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'The Newsroom' Episode 3 Review and Recap: The Morning After 'The 112th Congress,' a Silent Waiting Game Erupts

Television
by Beth Hanna
July 8, 2012 8:00 PM
4 Comments
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Jane Fonda in "The Newsroom"
HBO Jane Fonda in "The Newsroom"

In a canny bit of Sorkin script engineering, the "News Night" team tackles Tea Party politics for six straight months with nary a peep from the 44th floor. But as with Jane Fonda's silent lioness Leona Lansing, a period of quiet comes before the roar.

What happened:

Will gives an opening editorial comment at the beginning of "News Night" apologizing for his past failure to responsibly report the news.

He and the show are "quitting the circus" of ratings-oriented human interest stories and will now strive to be a "champion of facts."

This episode toggles between two points in time -- or rather, one point in time and one duration of time. Charlie meets with ACN heads Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) and her son Reese the morning after the election of the 112th congress. As they sternly berate Charlie for the recent direction of "News Night," we flashback to various moments in the newsroom over the past six months, between May and November of 2010, which have been the causes of concern for the 44th floor.

The main dissatisfaction stems from Will's "epiphany" that the Tea Party has been co-opted by the radical Right, and that the show's focus up until the congress election should be confronting Tea Party politics. Mackenzie is on the board with this, and Charlie, the fairy godmother of "The Newsroom," planted the idea in Will's head. From May to November Will goes head-to-head with a number of interviewees who represent the various facets of Tea Party politics at work, from anti-gay marriage proponents, to a Republican congressman whose re-election was sabotaged after he co-sponsored a bill with a Democrat, to backers touting the "grass roots movement."

This is where Will gets into particular trouble with the Lansings. He points out on air that the dollar-here-dollar-there mythos surrounding the Tea Party is actually funded by titan Koch Industries to the tune of $40 million. Reese barks at Charlie, "Don't come down on the Kochs."

Will Sloan Newsroom
On election night, Will and Sloan take a newly elected congressman to task about the debt ceiling, which the politician pretends not to hear through the din of election rejoicing. This is the last straw for the Lansings, who then schedule the aforementioned meeting with Charlie.

Leona threatens to fire Will if "News Night" doesn't turn the ship around. She also reveals that Will agreed to a non-compete clause in his contract -- if she were to fire him, he wouldn't be available to other networks for three years. 

Run silent, run deep:

There were several admirable structural aspects to this episode -- the flashbacks, the reveal of the meeting's date -- but the most impressive is Leona Lansing's 50 minutes of silence, which creates tension for two reasons. First, Fonda is a legendary star. By the dictates of traditional Hollywood hierarchy, we expect to hear her when she's on screen. Second, Leona is the queen bee of ACN, and seems to be positioned to deliver Charlie's wrist-slapping. Instead, she watches and waits.

When she does speak, she delivers a monologue about Moses and Jesus playing golf -- which I could take or leave. But what comes next is more interesting. Leona states twice that she has "business in front of this congress," and that "News Night" can't clash with the Tea Party players. Charlie stresses the urgency of criticizing the congressmen, and makes a comparison between senator Joseph McCarthy and house representative Michelle Bachmann. Leona tosses this off as specious: Blacklist mongerer McCarthy was "obviously bad" whereas Tea Party supporter Bachmann isn't anyone to worry about.

Whether one agrees with Charlie's (Sorkin's) comparison, the issue of past apparent evil versus present nebulous malignancy is interesting, and a major theme of "The Newsroom." Sorkin is taking events from America's recent past and painting them in an intensely critical light. We should take these issues seriously, he's saying, we should treat this as a matter of life and death. It's too easy to form indifference to current or recent events, perhaps as a coping mechanism, or perhaps as a symptom of self-absorption.

Similarly, it's too easy to see the "obviously bad" events of the distant past as isolated and unrepeatable. Sorkin seems to be arguing that in fact the past and present are interrelated, and point to one another. The high ceilings and outsized media of the Lansings' meeting room reminded me of the brainwashing chamber in John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate," a film with a thinly veiled Joseph McCarthy figure. So in this episode's set design with see recognizable hints of the past intruding into the present.

Bits and pieces:

  • Will brings a number of hot dates to the newsroom, which prompts more of Mackenzie's mania from last week's episode. Meanwhile, Maggie suffers from a panic attack, and Jim, who is swiftly becoming the show's most annoying character, must save the day and calm her down. (His brilliant advice: "Always keep a Xanax in your purse or pocket.")
  • Maggie and Don are in constant breaking-up-and-getting-back-together mode. 
  • The "News Night" makeover is making Don's 10pm human interest news show look increasingly wan.
  • Sloan is my favorite female character thus far. Her debt ceiling suggestion is spot-on, and I love her wincing smile in the final scene when Will is waxing poetic bullshit about going out for a drink with "just the guys." Will McAvoy, savior of cable news though he might be, isn't immune to the news anchor boys' club. 

Other interpretations or ideas? Thoughts about the episode?

