After last week’s sour episode of The Newsroom, “Unintended Consequences,” Aaron Sorkin bounced back with what I thought was a rare problem-free episode of Newsroom that kept the cynicism at bay, that avoided the Sorkin smugness, that made a few clever insights, and stayed largely in the workplace and out of the news.
Maggie and Jim — Let’s start with what is typically Sorkin’s weakest character: Maggie. We’ve jumped from September to March on the show. The timeline is still a little confusing; the fact that Maggie is still blonde suggests that the hair-cutting event didn’t happen as soon as she returned from Africa, but after she hit rock bottom in her downward spiral, and closer to the deposition. Once it is established that Maggie will not have the bad Dragon Tattoo hair all season, it’s easier to concentrate on the fact that she’s falling apart. An unfocused Maggie, who is hitting the bottle hard in the wake of her experience in Africa and her faltering relationship with Jim (who is officially dating Hallie), was used to make two points this week. Her first was maybe the most controversial of the episode, but also the most pointed: She felt that the feminist angle many were taking against Rush Limbaugh in the Sandra Fluke controversy was misguided, which is to say: The argument should not be the more Puritanical one — that using birth control does not make a woman a “slut” — it should be that the majority of women enjoy having sex, and conservative white men should accept that and get over themselves. Amen.
Meanwhile, Sorkin mostly avoided the grandstanding we expected with regard to the Trayvon Martin case and instead focused on the role of the media, touching upon NBC’s screw up last year when the 911 call was edited in such a way as to immediately suggests that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin because he was black. It was a strong exchange, and a fair one, between Jim and Maggie, with Maggie suggesting that the edit was the result of the fact that she had six minutes to edit a five-minute 911 call down to 25 seconds (another problem with the media’s need-to-be-first reporting) while Jim suggested that Maggie’s unconscious liberal bias affected the edit. As Shawn from Psych would say: “I’ve heard it both ways.”
Mac and the Closeted Kid — The entire episode took place in real-time between the start of an episode of “News Night with Will McAvoy” and the end. One of the guests booked to come on was a teenager who was going to speak about Tyler Clemente, the gay Rutgers student who committed suicide. The guest wanted to use the moment as an opportunity to out himself to his parents, and Mac rightfully prevented both “News Night” from becoming Maury Povich, and spared that kid the humiliation he would’ve ultimately experienced. Well played.
Neil and Will — Meanwhile, Sorkin is really getting into social media this season, and I’ll just say this about the journalist who went off on Will McAvoy on Twitter for allegedly blowing her off: The “you just lost a viewer” tweet? Exactly. That’s the one that smarts. Clearly, Aaron Sorkin was also using that moment to exorcise a few of his own demons and in a way admit to his audience he doesn’t mind if you get bent out of shape when he pushes your buttons, but it stings when his intentions are misinterpreted so badly as to cost him a viewer.
Operation Genoa — If you’re following along at home, everything is falling into place with regard to Genoa’s parallel with the real-life Operation Tailwind, and this week, they added another element: The higher-up insider who confirmed the story.
Don and Sloan — The crowd-pleasing subplot in the episode was the Don and Sloan subplot, which actually seemed to draw from Olivia Munn’s own experiences with having her phone hacked, specifically the humilation she must have felt before the rage set in. Here, it’s an ex-boyfriend who released the photos on a site inspired by Hunter Moore’s revenge porn website, where you can post naked pictures of your ex. It allowed Don and Sloan some bonding time; it also allowed Sorkin to yell, through Don, at some of the more scurrilous pajama people, and most importantly, it allowed Sloan to fight her own battles by gloriously kicking the sh*t out of her ex-boyfriend and taking pictures of his bloodied face. Don was used perfectly: Not to fight Sloan’s battles for her, but to simply provide a “No, no” when the ex gave chase.
Will and Mac — Finally, the subplot involving Will’s need to call, during commercial breaks, his father, who suffered a heart attack and died, appealed to every one of us stupidly macho a**holes who think we can repress our feelings by throwing ourselves into our work, who think it somehow makes us stronger, better people if we can just soldier the f*ck on. As someone who insisted upon finishing out my week of law school classes after learning of my father’s death. I can attest to the veracity of that plot plot.