What We Learned From This Week's Romantically Entangled Episode Of 'The Newsroom'

The third episode of The Newsroom’s second season, “Willie Pete,” is one of those episodes that hit the hate watchers’ G-spot: It was an episode that spent too much time on the romantic complications of the characters in the newsroom, and not enough time on what makes The Newsroom occasionally soar: The human interest stories. Sorkin has not always been that great with the will-they-or-won’t-they romances (The West Wing’s Donna and Josh, excepted), but he is a master at extracting emotion from a great story, whether it be marathon runners in Sports Night or a homeless vet in West Wing, and he can usually find that fine line between overly-sentimental and poignant, as he did in last week’s story on Troy Davis.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the same talent for romantic storylines, and for whatever reason, the almost willful pointlessness of keeping two people apart that so desperately belong together doesn’t play as well on The Newsroom as it does on other shows. Maybe it’s the fact that that particular trope doesn’t work like it did in the days before Jim and Pam, or maybe it’s that contemporary shows try to make their shipping couples a little less obvious. Sloan and Don are a fun couple to ship because they have impeccable chemistry but are at least slightly less obvious than Will and MacKenzie. It is annoying that Sorkin insists upon erecting obstacles to keep those two apart, and even more annoying that it almost seems crucial to the show’s conceit. Them being together makes no sense because it takes away the screwball, comedy of remarriage aspect of the show, which is one of the best features of The Newsroom, and them being apart makes no sense because, GAH, just have the conversation that needs to be had, admit your feelings, and move on with it.

Sorkin is damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t, so the best thing he can do is to take the focus off of Will and Mac’s romanic, and place it on the stories, and their working relationship, which is really where they shine.

Although, to be fair, I do remember that Jeremy and Natatlie were still a fun together after they’d become a couple.

I really miss Natalie and her button-down men’s dress shirts.

Anyway, I think Sorkin did a bang-up job with the piece about Stephen Hill, the gay soldier booed at the GOP, enough so that it got a big “f**k yeah” out of me. ““How many different kinds of disgusting do you have to be to boo a man who volunteered to fight and die for you?”

But that felt more like a cold open, while most of the episode centered on Will and Mac, and the temporary love interest, Nina Jacobs, that’s going to keep them apart a little longer, and on Hallie, the reporter who is going to keep Jim and Maggie apart a little longer.

I did appreciate, however, that Jim displayed some of the frustration reporters must feel in reporting on a political campaign, the banality of talking points, and the pointlessness of the media at that stage in a Presidential campaign. The way that Jim Jerry Maguire’d the bus at the end of the episode, however, felt more like an excuse to get some bonding time between Jim and Grace and less to make any kind of point. I prefer it when Sorkin tries to make a point.

For instance, I am enthralled with Will McAvoy’s mission to civilize, and in his plea to Nina not to run the 9/11 story, I thought he made some great, quippy points about the toxicity of the media, and the need to be nicer. “Snark is the idiot’s version of wit, and we are being polluted by it. ” There is a lot to be said for that, though I suspect that Sorkin’s critics will throw it right back in his face in the exact same manner that McAvoy railed against them: With snark. And why wouldn’t they? Sorkin had to take it a tiny step too far: “Welcome to the high ground and McAvoy’s team of champions.”

But so it goes. We did not get a great, soaring moment in this week’s Newsroom, only some minor advances in the plot. Maggie is headed to Africa, and knowing that she’s going into Uganda confirms what for many of us is our worst fears: A rape episode, hopefully not of the very special episode (recall that Sorkin has managed to handle these issue episodes with some grace — see e.g., the homeless vet episode of The West Wing — but I am concerned. The $100 bill that Mac gave to Maggie, however, was a very sweet moment, although I am honestly scared of the story that will come out of that $100.

Meanwhile, Don is still flirting with Sloan, and Sloan delivered a verbal beatdown to her EP that was the the second best highlight of the episode.

Charlie and Will have lost their leverage over Reese Lansing, and whatever else you want to say about last night’s episode, Charlie Skinner was amazing, delivering the best lines of the night.

Finally, and most importantly, there is Twitter confirmation to the Operation Genoa story. It is beginning to sound more and more like Operation Tailwind: A well reported story with decent sources that is nevertheless going to blow up in the news network’s face. Dantana will bring a lawsuit after he’s made the scapegoat, and he’ll have plenty of evidence to support his lawsuit.

Ultimately, however, Sorkin needs to remind himself that he’s best when work drives the personalities, and not the other way around.

Random Thoughts

— I’m sorry, but I laughed both times that Don fell backwards in his chair.

— I knew the second that we saw Nina with wet hair that she’d just slept with Will, because of course she had.

— I loved Neil’s spunky remarks about Mac’s shoes, but I honestly have zero idea where the show is going with the Occupy Wall Street plotline. It’s hard to tell if it’s going to be a story sympathetic to Neil’s point of view, or Mac’s point of view, and I can’t tell where Sorkin stands. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

— Speaking of, I love the way that Mac says, “Man.”

— It’s going to be hard to get much traction out of the Romney campaign because, since we already know the whole story, he’s not going to be able to pull out much, if anything, that will resonate. It is an unavoidable topic in an election year, but I still prefer when Sorkin spotlights the smaller, human interest stories.

This is the guy we should really be concerned about, as he’s going to Uganda with Maggie.

— Seriously, Charlie Skinner is amazing.