'The Newsroom' Episode 4 Review and Recap: 'I'll Try to Fix You' or Take You Down

Television
by Beth Hanna
July 15, 2012 11:00 PM
11 Comments
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Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston in "The Newsroom" HBO
In Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom," defamation is the vicious, attractive stranger at the party, waiting for someone to take the bait.

What happened:

The "News Night" team rings in the New Year with an office party, and would-be sexual pairings are afoot.
Don wants to fix up Jim with Maggie's buxom roommate, Lisa, much to Maggie's sputtering discomfort. Will approaches an age-appropriate babe wearing gold lamé, TMI gossip columnist Nina Howard (Hope Davis). Will's on a "mission to civilize" and criticizes Nina for her choice of profession, to which he's greeted with a glass of bubbly in the face.

The goal of "News Night" for 2011 is to focus on stories passed over or paid little attention in 2010. The two key pieces of interest involve slander surrounding Obama: First, the dubious rumor that the president spent tax payers' $200 million per day for his trip to India; and second, that he's threatening citizens' second amendment rights. Will and the staff broach these lies in two different show installments, pointing out that Obama has signed more repeals for dismantling gun policy than George W. Bush, and that Rush Limbaugh began the rumor about the exorbitant trip to Mumbai.

Meanwhile, Will's ordeal with Nina lands him on Page Six. His lady troubles continue as he dates Sloan's weed-smoking, gun-toting "Southern liberal" friend, Carrie, and then a senator who splashes him with another drink in the kisser. This face-martini gets him a second Page Six writeup.

His date with Carrie has more substantial consequences, as she takes a tell-all story to TMI about her so-called drug- and ammunition-fueled date with Will. Will is called into the office on a Saturday by Charlie to talk over the cover story. Charlie puts it together that TMI is owned by AWN (parent company of "News Night" network ACN), and that Leona Lansing is behind Will's defamation.

The meeting is interrupted by shocking news. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and numerous others have been shot by a gunman in Tucson. The "News Night" staff rallies to produce on-the-fly coverage of the horrific events, correctly refusing to call Giffords' death despite the reports by NPR, MSNBC, Fox and a slew of other outlets. (Giffords miraculously survived the bullet wound to the left side of her brain, and continues to recover from the frontal lobe damage with intensive speech and physical therapy.)

This final sequence highlights both a strength and weakness of "The Newsroom." It effectively achieves lump-in-the-throat emotion (damn you, Coldplay), and is edited and acted in a compelling fashion. When unlikeable Don asserts that a person's death should be called by a doctor and not a news show, and then Will triumphantly bellows that Don's a "fucking newsman, and if I ever tell you otherwise you can punch me in the fucking face," it's a genuinely moving moment. Character development, check. Rousing writing, check. Sorkin knows this particular story is in turns gut-wrenching and hopeful, and a powerful example of bungled news coverage.

But the sequence also betrays the too-convenient nature of Sorkin's storytelling. It's implausible that an entire staffroom of workers would sacrifice their Saturday morning for Neal's Bigfoot pitch. This was a blatant, stupidly scripted way of getting the whole team in the office before the Giffords story breaks. Also -- and this happened in the pilot episode with the oil rig explosion, too -- the news of Gifford's shooting acts from a narrative standpoint as a deus ex machina to bring all the "Newsroom" characters together. Maggie and Jim are fighting, Mackenzie and Will are fighting, but as soon as an important, emotionally hardhitting news item comes along, all is forgiven in lieu of the bigger picture.

"It's a takedown piece":

Defamation in its many forms is a key theme of this episode. Nina casually describes her Real Houswife exposé article as a "takedown piece." The newsroom staffers examine slanderous stories against Obama, and meanwhile engage in personal takedowns themselves. Don manipulates a situation to prove to Maggie that Jim is in fact sleeping with Lisa. Mackenzie discovers that Will negotiated a risky non-compete clause into his contract so that he could have the option of firing her. Will is taken down by his own network, subjected to three different defamatory tabloid pieces, with Princess-of-Darkness-on-high Leona Lansing pulling the puppet strings.

(Interestingly, Leona does this because of what she felt was Will's takedown of the Tea Party. But as Will points out to Nina, unlike himself or Brittany Whoever of the Real Housewives, the Tea Party is "asking for our votes.")

I believe Sorkin views second amendment rights as America's constitutional takedown of its own citizens. Will points out on air that gun sales go through the roof when citizens think Obama is trying to "get their guns." Will's date Carrie packs heat in her purse for protection. In both cases, gun ownership is prompted by fear, either of attack or of property confiscation. And the shooting at the Tucson rally, critically wounding Giffords and killing six bystanders, is just one of many examples of senseless killing enabled by U.S. gun policy.

Bits and pieces:

  • Mackenzie now officially has a boyfriend, Wade.
  • I'm already bored of pointing this out: Mackenzie and Maggie act like loonies around men.

Other interpretations or ideas? Thoughts about the episode?

