‘The Newsroom’ Recap: The Good, The Bad, And The Downright Offensive And Ugly

This week’s episode of The Newsroom, “Unintended Consequences,” hurt me for two reasons: 1) It wasn’t a particularly good episode, and 2) one subplot was bad in a way that I cannot possibly defend. That smarts, because the only thing more obnoxious than a smug Sorkin are the critics who out-smug him in their criticism of The Newsroom and I don’t want to join the hate-watch chorus in throwing him to the wolves from the perch high atop the world where I write on the Interne. In my pajamas.

Damn you, Sorkin. You MADE me do this.

The Good — I have been pleasantly surprised with how well Aaron Sorkin has managed to frame Occupy Wall Street issue this season. Granted, he has the benefit of hindsight — he knows that OWS will never gain any real lasting power, and that its failure to anoint leaders and pick an issue was its downfall, but I do like the way he’s framing it as smug liberals versus smug liberals, a point he drove him with the exchange between the Shelly Wexler and Sloan, when the Wexler felt compelled to remind Sloan that she’s a college professor. Ultimately, I also think that McAvoy’s smugness wins the day because he’s at least admitting that its grounded in insecurity. Even as someone sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street, I enjoyed watching McAvoy basically obliterate it. Sorkin is always at his best when he’s put in cross-examination mode: No one builds a straw man and knocks him down better than Sorkin.

I also appreciated that Will McAvoy, of all people — especially after taking down the GOP presidential candidates last week for their treatment of Stephen Hill, the gay soldier in Afghanistan — came out in defense of Rick Perry’s association with N***erhead, the hunting camp. I am not, however, brazen enough not to star out the word, and I am conflicted about Don’s decision to actually utter the word on the newscast (though, I loved Charlie Skinner’s concerns with Reese Lansing). Yes, not saying it takes away the words’ power, and the words’ power is very important in this context, but then again: White people should not say that word.

What I’m saying is this: Sorkin should stick with his wheelhouse: American politics and behind-the-scenes shenanigans. When he tries to explore feminist and racial issues, Sorkin sticks his foot in his mouth, as you’ll see below.

The Bad — “You don’t take the woman who has just been sexually demeaned by her boss, and with whom you are trying to make a point about women in journalism, and turn her into a sexual object for floppy-haired Prince Charming, who rode in on his horse and gave the damsel in distress an interview with Governor Romney,” is what I would say if I were making a feminist argument. Valid though it may be, this is probably not the venue for that. So, I will just say this: Jim should get out of this love triangle with his manic-pixie Maggie and manic-pixie Vasser. In fact, he should be with Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer), the Romney communications director. She would f**k the Teddy Bear out of him, and that’s something Jim Harper desperately needs right now.

The Downright Ugly — The Maggie subplot in Africa? OK. That was pathetic. It is ironic that Sorkin manages to deal with the Occupy Wall Street as well as he does from his position and wealth and white privilege, and then so terribly handle himself with the Maggie subplot by so ostentatiously displaying the obliviousness that comes from white privilege. The Maggie subplot was embarrassing, the kind of tacky, hacky writing you’d expect from a condescending, after school special written by a pretentious oblivious idgit trying to demonstrate liberal bona fides.

I mean, come on, Sorkin: The blonde hair symbolism that you smacked us with once wasn’t hard enough so you had to come back around and kick us in the teeth with it again? Yes, we know that’s why Maggie cut and dyed her hair: Because being a pretty, blonde American is nothing but trouble. JUST ASK THE DEAD UGANDAN KID. And how did Sorkin demonstrate the emotional attachment? By having Maggie read a children’s book over and over and over, IN A BOOK READING MONTAGE. It would’ve taken at least 45 minutes to transform that subplot into something not resembling the cloying, offensive, punishingly-awful sequence that it was, and Sorkin did it in about 7 minutes, deposition included. You can’t take that sort of shortcut here; you can’t substitute book reading and blonde hair for character development, and you especially can’t repeat the condescending symbolism like we weren’t smart enough to get it the first time you kicked us in the teeth with it.

Look: Imagine a circumstance in which there was a black person coming to help and report on politically troubled white people and there’s a white kid touching the black woman’s hair and someone says, “He’s never seen hair of that texture before. It’s called an Afro. An Afro is nothing but trouble ” It’s laughable how inappropriate that is.

White women and blondness have been historically associated with privilege and beauty, so every time you repeat that trope you give it additional weight. It is particularly sh*tty here because Maggie then dyes her hair and cuts it, as though she’s somehow made herself unattractive by not being the paragon of beauty, the woman with long blonde hair.

What a horrible reductive thing to suggest.

But at least Gary Cooper survived. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Operation Genoa — The season long arc continues to bear a striking resemblance to Operation Tailwind. There’s more evidence demonstrating the United States used sarin gas, there’s a red team to help poke holes in the story, and we now know that it is Dantana who brings the wrongful termination suit.