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

Television
by Beth Hanna
July 30, 2012 3:26 AM
9 Comments
  • |

Jeff Daniels in "The Newsroom" HBO
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.

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?

You might also like:

9 Comments

  • Moses | August 3, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    I think its a mistake to judge this show based on its portrayal of the news stories. The fact that the stories are real and are told in hindsight is beside the point. Its the relationships that propel this show, not the news stories they surround.

    I do believe that Will McAvoy needs to be knocked off his perch in much the same way we wanted Hawkeye Pierce to get knocked off his perch on M.A.S.H...such characters should be reminded that they do not have the right to act with impunity without paying a steep price later. I remain confident that Sorkin will knock Will off his perch...the question is will the payoff be worth it.

  • Marty | August 3, 2012 1:30 AMReply

    Actually, I thought I heard "M. Butterfly", not "Madame Butterfly". That is, the broadway play involving gender uncertainty -- rather than the Puccini opera. Significant, perhaps?

    My real question that led me to this website is, how much of the Wall interview dialog is based on reality? It's obviously not an actual "clip", unlike much of the show's historical video content. Yet, it seemed to get pretty specific re prominent politicians who probably have lawyers, etc.!

  • Beth Hanna | August 3, 2012 12:43 PM

    @Marty -- Hmm, I thought it was "Madame Butterfly," but with Charlie's gravelly voice it's a little hard to tell. The Wall interview is a callback to Chris Matthews' heated on-air clash with Robert Traynham, a former aide to Santorum who was, like Wall in this episode, gay and African-American. Here's a link for you to copy and paste: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/chris-matthews-santorum-gay-robert-traynham_n_1188992.html

  • Anne Thompson | July 31, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    This was a better show than last week, a low point for me. I loved the structure whereby details were fleshed out via the shrink session (I like the mature David Krumholtz in a role his "Numbers" father Judd Hirsch could be playing)). Power dynamics are endlessly fascinating. In general, I find that the women are portrayed as less competent, more ditzy (why did Sloan suggest that Mackenzie wasn't trustworthy enough to ask for advice? She's the executive producer of a major news show!), and more interested in relationships than their jobs. It worries me that negative feedback on Mackenzie--who I really liked at the beginning when she was more powerful--may be making them write her as less competent in order to make her more likeable. What mistake was she taking the rap for last week? I never got that. They seem to be heading toward giving more time to Sloan (I can see why), which I hope is not at Mackenzie's expense.

  • DavidC | July 31, 2012 12:38 PMReply

    Olivia Munn's Sloan is the revelation of this show. Absolutely first rate.

  • Beth Hanna | July 31, 2012 2:34 PM

    @David C -- I like Munn in this role, too. I hope Sorkin doesn't give Sloan a romantic interest any time soon. That seems to be where it all goes downhill for the women of "The Newsroom."

  • sff | July 31, 2012 4:02 AMReply

    I think the show is a real mess but I thought this episode showed drastic improvement. I thought the best scene was Sloan's conflict with Charlie. It was quite complex compared to what this show has delved into thus far. I think even Will getting the last word didn't redeem him, and the therapy session did serve to spell things out for the audience, but I'd rather have that then absolutely nothing of value going on whatsoever. Hopefully the show goes full speed in this new direction (which leaves a lot less time for the flaws that are still there).

  • Beth Hanna | July 31, 2012 12:02 PM

    @SFF -- Sloan's conflict with Charlie was interesting, notably because he managed to be both racist ("I don't give a shit, Madame Butterfly") and sexist (by repeatedly calling her "girl"). Charlie thus far has been sort of a fairy godfather to Will and the newsroom staff, and I appreciated that we got to see an uglier side to him. I only hope that Charlie's complexity is elaborated upon in later episodes, and that his freak-out wasn't solely for dramatic purposes in this episode alone (or that the "Madame Butterfly" line wasn't just Sorkin attempting to be funny -- ugh).

  • Tom | July 30, 2012 5:48 AMReply

    I love this show. Look, these characters are human, and I think people expect too much of them.

    My only criticism of Sorkin's writing is that he tends to inject too much personality into each and every character. He does this mainly through dialog, and I have to echo another critic: "Real people don't talk like that." At least, not ALL real people.

    I can forgive that, though, as long as the story line remains intriguing.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • LISTEN: On KCRW's The Treatment, Mindy ...
  • Brad Pitt to Star in David Michôd's ...
  • Fox's Jim Gianopulos to Deliver USC ...
  • Pulitzer Prize Winners Unveiled
  • The Highs and Lows of the Meaningless ...
  • Trailers from Hell on Controversial ...
  • WATCH: The 'True Detective' Parody to ...
  • WATCH: Oprah Makes Pharrell Cry 'Happy' ...
  • WATCH: First Trailer for Hilarious and ...
  • Cannes 2014 Poster Gives Marcello Mastroianni ...