'The Newsroom' Episode 7 Review and Recap: '5/1' Somehow Makes the Death of bin Laden Uninteresting

Television
by Beth Hanna
August 6, 2012 2:23 AM
26 Comments
  • |

Sam Waterston in "The Newsroom" HBO
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.

What happened:

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.
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26 Comments

  • Iceman | November 14, 2012 3:22 AMReply

    Maggie is a very, very irritating person to have to suffer through.

  • Nigel MacDonald | August 16, 2012 5:17 PMReply

    some of you guys are unbelievable. This show is awesome. I am in the UK and I love it. Will is played by that crazy guy from Dumb and Dumber. What a transformation. What a show

    I searched up specifically about this show because I was in tears watching it. When he told the pilots it was amazing, when Will told his bodyguard just as amazing and when they told the two New York Police - equally as powerful.

    If you don't like it turn off. I love this show, from the love interest between Will and his EP, and the back running story with the two billionaires that Will has been warned off and the tabloid gutter press that is owned by the same company trying to destroy Will's reputation.

    I also love the way it ties it into a real event.

    This osama one was just awesome. Every episode I have watched so far has been absolutely amazing, but this particular one was great AND emotionally powerful - and I'm not even an American.

  • Bob Giovanelli | August 9, 2012 8:09 PMReply

    This episode neatly balanced suspense for the characters (put yourself in a newsroom's place, and something like this starts brewing), humor at the lead news anchor being high on the worst night he could be, and a touching moment where a news producer actually breaks the news to an airplane pilot who was about to put him in cuffs. What some see as preposterous writing...I saw as a balancing act that Sorkin pulled off mightily. (And the "Osama/Obama" moment on Will's desk was practically a throwaway joke the way it was shot...which to me earned the honest-to-God LOL that I gave.)
    And yeah....Sorkin is attempting a "Front Page/His Girl Friday" for our modern times. If some episodes are bumpy....at least he's got us on the ride. (Haters of the show...just turn it off already. That's not directed to the writers on Indiewire, but the comments below me. It's getting....yup....preachy.)

  • LisaR | August 8, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    No, the series isn't perfect. It's still finding it's feet but in the meantime, there are certainly enough good moments to merit watching. There's a strong cast, even if they aren't always used as effectively as we'd wish. Even at it's worst, it beats mindless reality TV which conspires to eliminate or at least reduce, common courtesy and common sense. I'll take Will McAvoy's crusade to civilize over anyone ... and everyone ... from the Jersey Shore!

  • Kory | August 8, 2012 5:46 AMReply

    From the moment Charlie stretched out the anonymous conversation I knew something wasn't right about this episode. The OBL thing was a debacle and it bugs me why the number 1 US target wasn't brought to trial instead of creating another conspiracy...with regards to this episode...it was an absolute let down....I can't believe the whole episode was based around 1 news item...what is with us Americans and our need for touchy feely pilot scenes or NYFD caps? C'mon folks grow up....9/11 killed 2800 people (who did it is still in question - I don't buy the corporate version) we've killed hundreds of thousands subsequently...Newsroom is a great show that asks the questions that the corporate media leaves out....this episode looked like it was CNN....totally turned off...

  • Mic | August 10, 2012 2:22 AM

    Totally agree. This episode was not the finest of the bunch. My least favorite bit was when Mack says "if we can release the news of Osama bin Laden's death 3 minutes quicker to the people of america then my whole career in this field will have been worthwhile".

  • Linda Brillinger | August 7, 2012 9:10 PMReply

    The Newsroom is a breath of fresh air and probably the best show on TV that I have seen in years. The storylines are great, the acting superb and casting excellent. This is entertainment!

  • Mic | August 10, 2012 2:24 AM

    You sound like you might be employed by the show to write this sort of stuff.

