Summertiiiime, and the livin AIN’T easy for the team at The Newsroom. We return to this universe with a very intriguing mystery of sorts. I knew something was different the moment the show started – we have a brand new show open! What I didn’t expect was a play on format, and I think this works wonderfully for the show and improves on the drabbiness of season 1.
Our antihero-hero Will McAvoy starts with trying to act sly while sitting down with ACN’s lawyer, guest Marcia Gay Harden as Rebecca Halliday. We slowly catch wind that News Night reported on a story gone wrong – the details of which we are still waiting to unfold, but the severity of its repercussions are already clear if a lawyer’s being called in to help defend ACN. Really, this episode highlighted a bunch of repercussions of actions, something Will and Mac don’t fail to mention and remind themselves as they’re questioned on camera by the lawyer.
As opposed to the straightforward format of moving in time but from the recent past, this season opens with several jumps back and forth in time. We are led to assume the suit against ACN is taking place in the present (or close to it), and we flash back to shortly after we ended season 1 to begin to piece together the mystery of how News Night reported on some operation called Genoa. So after Will goes on his, “If Ben didn’t break his foot, if Jim didn’t go to New Hampshire,” shpiel, we return to August 2011, immediately after Will’s broadcast calling the Tea Party the “American Taliban.” From the get-go we sense that things are starting to go sour for Will and the team. Reese Lansing, president of ACN’s parent company, is shunned from a House Judiciary Meeting because of his association with Will’s broadcast. When Jim tries to take over for Ben to cover the early stages of the Romney campaign, he also is shunned because of Will’s broadcast (more on this in a bit). Charlie approaches Will to officially ask Will to step down from the 9/11 10 year anniversary broadcast, so as to avoid any further potential controversy for the network and the team.
We also start to see the thinning of the threads for the News Night team, as they swoop in just in the nick of time to salvage a messed-up fact check on the trial against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The fact that they almost fudged up that story is definite foreshadowing for the blunder we already know happened. (A-ha! Therein lies the brilliance of Season 2!) Jim and Mac work some live-news magic as they call the man who voiced over for the package, and cut to him rephrasing a line while on the phone during the airing. Mac and Jim then discuss one of their team members having broken his foot following the Romney campaign. Mac asks Jim to think about who should replace him. Cut to resident tortured soul in love Jim, watching Don and Maggie in just-moved-in bliss. Jim is cold to Maggie as she tries to thaw the ice between them, and Jim decides to go cover the Romney campaign. The repercussion of this is HUGE, as we’re introduced to a greasy, over-eager Jerry Dantana (even the name Dantana kinda makes my skin crawl). Jerry Dantana is a producer over in DC, and Mac asks him to come up to NY to cover for Jim while he’s away.
Jerry Dantana arrives, already full of ideas and an agenda of what he wants News Night to cover while he’s producing the show. This is music to Sloan’s ears, who just can’t stop talking about drones and they seem to be on the same page.
Now here, I have to make a quick interruption. Aaron Sorkin was definitely onto something with drawing from current news and watching it in hindsight: in an interview before the show came on, he mentions the intrigue and excitement in seeing people look for the story, and acting “smarter” than we are with this important knowledge at the edges of their fingertips. Watching the process of journalism is what makes The Newsroom compelling and profound, especially in this day and age where the public is in need of information in the idealized way Will McAvoy wants to give it to them. The stories of two summers ago suddenly feel so relevant to me today, since I am also watching these topics unfold still in the news, whether I’m part of the production or not. Sloan’s obsession with covering drones is, to me, still important – my boyfriend is actually editing a piece about drones. So, here, I have a deeper appreciation for what Sloan is trying to do, and I find a special sort of humor watching Will shrug it off with disinterest (the power of dramatic irony!)
Anyway, the drone tag team of Dantana and Sloan are what prompt a panel about drones to occur on the upcoming broadcast for August 24, 2011. And of course, we continue to see Jerry’s sneaky hands trying to latch onto any sort of power in the NY offices as he pushes for a panelist of his choice to appear on the show. The result? The panel segment ends with Dantana’s wild card Cyrus West going off on drones uncomfortably, and without a rebuttal from Will (he blatantly ignores Mac’s direction to get the panelist off his rant). Mac diplomatically reams out Dantana for what went down, telling him he must use Jim’s people from now on. As Dantana tries to politely tell Cyrus that he might not be invited back, Cyrus drops the bomb: he has the story that can “make careers and end presidencies” – Genoa. The seed is planted, and who’s at the root? Dantana and this flop.
Other odds and ends: We see Neal (a wonderful Dev Patel) take initiative and pitch a story Occupy Wallstreet – he’s followed the beginnings of the movement online, as they started to organize themselves. While Mac shrugs it off initially, she allows Neal to pursue it, but notes that they won’t do anything about it until something actually happens. Neal attends a meeting and starts to get close with one of the organizers who takes on an unofficial leader role – he leaves her his card. I’m sure there will be more on this later, perhaps a moment for Neal to totally step it up. Yay!
And of course, the love triangle of season 1 comes to a head: after Jim runs off brokenhearted to trail Romney, Don comes home to the two-week old home he’s made with Maggie and tries to quietly pack his bags and leave. Why? Though he wanted to leave unscathed, Don reveals to Maggie a video on YouTube showing her big wonderful scene from the end of Season 1, with Maggie basically declaring she’s in love with Jim to a Sex and the City tour bus. This probably plays some role in Maggie’s trip to Africa covering a story where “things got real” and her returning with shorter hair that’s dyed. (Amazing reveal for this, with Maggie quietly interrupting Will’s meeting with Rebecca, and Rebecca getting upset about how Maggie looks)
Overall, this first episode has caught my attention. The thing with Season 1 was it just started to feel more like an agenda being thrust onto our laps as opposed to watching the drama of the journalism process unfold. Season 1 was also very much the starter season – we get introduced to the idea (and the idealism), we meet the characters. Everything was straightforward. Now with a “mystery” arc we will watch come together as the past catches up with the present, we have a lot more creative stretching, and a lot more intrigue. I’m excited not just to see how News Night will cover the major news events we know are impending, but I also want to watch the pieces of the puzzle come together. It sucks for the News Night team, but it’s a damn good time to be watching them!