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11 Comments

  • DJ | July 17, 2012 1:20 PMReply

    For the most part Kyle, I agree; this was an outstanding episode. There was tons of character development; Don’s moment regarding the news’s role in pronouncing people dead was the big one, of course. I understand the show is hinging its news stories on actual events, but the use of the tragedy in Tucson rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed added in as a way of making sanctimonious points about how better everything would be if Aaron Sorkin ran the news. They could have had those same moments of character development and tension with a fictional story as opposed to something that was, much like the BP explosion in the pilot episode, a national tragedy. I watched the episode live when it aired but though it deserved a second viewing, so yesterday on my lunch break here at Dish I went online with my iPad, to dishonline.com, where I was able to re-watch the entire episode. In that second viewing I caught more of the back and forth dialogue between Neal and everyone else reacting to his Bigfoot obsession, but overall the impression remains; this was an excellent hour of televisio

  • kyle fry | July 17, 2012 11:58 PM

    The reason the tragedy that happened to Mrs. Giffords was used is because of the backlash that happened after the fact. The fringe of the right wing took this and ran. It is very relivant to the news and what this new show is trying to do. The facts are the right frindge political party continued after this tragedy to spew their hate speech and fiction on the american people.

  • GBambeck | July 16, 2012 2:39 AMReply

    During the last exchange with F-bombs -- what in the world did Charlie say?

  • Josh | July 16, 2012 3:02 PM

    He says, "Feet of fucking steel!", to contrast his previous statement, "feet of clay".

  • Beth Hanna | July 16, 2012 12:36 PM

    @Gbambeck -- Ha! I honestly was trying to figure that out myself. I just re-watched that part of the episode a couple times, and it *sounds* like he's saying "Feet are fucking sealed." As in, he'll stand his ground against Leona Lansing? I think?

  • Jim McNickels | July 16, 2012 1:43 AMReply

    Tonight's show demonstrates the brilliance that is Sorkin. It highlights the challenge that has frustrated David Kelly and many other prior directors. We seek to be entertained by television and we do not want that to change when watch the news. Also, we have begun to see the real life drama of others as though it is equivalent of fiction. Addressing the gossip columnist being focused on "Real Housewives..." and also seeing how other networks want to quickly call deaths or elections that plays into our desire to see quick resolution. Sorkin points out that real life events / drama do not get resolved in 30-60 minutes. Instead, reality is slow and the news' job is to report not to project. Although fictional and definitely bringing subscribers to HBO, it is surprising that Time Warner - HBO's parent allows Sorkin to be this honest about the state of American News Reporting. Time Warner also owns CNN.

  • Kyle Fry | July 15, 2012 11:41 PMReply

    I thought tonight's episode was brilliant. This show should really take off after the power of the final sequence of events. It is refreshing to see the "other" side show the importance of facts and truth in reporting the news. It is to bad this is not the real world we live in today. The venemous structure of todays reporting and political division is only going to get worse. Thank you HBO for investing in a show that I only wish was reality.

  • Audrey Ewell | July 15, 2012 11:22 PMReply

    Other salient points:

    The show delegitimized women reporting gropings and sexual assaults by making McAvoy the victim.

    The show had a male supervisor sanction a female underling (after a dispute arose out of personal relationship issues) with a work reprisal (being made to work on her day off).

    Two professional women bond about their nail salon. This is the only thing they have ever bonded over. In a previous episode the woman with more power gave the other woman a promotion based on her looks ("the other anchors don't have your legs").

    Multiple women, when upset, throw drinks in a man's face by way of response. Although the man in question deserved to be made aware of his repulsive behavior, he is painted the victim.

    After condescending to every woman on the show throughout the episode, this man (Will McAvoy) is again made out as the victim when it comes to light that he could lose his job when his behavior, accurate or embellished, hits the gossip rags.

    A female producer on the show apologizes to everyone and takes the blame when it appears the show may be canceled or that Will McAvoy may be fired. The actual reason this is possible is that McAvoy accepted a clause in his contract that jeopardized the show, just so he could lord his authority over the female producer.

    While other events happen on the show, it is the over the top misogyny of Newsroom that makes it newsworthy.

  • Really? | July 19, 2012 4:42 PM

    You can ignore the fact that the owner of the network is a woman, the woman behind the scenes controlling everything and showing control over Will is a woman, and the person that received and called out the truth on the Giffords' status was a woman. You can't believe that men are the victims ever? That's sexist.

  • Audrey Ewell | July 16, 2012 7:28 PM

    Thanks Beth Hanna, for adding a second hand to my solo clapping. Now if only we could get out of these woods... It seems that somehow the sexism of this show, of the writing and the characters, the condescension and hostility toward women, seems to fly below the radar of most. That, or they just don't care. I don't know which it is, and I don't know which I hope it is, but I think its apparently increasing misogyny should be a bigger part of the conversation around the show.

  • Beth Hanna | July 16, 2012 1:59 PM

    @Audrey Ewell -- Nice points. I found it irking that defamation-as-entertainment was so closely linked with female culture in this episode. Will's "mission to civilize" is almost exclusively aimed at women (at least conversationally), as if he's teaching them the error of their inherently gossip-y, catty ways. I was also confused and annoyed by Mackenzie's apologetic outburst at the end. Why the need for her to claim she "fucked up"? Like you say, Will's unwillingness (i.e. his immaturity) to put his and Mack's bad relationship behind him, and his need for control over her, is a big reason the fate of "News Night" is so tenuous.

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