I guess it’s fitting that I had to catch up to two weeks of The Newsroom after a short vacation away from all things technology, because the last two weeks can probably be summed up fairly easily. That’s both good and bad. We’re 6 episodes in what is only a 9 episode season and the last two episodes felt so suspended in the time frame the season is supposed to occur. We’re treated to a couple flash forwards to speed up the pace and catch us up to the “present” where Rebecca Halliday is building her case to defend News Night, but to get there felt slow. Some of the slowness worked – like in Episode 5 where we basically followed a full broadcast of News Night as it was happening on a particular landmark date – the day Will’s father died. But some of it didn’t. Let’s take a closer look.
Luckily, within the “bottle” episode “Newsnight with Will McAvoy” we can pinpoint the major character developments easily, and the focus from these developments did not meander through the episode. We’re 7 months ahead now, into March 2012, and Jim confronts Maggie about her inability to properly cope with “what happened in Africa.” She reaks of alcohol and is snippy with Jim, who we also learn is maintaining a long distance relationship with Hallie, the reporter from the Romney campaign trail. Maggie is also aware, and clearly upset. Jim harps on her, worried about her mental state, even as Gary points out that he’s doing better than Maggie because he didn’t have the kid that was killed on his back. They’re downloading the George Zimmerman 911 call to play in the broadcast (wouldn’t they have had better servers or IT fix the download speed? Really?) and Maggie actually flubs by cutting out a critical question from the 911 operator in the edit (love the nods to Avid – did they have some sort of sponsorship deal where they had to display the Avid software?) To make a long story short: Maggie is still unhinged. She puts on the show for everyone, but we don’t see how far she descends into desperation until the next episode.
The last major thing that happens is Will gets a call from his dad during this particular broadcast. We have yet another reminder that Mac and Will had once dated, and Mac had a special relationship with Will’s father. So of course, crazy girl nosy Mac insists Will return his father’s calls. During each break, Mac persists and Will offers information he’s getting in tidbits – his father had a heart attack and someone in the ambulance called his phone. During the last commercial break, Will reveals with what appears to be a cool veneer that his father just passed away, all during the broadcast. When they come back, to correct Maggie’s mistake with the phone call, Will is cold, still, silent – it’s the first time we see him show his sensitivity, some real emotion (that isn’t anger). Mac (and the control room) is stunned by Will – like it’s his final acknowledgement, his moment of silence for his father. After a few seconds, he proceeds with the broadcast – a true professional.
In the backdrop of this is what felt a little out of place, but made for a kind of fun spin-off opportunity for Don and Sloan. It was more opportunity for Olivia Munn to really break out of her shell and show some acting skills, and thankfully with Don, Sloan can shine. How did we miss this opportunity last season? Sloan took some racy photos that were leaked on Revenge Porn the night before, and Messina’s Reese Lansing is grilling Sloan and asking her to step down from her broadcast that night. In her embarrassment, she hides out in Don’s office, and he consoles her. The buds of romance build. I will say, it was a cute and darkly comedic moment to see Sloan punch her ex and before her ex can chase her down Don shows up and wags his finger.
“One Step Too Many” features the dreaded return of Dantana, fighting to validate his story on Operation Genoa. We see the first Red Team Meetings, where Dantana, Mac, Maggie, Neal, and Charlie present the information they’ve gathered thus far to support the story. Who’s on the Red Team? Jim, Don, and Sloan. The three actually make a wonderful motley crew of a Red Team, with Don and Sloan quick with the quips and then Jim, who is Dantana’s biggest competition. There’s some wonderful joking banter about reindeer, as a metaphor for the lack of believability of the story. They reveal they found one out of a list of 30 army personnel willing to speak with the crew about chemical weapons. The meeting adjourns, with the blessing to reach out and see what this person has to say.
Mac and Charlie visit guest star Stephen Root’s General Stomtonovich to verify he is willing to discuss Genoa on the record. Again, we’re treated to some humor with Stomtonovich being curt with Mac and Charlie and insisting he needs to watch March Madness while they tape him the next day. When Dantana arrives, he just wants General Stomtonovich to say what he wants to hear – “yes, we used sarin gas.” What we realize at this point is while Stomtonovich quickly hinted that Genoa is real, he dances around giving Dantana the actual facts he needs. As a chemical weapons expert, he just wants to explain the use, and tries over and over to do so. Dantana goes back and uses the Avid (here we go again – brought to you by Avid!) to manipulate the interview and cut it to say exactly what he wants to say.
Now, the thing to take away from here I think is wondering what is Dantana’s motivation. We knew he was hungry for the story and excited about pursuing it when he replaced Jim temporarily, but why does he want the story to be this true that badly? It’s like he’s looking for the heroism we’re bestowing upon Snowden now for revealing a secret. Is that really his motivation for chasing a story that was rightfully suspicious and unbelievable? If he was a professional in the news industry, why did he persist even when the facts were not pointing straight to where he thought they would point? What is he looking to do? This of course only leads us to wonder what he does (other than sue ACN) when he learns the story is completely false, as Charlie reminds us once again when he talks with Rebecca Halliday (revealing that he is retelling the story of the Red Team Meetings)
And then of course we have the oddball background story arcs, with Jim and Hallie looking for their romantic night together since I guess they rarely see each other, what with her on the road all the time, and Will being hung up on how his audience perceives him and breaking up with Nina Howard. Of course Jim rented a hotel room (doesn’t he have a place of his own to take her home to??) in the hotel where Maggie conveniently drowns her sorrows in alcohol sitting at the bar by herself. And of course, Hallie suddenly has to leave, granting Jim an opportunity just to see how sad Maggie has become, willingly going home with a guy who just bought her some drinks even though she acknowledges the problem with her newfound habit.
I will say, though, Will’s face during his whole morning show guest appearance debacle was amazing, and we can’t beat his failed moment of football glory in the studio.
All in all, it took us a long time to reach the critical point to find out how everything went so wrong – the moment Dantana compromised himself and the story by editing his interview to say what he wants to say (hi, reality TV!) The slowness of some of the developments worked in some cases: the format of watching an episode of The Newsroom as if it were an actual broadcast of Newsnight is pretty brilliant and added a flair of suspense and drama as we watched things unfold behind the scenes, and the slow build to that interview and watching Dantana frustratingly trying to manipulate General Stomtonovich’s words was wonderful drama. There were just some side stories that felt like they didn’t fit, but had to resolve some other dramatic end soundly before we go full force into this wrongful termination case and the false broadcast. I can do without Will’s bizarre love life – that was such an odd fit, and while I’m glad we saw how it ended, the scenes with Nina Howard as his “focus group” felt out of left field, and while I do enjoy Don and Sloan, do we really need another will they or won’t they in the show next to Jim and Maggie? In any case, now that I see Charlie is giving testimony to what happened with the Genoa story, and now that we know who else is involved, I wonder if the remaining episodes will show Don, Jim, and Sloan with Rebecca, telling their side, and I wonder if we will watch the false broadcast in a similar fashion to “Newsnight with Will McAvoy.”
Till tomorrow night…