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'The Newsroom' Episode 6 Review and Recap: 'Bullies,' Heroes and Will McAvoy's Charmed Navigation of the Two

Thompson on Hollywood By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood July 30, 2012 at 3:26AM

In Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom," Will tries to knock internet bullies off their anonymous pedestals, and in turn realizes he's a bully. The problem with this show? Aaron Sorkin will never truly let Will McAvoy be knocked from HIS pedestal.
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Jeff Daniels in "The Newsroom"
HBO Jeff Daniels in "The Newsroom"

In Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom," Will tries to knock internet bullies off their anonymous pedestals, and in turn realizes he's a bully. The problem with this show? Aaron Sorkin will never truly let Will McAvoy be knocked from his pedestal.

What happened:

April 12, 2011: Will is suffering from insomnia and makes his first visit, with a bodyguard (Terry Crews), to the therapist he's been bankrolling for the past four years. When talking with Dr. Jacob Habib, it's revealed that Will received a death threat. Here's why:

To offset the ratings hit "News Night" has taken, Reese demands that Will read a few comments on air from the show's website, as a sort of page-hit compensation. When Will is appalled at the "cowardice of anonymity" that is internet commenting, he makes Neal instate an identity validation system for the website's comments. Before Will can get too proud of his "triumph of populism" and "single-handedly fixing the internet," a hacker breaks into the system and tells Will there's a bullet with his name on it. This all comes after Will addresses the outcry over a Muslim community center situated near ground zero.

Newsroom Sloan speaking Japanese
Meanwhile, Sloan is subbing for Elliott at 10pm. Will suggests that she not back down from confronting guests about possible bullshit answers they provide. Earlier Sloan had an off-the-record conversation with Japanese TEPCO employee Daisuke Tanaka, who confided that the Fukushima nuclear power plant could reach a radioactive level of 7 -- in a word, "Chernobyl." When Sloan addresses this on air with Tanaka, both he and his translator sidestep her questioning. She loses her cool, speaks directly to him in Japanese, and ultimately outs the volatile information he gave her earlier. Charlie freaks out, and suspends Sloan.

Will has an epiphany while in therapy. When previously interviewing Rick Santorum's campaign advisor, Sutton Wall, he purposely pushed too hard, emphasizing and re-emphasizing Wall's blackness and gayness as a means of illustrating Santorum's anti-gay marriage stance. Will -- as he's quick to the tell "The Newsroom" viewers -- was himself being a bully, much like the internet commenters he scorns.

Charlie and Will convince Sloan to claim she mistook the Japanese numbers "4" and "7," which would free her of suspension, and would free Tanaka of the obligation to resign from TEPCO.

Of bullies and heroes:

As to be expected from this week's episode title, bullying is a major theme. Internet commenters bully Will from their anonymous perches, Will confuses hard questioning with repeated verbal gut punches when interviewing Sutton Wall, and it's revealed during therapy that Will sustained beatings from his abusive alcoholic father while growing up.

Until "Bullies," I hadn't fully articulated in my mind a major problem with "The Newsroom": Will is constantly a bully. Not that there's anything wrong with centering a show or film around an asshole "protagonist" -- indeed, that often makes for interesting viewing, particularly when journalism is at play (see: "Ace in the Hole"). But "The Newsroom," for all its idealistic and predominantly liberal intentions, subscribes wholeheartedly to a "Great White Man" method of storytelling. Despite the fact that Will is patronizing, womanizing, chauvinistic, immature, vengeful, in love with the sound of his own voice and constantly rude to his co-workers, he must be the hero by each episode's end to insure the balance of the show's universe.

Tonight we glimpsed a slight admission of Will's character issues, but it was announced by Will ("I was being a bully"), which ultimately served less as a comeuppance and more as a moment for us to admire his self-awareness. The extended interview with Sutton Wall was well done, mostly because Will is put to shame by a person who has conviction. (Mackenzie, take note!) But then, after Wall repeatedly lets Will know that he refuses to be "defined by his blackness or gayness," and that he "doesn't need Will's help," Will must get the last word: "Does Santorum think you're fit to be a teacher?" Will's point is valid, but it's the line's situation in the script that irks me -- i.e. at the end of a dramatic argument, so that we can be reminded that Will, after all, is right.

Meanwhile, Sloan has no such last-line glory. We see both Will and Sloan messing up on air, taking liberties they shouldn't be taking with interviewees, yet Sloan doesn't get to "redeem" her grievous on-air mistake with a kicker closing point (or an off-air therapy session that illuminates her inner demons). Instead, she has to pretend that she's not fluent in Japanese (though she is), and she has to ask for Will's advice about how to proceed (though his advice has already proven poor).

Bits and pieces:

  • Maggie mixes up Georgia the state with Georgia the country. Oy.
  • A few newsroom staffers are doing "opposition research" on Will's past, nominally as a way of precipitating what TMI might use next to skewer Will. Mackenzie learns that, while she and Will were dating, he was a breath away from accepting a late-night offer from Fox on the West Coast. Will discovers this, and buys her a huge rock from Tiffany's that he pretends was an engagement ring purchased five years ago, as a means of placating the Fox information. Will's manipulation soars, Mackenzie's guilt returns. We're supposed to think that these two are meant for each other -- and not a hideously dysfunctional ex-couple who should never reunite -- right?

Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts about the episode?

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, HBO, The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels


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