  • DavidC | August 7, 2012 12:56 PMReply

    Work-related and romantic material is braided together because Sorkin surely believes he's writing a "His Girl Friday"-style screwball comedy with spasms of seriousness -- and surprisingly often he makes me believe it. This is perhaps because I take the news gathering and public events elements far less seriously than some commentators have. (We seem to have quite a few journalists, here, reacting to perceived slurs against the profession, to whom I say lighten up.) Gifted and intelligent people who can also behave like idiots is a device Sorkin has been overusing for years, but, as Incremental Jones noted, he applies to equally to male and female characters. "Newsroom" is great fun. Ungrateful in the extreme to rag on it for not being much more than that.

  • melissa | August 7, 2012 11:48 AMReply

    I agree that the love-triangle, which has now upgraded to a love-square, is awful. Writing love stories is definitely not Sorkin’s specialty! Aside from the blasé office romance scenes, I thought the subject matter and execution of episode seven was amazing! Everyone who watched it with me loved it, even my officemate at Dish who is the biggest Sorkin-hater of them all! We got goose bumps from recalling that epic day! I would recommend seeing this episode, even if you are not a Sorkin fan. I know it’s available on DishOnline.com, as is the rest of the season and tons of other shows, so go watch it! I already want to check it out again!

  • Anne Thompson | August 6, 2012 11:29 PMReply

    I too am irritated by all the relationship filler, which serves to make men like Jim and Don seem sanely attractive and the women irrationally foolish. Now I'm rooting for Jim to stay with Maggie's roommate, as she irritates the hell out of me, along with Dev Patel's airhead story ideas. (One of them will pay off one day, I'm sure.) Will being high was funny. I was with Don on the plane; I would have behaved the same way, and that thread worked the best, I thought, and paid off when he broke the news to the captain and the plane--the ending worked for me. The problem with this show is that we've been spoiled by cable standards and Sorkin's still writing a network hour long drama. It's still worth watching.

  • Incremental Jones | August 7, 2012 2:21 AM

    I find this recurring feminist take on the women of The Newsroom frustrating. All of the characters are highly capable at their jobs but they have foibles and shortcomings to humanize them. They already posses superhuman statistical knowledge at their fingertips so how much more obnoxious would they seem if they didn't have failings. So Mackenzie counts on her fingers. So do I. So Maggie has panic attacks. So do I. The women complaining about the image of women don't seem to have any problem with Jim tripping over luggage or walking into doors or forgetting Feb 14th is Valentines day, Charlie being perpetually drunk, Neal believing in Bigfoot and UFOs, Will going on the air high and needing a psychiatrist, or Don being pretty nearly always a total dick. Come on ladies, you don't want us to conclude you're really stupid, do you?

  • Alex | August 6, 2012 9:37 PMReply

    This article is borderline disrespectful. The episode detailed a lot of emotin our country dealt with since 9/11 and to say it's the worst yet is downright wrong. The scene when Don told the flight crew was one of the best scenes in television in a long time. Imagine having to be on an airplane everyday in the weeks, months, and even years after 9/11. And the idea of waiting to report the story to protect the people involved rather than spewing sensationalist garbage like Geraldo was shown doing whether he later guessed the truth or not was a major statement. News corporations no longer put enough emphasis on what they say or stop to consider the impact of their messages, they just want views and to break stories in some misguided search for supremacy, fame, and to unfortunately push their backers agendas. The newsroom hasn't been perfect but it's one of the best things we have right now and with a very important election coming up it's important that people are exposed to the points it's trying to make.

  • Mic | August 10, 2012 2:34 AM

    I agree with John, it made me cringe too. The episode could have done with some more varied responses.

  • John | August 8, 2012 12:18 AM

    I strongly disagree. It is not disrespectful to voice one's opinion in a venue for opinions. In my view, the show was not only terrible this week, it was also really unrealistic. There is no way that with that many highly educated and seemingly lefty people, that WOOHOO would be the only reaction, save the one woman sitting outside who still thought that the reaction was ok. What did most of the people I know (educated lefties) say? 1) So what? Al Qaeda is still around. Bin Laden is now irrelevant. 2) Was that legal? 3) Thank God that we can stop using the idiot phrase "war on terror"! Bush's reign is finally over! And 4) I guess Obama won't lose now!

