By John Keegan and Edmund Boys
“The Newsroom” pivots from the political to the personal, but, as the early feminists warned, the personal is political. That’s one of the lessons Will McAvoy learns as his attempts to widen his social sphere run into the buzzsaw of Leona Lansing’s machinations. His “mission to civilize” is foundering; her campaign to discredit is gaining traction. And, while they continue to make all the right moves on-air, behind the scenes, they’re the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.
The timeline jumps two months to New Year’s Eve. This provides another opportunity to emphasize that Jim Harper has no life, as he keeps working while the party swirls around him. Of course, everyone else is attending a New Year’s party at their office, so it’s a question of degrees here. Don brings matters to a head by insisting on setting Jim up with Maggie’s roommate, Lisa. It’s still hugely problematic that the women are being used as game pieces. The setup is contrived and clumsy. Maggie’s cluelessness is more annoying than endearing. Lisa’s insecurities give us yet another weak female character, desperate enough to date Jim despite her apparently intimate knowledge of the situation. Jim’s willingness to take advantage isn’t the smoothest move either, but he is savvy enough to keep it under his hat. Don’s cell phone meddling, while cruel, does ring true for a man wrestling with his girlfriend’s conflicted feelings. Nobody’s coming off well here.
Elsewhere at the party, Will is surprisingly date-less. Stranger still, he’s taking pick-up advice from Sloan. After the parade of babes in the previous episode, it seems a little odd. However, he was indulging in serial revenge dating, abetted by his looks and celebrity. And given the events of this episode, it’s pretty clear why there were no repeats. Will can’t let go of his newly-empowering prosecutorial style, hectoring even “a sure thing”, tabloid reporter Nina Howard, embodied by Hope Davis in slinky gold lame. His attempt to spike her latest take-down piece inspires the first drink tossed in his face.
The dates that follow, with a gun-toting friend of Sloane’s and a Senator’s aide with the misfortune to follow the real housewife Nina was taking down, continue Will’s self-proclaimed mission to be a self-righteous, insufferable boor, I mean, civilize. What’s unfortunate is that, even in the briefest of glimpses we’re given, both of these women display more chutzpah than anyone in the regular cast, whether with another drink to the face or gift wrapping a cover story on Will for Nina Howard. MacKenzie was doing better, telling Will to get over their breakup already. But, overall, Emily Mortimer’s performance still evokes more Audrey Hepburn gamine than Rosalind Russell tough reporter. I found myself wishing Will would manage to keep one of these women around to shore up the distaff side of the cast.
The upshot of Nina’s cover story is an emergency meeting to start damage control. A couple of major whoppers came out during this. It looks more and more likely that Charlie is just a soused idealist who doesn’t comprehend the threat from Leona. Apparently, not only was the post-election meeting the first he’d heard of any trouble upstairs, he decided it wasn’t important enough to give them a heads-up about it. Equally absurd, it took two-thirds of the meeting before anyone realized Nina’s tabloid, TMI, was owned by AWM. Will not knowing was in character; for not one of the others to jump on that immediately was unbelievable. It certainly could have been an immediate example of Don’s troubleshooting prowess.
Simultaneously, Neal’s Bigfoot obsession serves its purpose of getting everyone else into the office on Saturday morning. (I’m pretty sure proof of Sasquatch wasn’t announced in the last year-and-a-half, so there’s really no other reason for this to exist. And how did he bribe them all to come in anyway?) That allows Maggie to flay Jim and remain the pathetically clueless member of this quadrilateral. Her exile to the Current Affairs desk puts her in position to field the breaking news that saves the episode from more maudlin wallowing.
The Gabrielle Giffords shooting ties together the news elements of the episode. Gun control, and how Obama wasn’t pursuing it, was Will’s hobby horse this episode. It fed directly into the disarming of date #2. And, then, all the arguments pale in the face of another senseless act of mass violence. Watching the team swing into action to break into the schedule was riveting. Little touches like the emotion of the graphics guy as he typed in Gifford’s dates brought back the impact of that day. Yes, we all knew what the right call was when NPR, and then the other outlets, pronounced her dead, but it was still cathartic to see the rules followed. And just to drive it home, “a doctor pronounces you're dead. Not the news.” Reese, and his follow-the-leader ratings rush, is rebuffed. And one of Sorkin’s running themes is reinforced: how a group of deeply flawed (i.e. human) people can be galvanized by a common purpose and produce something greater than themselves. To quote Josh Lyman: Game On!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.