By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood August 6, 2012 at 2:23AM
Sunday night's all-new episode of "The Newsroom," the weakest of the season, dealt with the death of Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs, and the death of a potentially compelling 50 minutes of television by never-ending filler.
The newsroom staff celebrates the 1-year (and 1-week) anniversary of "News Night 2.0" at Will's spacious apartment.Maggie discovers that Jim has halfheartedly gone along with Lisa's declaration of love for him, and Will gets high from two marijuana cookies, courtesy of Neal's girlfriend, Kaylee.
Meanwhile, Charlie receives a call from a Deep Throat-like anonymous source, telling him to stand by for important news from the White House. The president will be speaking at 10:30pm. The party is dropped, and it's off to the newsroom they all go. It's during this sequence that "5/1" is set up to fail. Charlie guesses aloud to Mack and Will that Osama bin Laden has been caught. Not only does this exemplify a recurring problem of "The Newsroom" -- that the main characters have an almost magical ability to accurately predict future events, and to be in the right place at the right time -- but it also deprives the show of its most effective trick: Wait until the episode's end for the revelation.
Will is stuck in traffic and, high out of his mind, jumps from bodyguard Lonny's SUV, sprinting his way to the office. When Lonny attempts to chase after Will, two NYPD stop him. For those who missed this episode and last week's episode, Lonny is a large black man. I initially thought that in this sequence Sorkin was attempting to somehow tie in racial profiling with the general uproar surrounding bin Laden's death, but that connection doesn't come up again. Lonny does get in this line: "Nothing I can do about being big and black."
Will arrives at the News Night headquarters with a half-eaten falafel in hand, while Mackenzie busily has her staffers think of everything the impending news could be other than Osama bin Laden's capture. This provides a good five to ten minutes of filler we don't care about. We've already been given a date from the episode's title, and Charlie's sage wisdom that the upcoming White House news probably involves bin Laden. Having the newsroom staffers research other possible stories is, on a script level, dead on arrival. We just want to get to bin Laden.
Will eventually confesses to Mack that he's high, but insists that he must report the news.
When Charlie announces bin Laden's death, the newsroom erupts in cheers, with the exception of Kaylee. She retreats to a balcony, where Jim finds her (it's as if Jim has a tracking device to find upset women on that balcony), and he guesses correctly that Kaylee knew someone in the Twin Towers. Bin Laden's death isn't a straight-forward moment of rejoicing for her.
Intercut between all of these newsroom goings-on, we have Don, Elliott and Sloan stuck on a runway. As they slowly gain information, other plane passengers become curious, and a flight attendant becomes furious. When the pilot enters the cabin and tells Don to sit down or cuff up, Don examines the man's United wings and stripes, and breaks the news of bin Laden's death. Something is going on in this episode involving the personal rewards of face-to-face news announcements -- Lonny gets to break the news to the two policemen, also -- but it wasn't fully fleshed out. Has Twitter, the blogosphere and television robbed us of the joy of simply telling each other things? Are Don and Lonny symbolically giving back to the victims of 9/11 (represented by United Airlines and the NYPD)?
Mack insists that "News Night" wait for the cue to report the death. Turns out Will High-Ho McAvoy has had an email from Joe Biden burning a hole in his smartphone for 20 minutes, giving the team the go-ahead to announce. And so this completely baked man implausibly pulls himself together and gives an eloquent on-air speech about bin Laden's capture and demise. Usually the strength of "The Newsroom" is to take a mediocre episode and redeem it with compelling news coverage in the final 10 minutes. Unfortunately for "5/1," the endless filler scenes of Jim's relationship woes, Don et al's plane woes and the staffers' search for other news stories completely takes the wind out of the sails of what should be a rousing sequence. This episode dealt with the death of Osama bin Laden. That's an incredibly charged subject for most Americans. And yet somehow the show's final minutes are resoundingly flat.
Bits and pieces:
- Lisa comes to the newsroom and very calmly breaks up with Jim, because she understands from the bottom of her selfless and clear-eyed heart that he doesn't truly love her. I seem to recall that a few episodes ago she was a raving lunatic about Valentine's Day. Who is Lisa, exactly? She's whatever "The Newsroom" needs her to be at any given moment, be it a crazy person or a level-headed relationship pro.
- Did I mention that Jim gets back together with Lisa? Someone needs to keep him and Maggie apart for a few more episodes, and it might as well be her.
- Charlie's Deep Throat contact tells him that his cell phone's been hacked.
- I will give kudos to this episode for jokingly pointing out that the names "Osama" and "Obama" are unfortunately easy to mix up. And not just for high people.