The Newsroom 2.3 – “Willie Pete”
The stories of episode three continue to be removed from the flash-forward mystery conflict seen in the season two premiere. Much like last week’s episode, the show forces us to ‘…wait for it’ without even knowing what ‘it’ is. That being said, there are still some fun moments.
It begins with Will chastising the GOP presidential candidates for not defending a gay soldier when he was booed for asking a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. His aggression prompts a conversation between him and Mac about the quality of their work and Mac asks again about the rest of the message on her voicemail (“Mac, I’m not just saying this because I’m high…”). He tells her he doesn’t remember.
Charlie tells Will that gossip columnist Nina Howard knows he wasn’t sick during the 9/11 coverage but Will isn’t worried. After all, he’s on a crusade to civilise public discourse (although perhaps he forgot about it. I did.) and plans to appeal to her integrity. Whoever leaked the story, however, will receive his full wrath.
Jim is still on the campaign trail, doing his best to forget about Maggie who sometimes calls to tell him he’s lost. “Look who’s talking,” he replies. He continues to throw himself into the work, being a total pain in the ass to the Romney campaign press team, despite the fact they were nice enough to let him on the bus. Unlike fellow Dork Shelf reviewer Ian MacIntyre (read his recaps of episodes 2.1 and 2.2) who suggested that Jim’s story wasn’t working for him because we know Romney’s fate, this is my favourite plotline of the season. I know Romney doesn’t win but the story we’re following isn’t Romney’s, it’s Jim’s. When The Newsroom takes on real life news, the episode arc is usually dependent upon the arc of the story. Unlike the opening lecture concerning Stephen Hill (which I found cathartic but unnecessary and masturbatory), I like to watch Jim fight the good fight, ask the questions I wanted asked, and fail: never a real answer on health care or Romney’s changing position on climate change. I bet a job like that is as grinding and repetitive as it looks. However, Jim soldiers on and we see him filing vapid reports, one after another.
Jerry, Jim’s Jim-like replacement, is on the trail of Operation Genoa. He’s gathering information to prove the US Military committed a war crime by using sarin gas on people in the Middle East. It’s the first fake news story Sorkin has written and an admission that the show’s premise doesn’t quite work. He and Mac meet with a former marine who says he was present when the gas was used. Jerry is psyched; Mac is skeptical. Back at the office, Jerry conscripts a team of researchers to track down people on a list of names the marine gave him. Mac dulls his enthusiasm by relegating the project to after hours. Maggie suggests he check to see if anyone in the area of the operation tweeted about it. Neal starts searching and books the translator they’ll need.
Will’s meeting with Nina goes really well. He has her snuck into the building through the freight elevator and clears out the executive dining room so that he can charm her with piano music and mimosas. He explains to her his plan to civilise and that 9/11 should be a scandal free zone. He’s explains the whole fake-sick situation, that it was Charlie’s idea, and asks her not to run the story. She agrees without hesitation because, she says, she appreciates his truthfulness. Mission accomplished. Will is about to leave but first asks her out on a date. She says she would love to, theoretically, and she wanted to date him months ago but can’t because of the message he left for Mac. She hacked Mac’s phone and heard the whole thing: “I’m not just saying this because I’m high. I never stopped loving you.” Will says that’s behind him now. She doesn’t bite.
Sloan admits to Will and Charlie that she was the leak about his fake flu. She let too much slip while she was explaining to an unwanted suitor about why was busy filling in for Will. However, Charlie realizes something is wrong. How could Nina have appreciated his honesty, specifically about Charlie removing him, if Sloan thought Will removed himself? A rat! Charlie and Will rush to Reese’s office to accuse him. He totally admits to being the leak (“Why? I don’t like you… I don’t like being blackmailed. Is that enough?”). Will plays the tape to remind Reese of their leverage but the recorder is blank. Reese is back in charge.
Back on the bus, Jim tries to get on the good side of fellow bus reporter Hallie Shea by discussing her blog. He read it, he likes it. She opens up about her past, that she wanted to report on real news like Jim, particularly women’s issues, but met resistance, hence the blog.
As the Romney staff is prepping them for the next morning, Jim loses it. He can’t handle their robotic answers anymore and launches into a Braveheart-style motivational speech, encouraging his peers to leave the bus with him and cover the campaign independently. Hallie agrees to go with him and they’re kicked off the bus in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, with another reporter who’s name I don’t remember but he’s fat and eats a lot. So I guess he’s the comedy.
Back at the office, some people are working late. Mac officially greenlights Maggie’s Africa trip but only if she does a human interest story at an orphanage. This plotline come up earlier in the episode when she’s concerned about her travel medication’s side effects. Anyway, she’s going for sure, presumably in the next episode.
Mac calls Nina to thank her for killing the fake-flu story. Nina answers the phone in the bathroom, post-shower. She says there is no need to apologize, if anything she owes Mac a favour for hacking her phone. Mac calls in the favour right away and asks if she remembers the end of Will’s message. Nina lies, saying that Will merely complimented the great work she did that night. Nina hangs up and leaves the room, revealing she is in Will’s apartment. Post-shower, ya know? Wink.
Mac sees Jerry’s team still working late. He’s put in too much effort – the faxed and translated tweets are just about soccer matches – for zero progress and Mac pulls the plug. Jerry admits defeat but as he sends his team home, a series of faxes comes through. A user named Hamni8 sent a number of tweets from the right area at the right time describing American army helicopters using white phosphorous (AKA Willie Pete) on his village. Sure sounds like Genoa.
A note on the Genoa plot since it’s the big story of this season. Pardon me for being cynical but the question presented is ‘Did the US Military commit a war crime?’ Is that really news? I’m not making a political point in any way: this continues to be a story issue.
Technically the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were war crimes. What about the My Lai Massacre? Heck, President George W. Bush was found guilty of War Crimes by the country of Malaysia. George Bush cannot vacation in Malaysia! So it’s not a really new idea which is not great work from a show that is 80% about ideas. And if Genoa proves that the USA is guilty there is no reason to think it would affect the characters in any way.
This is the real problem with the show. The Genoa feels like a shoddy patch job. Fortunately, the episode is hinting at some interesting developments like Jim’s worsening situation, Maggie in Africa, and Will and Nina being together, characters that have great chemistry together.
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