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What We Learned From A Magnificent, Heartfelt Episode Of ‘The Newsroom’

By / 07.22.13

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How could you not love, at the very least, this episode of Newsroom, if not the entire series? How could anyone watch this episode and not appreciate not only what Aaron Sorkin was trying to do with it, but how he did it? There are times I understand the criticism with The Newsroom, but when Aaron Sorkin tempers the smugness, when he uses that self-righteousness for the right causes, and when he sets up an episode and then knocks it down with all the right callbacks, the right emotional beats, the perfect song, as he did in “Operation Genoa,” I don’t understand even the compulsion, the desire to tear down. Last night’s episode was magnificent, a perfect example of why I love the show, and if the best you can come up with in your hate watch is that “I Hate Will McAvoy” is a lame title for blog, then maybe the trees are blinding you to the forest.

Troy Davis was executed on September 21st, 2011. I remember the case, and I remember some of the news coverage, but most of that was because of the circles I traffic in (my wife is a legal aid attorney). I remember people being upset about Davis’ execution, but most of that was filtered through the media, a media with Twitter crawls, and talking heads, and ass-bag pundits yelling over each other. It took an episode of a critically derided HBO show to give that case the consideration it deserves, the consideration CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC didn’t afford it. It doesn’t appear that even The Daily Show covered it, either, and why would they? There’s not a lot of humor you can extract out of that situation, only pity for a guy who essentially was saddled with a terrible lawyer and paid for it with his life (guilty or not, I think anyone will agree that, with a better lawyer, he could’ve avoided execution). Seriously, read the Wikipedia page. This was not an instance where Sorkin presented a particularly one-sided case; in fact, Will McAvoy’s argument re-trying, on air, a case that a jury already settled was a strong one, and in a way, gave the finale to last night’s episode an even stronger, more emotionally resonant closing. Sorkin let the facts of the story speak for itself — and used those facts to illustrate the difference between covering a story and advocating for one — and that story provided for one of the most emotionally powerful moments of the series.

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Indeed, the choice of Willie Nelson’s “You’re Always on My Mind” compared to that Coldplay song in last year’s best episode makes a strong case for how far Sorkin has come already in season two, eschewing the over-the-top emotional manipulation in favor of something more nuanced, better argued, and less smug. The Coldplay song in the fourth episode of last season worked despite itself, though it felt like Sorkin reaching for relevancy with a pop song already three years past its expiration date. The last five minutes in “Operation Genoa,” on the other hand, worked not because of a well-placed quip, or because of a self-righteous lecture, but because he provided a real-world scenario and depicted believable characters reacting realistically to a heartbreaking moment in our nation’s legal system. Willie Nelson sealed it.

McAvoy is still gun-shy in light of the backlash against him for calling the Tea Party the American Taliban, as we saw in hix exchange with Charlie.

“You think it’s going to make our lives easier if I appear to be defending a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula?” .

“Who cares about our lives being easier?”

“I do and you do, too!”

It took Mackenzie to pull him out of his funk.

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