    Everyone I talked to found the cheering on that day embarrassing and painful.

    Now I am not saying that we were correct about everything, or that we weren't extremely cynical, but come on....... The chest thumping is for people who think there were three wars: Iraq, Afghanistan and Terror.

    Finally, the excuse that they feel it differently cuz they're NYers doesn't hold up either: 1) the people I am talking about all live in the NY area and mostly work in Manhattan. 2) Take any group of NYers with these kinds of jobs requiring high qualifications and you can bet that most of them are not actually from NY. They are from Boston and went to Columbia, or from LA and went to Berkeley before moving to NY. The youth elite in NY all grew up somewhere else.

    Again, I am not suggesting that there weren't many people who reacted differently than I did and my acquaintances. I am just suggesting that the fact that the depiction was so one-sided was silly.

  • Jerren | August 6, 2012 11:51 AMReply

    Great, great review. Couldn't believe how "sitcom-y" this episode was. To have such flat characters spinning their wheels and running in place 7EPISODES INTO SEASON ONE is ridiculous. To lean on moments of character comedy would be great if the characters were amusing or witty or interesting in the slightest. But instead, we get forced situations and yet more pratfalls (which, in and of themselves, cannot be funny unless we feel what the character is going through). This kind of episode is usually reserved for season 4 or 5 of a hit network sitcom. Funniest part of this review was the following line:

    "Will eventually confesses to Mack that he's high, but insists that he must report the news."

    And then not having any description afterward. That line sums up the stupidity of that plot point accurately enough. No need to elaborate.

    Also, Incremental Jones, are you honestly comparing Dan Rather, a *news* journalist on a national level, to a FILM/TV CRITIC? Weird. Of course they are going to have a difference of opinion. I don't know if you are aware, but there are several different types of "real journalists".

  • Incremental Jones | August 7, 2012 2:08 AM

    Yes, Jerren, I was comparing Dan Rather to a TV critic because Rather had been reviewing The Newsroom for Gawker.

  • bitemelo | August 6, 2012 9:56 AMReply

    I loved this show...when it was called sports night.

  • WTF | August 6, 2012 6:55 AMReply

    Every week I read a disgruntled review of the Newsroom from someone and find it hard to believe.

    We have thousands of stupid reality shows being shown daily that bore me senseless and make me hate the fact I have to pay for a TV Licence yet when someone sits down and writes and creates such wonderful characters and spends time actually thinking of a story you can guarantee someone somewhere (Beth Hanna) will have to find fault.

    Personally I've loved the whole of the Newsroom so far and can't wait to see more.

  • j | August 6, 2012 6:33 AMReply

    The episode did not conform to the way the story played out in the national news media.

    They portray Geraldo as being off-the-wall that night. Actually, Geraldo was the first one on the air to guess the speech was about Bin Laden. He got that one right, so give him credit for it.

    Secondly, well in advance of the President's speech *every* news organization went with the story.

    Those are the pertinent facts, but you wouldn't know them from this episode.

  • Mary Quinn | August 6, 2012 6:33 AMReply

    I agree it could have been much more interesting. It seems it's always the best when Will is on, and tonight he didn't have much air time. It was more Charlie, whom I love but he doesn't have the chutzpah of Will.

  • William Cranford | August 6, 2012 4:10 AMReply

    I liked it.

  • William Cranford | August 6, 2012 4:11 AM

    The episode, not this article.

  • Stupid Reporters Astound Me | August 6, 2012 3:35 AMReply

    You idiots amaze me. This is easily the best show on Television. Just because you can't stand that the rest of the world is sick of 'yellow journalism''s takeover of the "news" doesn't make this a bad show. The show was excellent tonight, and every night so far. Ya'll should be ashamed to call yourselves journalists.

  • Incremental Jones | August 6, 2012 2:49 AMReply

    I love the way "journalists" resent the show. Except good ones, like Dan Rather.

  • 7itsme7 | August 6, 2012 2:37 AMReply

    I dont understand the hate you have for the show! I find the series to be a really good one and found this episode to be one of the best.

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