A tiny prayer of mine has been answered in this week’s “The Newsroom.” The not-really-long-awaited answer to “what happened to Maggie in Africa” came – maybe a little faster than I expected, but as the episode title is “Unintended Consequences,” it’s clear that though Africa happened early for Maggie, its repercussions drag on till the events of Genoa blowing up in ACN’s face. I’m happy to see Allison Pill’s true acting ability start to come out as a result of these plot points coming into play.
We open the episode similarly to our premiere – we’re back in the present. This time, lawyer Rebecca Halliday is grilling Maggie, testing out her story, figuring out what she can use in their case. Somehow – for reasons we’re yet to find out – the integrity of Rebecca Halliday’s argument defending ACN seems to be in Maggie’s hands. Why? Because of her “fragile state” after returning from Africa. We had a hint that Rebecca was placing priority on Maggie – in the premiere, she had mentioned that she intended for Maggie to be a key character witness. We see Rebecca having a little bit of trouble getting Maggie’s testimony to sway the way Rebecca wants. So to start, Rebecca asks Maggie to start from the beginning of her story – the day she leaves for Africa.
In the flashback, we also get clued in to other developments with the ACN gang. Neal finally gets OWS some airtime on News Night – he’s been “hanging out” with OWS spokesperson Shelly Wexler (although she wouldn’t want you to refer to it as hanging out) and he gets a surprise tucked in with landing Shelly an interview. Dantana starts to lament hitting a snag in chasing down the Genoa story (gee, Dantana – isn’t that a sign of something?) – they can’t locate the individual who tweeted about “willie pete” from last episode. As Dantana said “we just need something to fall in our lap,” Shelly offers a member of OWS who wrote a report while in Pakistan during the time Genoa allegedly happened, a report that got his NGO shut down while he was there. They wait with bated breath for her to finish the interview so they can stalk out this guy in Zucati Park, when Will rips Shelly a new asshole by asking some tough questions that wind up embarrassing Shelly and condescending her. She leaves upset and threatens to not share her source, even though she doesn’t quite know the extent of the type of story they’re looking for.
The rest of that storyline is a little bit silly – with Mac asking all the big peeps at ACN to appeal to Shelly since Will refuses to make an on-air apology. But Mac asks Sloan and Don to appeal to Shelly without telling them what the story really is since she may need them all (and Will) for the “red team” (basically a group of people who don’t know what the story is until presented so they can challenge any holes in it) Since they dance around what the story is, how important it is, and since they all act equally smug to Shelly during each appeal, she continues to snub Neal and refuse them the source. This offers some fun play for Sloan and Don, although it gets a little too wacky for my taste. The great clincher is Will showing up at Shelly’s college class with a sincere apology, confessing he treated her that way to shift the way the public views him, AND revealing they were actually able to find her source without her. Now there’s a wonderful twist in storytelling!
On the campaign trail, we see the struggles of Jim, Hallie (I honestly didn’t catch her name and just thought of her as Meryl Streep’s daughter up till this week), and Stillman (ALSO didn’t know his name till now) trailing the campaign trail without getting info ahead of time, without their former hotel reservations. Hallie’s personal life is laid on the table – her phone is conveniently hooked up through blue tooth in the rental call when her boss calls, reaming her out and speaking a little too personally and insulting with her. Jim’s crush on her increases as he comes dashing to her defense – he catches Romney’s press officer unawares and swings a favor for Hallie – 30 minutes with the candidate. Unintended consequence? He instead gets punished for his act of chivalry, and is ordered back to NY. He has a little romantic moment with Hallie, when she finally calms down about finding out he gave her the interview time. I see two more potentially unintended consequences here: 1) Hallie’s new fling with Jim can further drive a wedge between Jim and Maggie (which could affect her “fragile state”) and 2) Jim coming back to NY will create some sort of tension that will only let Dantana spiral further downward into the Genoa rabbit hole, instead of having Jim prevent it in some way.
All the while, we intercut with moments of Maggie, finally in Africa. She tries to speak with as much restraint as possible here, and we can tell something major really does happen. Their first and only stop is with an orphanage – they pretty much seem to spend just about a day in Africa when shit hits the fan. Troops are trying to rebuild for the orphanage, so after Gary and Maggie shoot, they decide to hang out with the kids. We learn the fragile and scary state of where they are, where cattle raiders run rampant and can roll in anywhere, take cows, then kill and rape. The children are so ingrained with this imagery and habit, they at first are freaked out by the camera, thinking it’s a gun. Maggie singles out a lonely little boy, forging a bond with him by reading him a book multiple times over. He’s fascinated with her, enjoying her company and her blonde hair. They stay long enough to miss the boat somehow on moving onto their next site – their fixer tells them they need to sleep over at the orphanage since the roads are dangerous. In the night, Maggie hears gun shots in the distance – the pastor running the orphanage calmly goes into emergency mode and they evacuate the children. Who’s left behind? Maggie’s little boy, Daniel. She rescues him from hiding under a bed bolted to the ground, and carries him on her back as they run for the bus. The men shooting are screaming in a dialect Maggie was only able to figure out after her return. It’s revealed that instead of being cattle raiders, what they were really after was Maggie and Gary, and their camera. Of course, as the last ones on the bus, whoever “they” are shoot toward Maggie and Gary… and kill the little boy. Maggie and Gary are immediately sent back to NY to be debriefed by HR, where Maggie is ordered to visit a psychiatrist, who prescribes her a psychotropic drug she refuses to take (much to Rebecca Halliday’s chagrin, disappointment, whatever you want to call it for tainting the testimony). And we see stoic, sober Maggie reflect on what happened, and her blonde hair getting herself and this boy “into trouble,” as the pastor implied when she read to the boy and he explained blonde hair to him.
I expected Africa to take a while for it to hit Maggie and “get real,” but I guess the aftermath of Maggie’s return is more important than the event in terms of what happens with Genoa unfolding. We see her coldness and her dry wit, but also the struggle to maintain that facade. What’s underneath? Does it let out? Does it continue to affect her work? Will it affect her relationship with Jim? Though we still are taking baby steps with Genoa, the Maggie plotline is a good one to leave as a cliffhanger. I’m excited once again to put together the puzzle that is season 2 of “The Newsroom.”