By John Keegan and Edmund Boys
After physically injuring half the cast last time, “The Newsroom” subjects the rest to lashings of the mind. In addition to recycled dialogue, the reluctant, or inadvertent, therapy session has been a Sorkin staple, from Dan’s thera-dates on “Sports Night” to Adam Arkin’s sessions on “The West Wing”. Here, Will McAvoy winds up in the chair, while Sloan Sabbith finds out how badly things can get lost in translation. Unfortunately, it’s Will, not the sage Bill Murray, whispering advice in her ear.
The anchor desk can be a bully pulpit, which Will has been taking full advantage of. The downside is all that self-righteousness can go to your head and turn you into one of the titular “Bullies.” It’s a trap Will falls into throughout the episode, whether harrumphing at internet comments he’s forced to fold into the broadcast, or during his attempt to browbeat Sutton Hall, a gay, black former aide to Rick Santorum. Mr. Hall is almost driven to tears before returning fire with the harshest smackdown Will’s suffered yet. It could have been an even stronger reflection of Will’s troubled state of mind if Will hadn’t recovered at the end, extracting the admission Santorum wouldn’t consider Mr. Wall fit to teach. But, Will is a pro, even as a bully.
When his attempt to fix the internet draws a credible death threat, Will laughs it off, but, is assigned a bodyguard. Terry Crews’ resume ("Idiocracy", "The Expendables", etc) seems short of Sorkin-esque material, but he turns out to be the second black man this episode capable of giving Will as good as he gets . It’s refreshing to have one character around who isn’t in awe of Will, especially when Will’s sanctimony is dialed up to eleven.
All of this spirals out from a simple admission: Will’s been stumbling over his lines due to insomnia. He needs a prescription. And he happens to have a psychiatrist he’s been paying for four years without actually showing up. (Way to combine throwing money at a problem with an subconscious cry for help, Will. It turns out he’s also a pro at rationalization.) With the doc dying two years previous, and his son taking over the practice, it’s a perfect setup for the classic, “let me ask you a couple of questions before I fill this.” Forty-five minutes, aka the standard psychiatric hour, later, the episode has spooled out in flashbacks.
The major news story is the Fukashima nuclear accident. Sloan Sabbith’s ever-expanding CV now includes fluency in Japanese, so she’s working the phones as translator. Tepco’s PR representative is also a friend, in another of those convenient coincidences that I wish didn’t crop up so often. When her discovery that Tepco is downplaying the accident’s severity combines with her big break subbing for Elliott at 10-o’clock, the stage is set for a broadcast disaster.
Will’s part in this is his distracted, off-handed advice not to let a guest get away with lying. That translates into Sloan attempting to bully her friend into admitting his off-the-record comment on-air. Don goes ballistic as she goes rogue, slipping into Japanese to get around the official translator. But, in the aftermath, he is also supportive, reminding her to keep her chin up, as the wrath of Charlie descends on her.
This exchange eclipses the Sutton Hall imbroglio. Sam Waterston is in full flight, berating Sloan for undermining both the network’s and her own credibility and ethics. Olivia Munn holds her own, even challenging Charlie when he hurls the diminutive “girl” at her. Charges of sexism and misogyny have dogged the show. While I don’t deny those elements are there, it’s still an open question whether they reflect Sorkin’s own biases or uncomfortable social norms. In this instance, especially given a resolution so demeaning for Sloan, the inferences are so pointed I’m leaning towards the latter.
Some elements are still problematic. Don’s blurted inquiry to Sloan about losing Maggie was very unwieldy. Sometimes Sorkin’s need to verbalize everything gets in the way. His non-verbal gaze into the meeting room had already made the point. Also, as his doctor points out, Will’s Tiffany ring ploy was just weird. The relationship arcs still need work, but the rest of the show is really coming into its own.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Edmund Boys is Critical Myth's reviewer for The Newsroom.