4 Comments

  • Lilly | July 9, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    This show's probably gonna start off slow before starting to get some real succes, to me, The Newsroom has all the potential in the world to become quite a great series and be remembered as a big one later on.

  • Joe m | July 9, 2012 3:21 AMReply

    Newsroom - the show predictably side stepped left quickly. Once again loving the country thinking gay people should have every right afforded every other married couple is not an important issue at this time and yes abortion is bad but basically it's a tough decision that no one makes because of eye color or gender in this country and frankly we have bigger fish to fry is never the theme of any show on tv.. These are bullcrap issues at this time and shouldn't be on the table. No one believes granny will be denied medical care but we can't bankrupt families with sick granny's so maybe we take care of a few less illegal aliens. Which is what they are. In other countries they get expelled by being dropped off at the border. America is not nor ever will be a cold callus country we just need some sensible laws to be enforced. Yes BP was horrific. So let's keep buying oil from countries who really do hate us and want us erraticated and hey in the meantime don't buy oil from one of our only allies and shut all the coal plants and don't renew nuke licenses because we nailed down solar and wind didn't we. Let's not call solindra and the 18 othe known bad grafts corruption and cronyism because oh.... Obama is black. Yeah that's it the left always has moral high ground they can never be wrong and Obama like Jesus himself can't be criticized because well he's Jesus who does that? See Americans don't want clean air and water no no see we want filth. How about we want sensible plans and our government to invest in alternative energy responsibly. In fact as it turns out there are quite a few companies farther along in many areas of alternative energy but they didn't contribute millions to the campaign so got zip. The government is now officially run by the government for the government. Let's recap. No term limits no tort reform no donation limits by corporations cuz theyz is peopull. Life long benefits even for 1 term of service. Life long judgeships. Union exemptions for anything that inconveniences them in anyway or diminishes power in anyway even when workers are given the option to leave their warm embrace 70% flee. Who cares if secret ballot is eliminated? It's sick. Guys like Sorkin and Chuck Lorre know how people are influenced by Hollywood (lol) and try as they might twist things just a little left of left.
    Sorry to say the center is right. Like of course a woman has the right to choose. That will never change . The right barks but does nothing for all the unwanted babies now ... Can u imagine. So what a coat hanger for the lady? Of course not. This whole slippery slope thing is done. All a reasonable person is saying is we need responsible laws. If you have to hit the kid with a hammer to kill it because it's alive and kicking well fuck that is not responsible ok. You need to outlaw that and have the kid and give it up. Any woman knows any rational person knows what is right and wrong and if a baby can survive outside the womb and not like a Frankenstein baby then it may just be too late to abort. If stem cells can cure shit its not rational to equate a stem cell with a baby. So stop it. Do the research. Should we grow humans in petre dishes .... No of course not but a new liver...yes of course! We should carry guns after a test that's harder than a road test. If you're not stable no gun. I agree you don't need a freakin bazooka. And if you're a felon no gun! is that unreasonable. Military and illegals and taxes..... Hey how about this ... You get here somehow from where ever and you serve 4 years in any branch of service you get to be legal. Thank you for the service. While we are at it lets have term limits 8 years in congress but if they did military service they can have special elections and get another two. Let's make service a desired action. Through incentive not mandates. And get this serve 10 years in the military and u never pay fed tax again. If you're wounded in combat the tax payer picks up medical for life. I don't care what you earn you pay some tax period. If you want disability you have to prove it and you fraud the peeps you go to prison 1 year min. You want welfare ? Ok if you have kids they must have C avg in school and graduate period. You keep your kids in school you get all the aid you need including cable. Teachers who don't teach and get results get fired. Good teachers top out at 6 figures, unions go away. Great educators get big bucks. Weak ones go home. No kid ever gets left behind meaning they all graduate and know how to read and write and add 2+2! I don't care if they repeat 6th grade 6 times and go all summer every summer. You get an education . We spend way too much on education for these results. Stop it now. So the middle is rational. The left and the right are nuts..... Wake up people.

  • JOE M | July 9, 2012 8:33 PM

    Hi, This is Joe again. I just shook off the last of the aftereffects of whatever I took last night. Sorry for this crazy post, I really have no idea what I was talking about but I was obviously very upset at everyone. Gotta go, my shift at the drive-thru starts in 15 minutes.

  • Mr. Paragraph | July 9, 2012 11:59 AM

    Dear Joe,
    I don't believe we've ever met. My name is Mr. Paragraph. I exist to make an overall narrative easier to understand by breaking it down into easy to read smaller narratives. I'm fairly self-explanatory, but, just in case, I'll tell you that you can use me by confining all your thoughts about one aspect of your narrative into a single block of sentences, then put all your thoughts about the next aspect of your narrative into a separate block of sentences, and so on. I think if we become acquainted it will serve you well in not only conveying your narrative by causing more people to actually stop and read it, but it will also keep you from sounding like a complete raving lunatic.
    Best Regards,
    Mr. Paragraph

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