edges. Instead, it’s very clear that The Newsroom is still struggling to find its feet. Worse, it almost squandered what interest I had in the series by repeating itself in just the second episode.
When we last saw morally-reformed news anchor Will McAvoy, he had just delivered a smart and aggressive scoop of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The result of a tenuous truce between him and exec-producer/ex-girlfriend Mackenzie MacHale, News Night was transformed from good television into actual news.
As episode two begins, Will continues to transform his life in smaller ways. We see him at home, using his staff member’s head shots/flash cards to memorize their names. He brags about his efforts later on in a meeting, rhyming off some of the more complicated names and then learning those people don’t work there anymore. He then attempts to manage his personal problems by privately telling Mackenzie not to discuss their past relationship.
Mackenzie briefs the whole team about her new rules for assessing information, the most important one being ‘Is this the best possible version of the argument?’ It is really interesting to hear her explain that the news has a bias towards fairness. Will seems to agree. He makes the example that if Republicans submitted a bill that insisted the Earth was flat, the newspaper headline would be something like ‘Republicans and Democrats disagree on shape of Earth’ rather than stating that the Republicans are wrong.
This idea of responsible news is tested throughout the episode. Charlie (Waterston) meets with the company’s ratings analyst, Reese, to get him to stop distracting Will with his anti-good-content popularity tests. Of course, we later see Reese convince Will that he needs to placate his predominantly conservative viewers and suggests doing a piece that defends Sarah Palin’s recent geography gaff.
Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith gets her first non-cameo screen time. Sloan is an on-air economist that Mackenzie wants to promote to a prime time segment that explains how America ‘got here’. The discussion gets off-track when Mackenzie admits her personal life is not the most exciting and Sloan tries to relate by acknowledging that she has also been cheated on in the past. Confused, MacKenzie learns that ‘everyone’ thinks that Will cheated on her three years ago. She’s upset that people think badly of Will and is desperate to change that perception.
Finally, the characters get to planning that night’s show. One of topics is Arizona’s illegal immigrant bill that allows police to ask suspected ‘illegals’ for identification. Maggie convinces Jim to let her pre-interview someone from the office of the Governor of Arizona without his supervision. That someone turns out to be her ex-boyfriend and when she makes a snarky remark, she loses the guest. It’s a big mistake that forces her to book replacements: a conspiracy theory professor, a gun-crazy militia leader, and a failed southern beauty pageant contestant. None of these people represent Mackenzie’s ‘best version of the argument’.
Mackenzie is upset when she finds out about the guests but she’s more upset that the staff is worried about Will firing them. She emails Will to explain that everyone think he’s a jerk but accidentally emails the whole company intimate details of their break-up. Will is enraged which intensifies his reaction to the guest replacement. But there is no time for consequences, the show is about to begin.
This is the best part of the episode. Will interviews the three unwanted guests about the Arizona immigration bill. The professor hates Mexicans, the beauty queen spouts pro-freedom drool, and the militia man has almost nothing to say at all. Will performs with startling intelligence, filling in his guest’s arguments when they fail to make them clearly. The staff watches embarrassed while Mackenzie, admitting defeat, tries to get Will to dump out of the segment. Will rubs it in, encouraging the guests to continue speaking.
The segment is followed by Will’s defence of Sarah Palin which is a bumbling, near-impossible bit of logic that fails to apologize for Palin’s stupidity. After the show, Mackenzie chastises him: while she failed to book useful guests, Will made the conscious choice to abandon his principles. She needs him to decide ‘are you in or are you out?’
The staff minus Will, gather in a bar to drink away that night’s show. Maggie takes all the responsibility for the guest-booking disaster and when Don fails to support her, they break up. Back at his condo, Will stares into the night sky as Radiohead’s High and Dry plays melodramaticallyin the background. He calls Mackenzie to tell her that he is, indeed, in.
Here’s the problem, folks.
Episode one opens with an intriguing monologue that presents the main conflict of the show. That conflict is NOT that the news fails to inform the public. The conflict is that THIS man has participated in the dumbing down of America even when he knew it was wrong. That’s what the show is about.
Episode one needs to be hybrid of itself and episode two because it isn’t until the end of episode two that we learn definitively that Will is actually ‘in’. If he wasn’t in at the end of episode one, what the hell was he? He proved that he could be moral and he proved that he could do a good news show, actions that both attracted higher ratings according to Reese. There’s no reason for him not to be in!
The thing that episode two does well, that episode one doesn’t at all, is show Will being doubtful about his status as media messiah. Sorkin realized that his main character’s arc wasn’t closed at the end of episode one. As a result, he had to do bits of episode one all over again in episode two.
Are we in or are we out? Luckily, episode three puts the show back on the tracks by moving past the team-assembling stuff and dealing with the direct repercussions of the new Will McAvoy. I just wish Sorkin got around to it sooner.