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'The Newsroom' Episode 9 Review and Recap: 'The Blackout Part 2' -- Whither the Mock Debate?

Thompson on Hollywood By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood August 20, 2012 at 3:57AM

Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom" was a moderate letdown from last week's strong episode, with promises of a mock debate barely materializing. But Sloan, the best thing about the Sorkin-scripted show, did get in a great one-liner: "Me? FUCK you."
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Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider in "The Newsroom"
HBO Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider in "The Newsroom"

Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom" was a moderate letdown from last week's strong episode, with promises of a mock debate barely materializing. But Sloan, the best thing about the Sorkin-scripted show, did get in a great one-liner: "Me? FUCK you."

What happened:

Power returns to the newsroom, but not before Mackenzie gets her hopes up that the blackout might be a divine intervention of the "News Night" coverage of Casey Anthony.

But with the lights, the show must go on too, including the pre-tape interview with sexter Sandy "Wit-less."

Last week's episode signaled a tentative return of Mackenzie's mind and authority, a return that was tested this week by lots of flailing and shouting. She's making baby steps toward becoming a halfway-admirable female character, but "baby" is the key word -- even when delivering an impassioned monologue, Mack's entire demeanor is infantile. The jumping, arm wringing and stomping all recall toddler behavior, and undercut whatever message she's trying to get across.

After the show, Mack and Brian Brenner chat over drinks at Hang Chew's. Brian speculates that Will's phase of ratings whoring had to do with loneliness, and that "the audience makes him feel less lonely." A valid observation.

It's revealed that Lisa, Maggie's roommate, went to high school with Casey Anthony. Maggie and Jim visit Lisa at the high-end boutique where she works, and persuade her to be interviewed by Will for the next installment of "News Night." Lisa begrudgingly agrees for Maggie's sake, because "Will and Mackenzie are counting on her."

Meanwhile, Will is back at therapy with Dr. Jacobi. Will has thought about Jacobi's statement from the previous day, that he must learn to forgive Mackenzie. Why can't he forgive her? Because, unlike Brian who was rejected by Mackenzie, Will was betrayed.

I wrote last week about Aaron Sorkin's fetishizing of books, which was conspicuous again this week. Will admires Jacobi's Encyclopedia Britannica, which gleams behind him in the frame, and talks about his fondness for something one can browse through. Of course one can also "browse" the internet, which is exactly what Will has been doing, checking out the "Help Me Rhonda" website for relationship advice. The fact that Will does this late at night, and confesses it only to his therapist, suggests ingrained embarrassment about a) his feelings, and b) new media. It would be interesting if these two aspects were somehow linked -- for example, there's an immediacy to the internet that makes Will uncomfortable, perhaps because he keeps his own emotions at arm's length. 

Ever a proponent of the internet, Neal is posing as a pervy troll on an econ web forum, writing about Sloan's breasts and "slutty body movements," as a means of getting initiated into trolls' inner circles.

Maggie Lisa Newsroom
At the behest of Mackenzie, Maggie gives Lisa some notes to study before going on air. During the interview, Lisa follows the notes and brings up statistics on missing children, and the racism at play in cases that are selected for national/tabloid attention. She then goes off-script and makes a haphazard and misguided argument for abortion. This results in a brick through the window of her boutique, and red spray paint screaming "BABY KILLER."

RNC reps Adam Roth and Tate Brady arrive the next day to discuss the possibility of primary debates on "News Night." Will stresses the need for a more serious approach to the debate format, and unveils the mock debate everyone has been preparing. In a bizarrely choppy montage, Will slings tough questions at the "candidates." Tate gets pissed, thinking Will is using the opportunity to grandstand, and nixes the possibility of debates for "News Night."

Both Tate and Brian observe that Will is letting hubris dictate his treatment of the mock debates, which is true. His questions are tough, and so they should be, but they seem to derail the debate entirely, and render his staffers, who have prepared answers for months, slack-jawed and stuttering. This scene was strangely edited, as it only showed the questions Will was asking, and very little of the staffers' responses -- an odd way to cap off a two-part episode that focuses so frequently on their preparations for the debate. Also, for an episode titled "Mock Debate," the mock debating was scarce, with the entire sequence only occupying about three minutes of screen time.

"The Newsroom" tends to have hero worship of Will McAvoy, to the point that it undermines some potentially interesting aspects of the series. The possibility of Will being a show-off -- who spoils his show's chances of airing something they've worked hard for -- is only allowed to hang in the air for just so long. Mackenzie defends Will's priorities, and then:

Will realizes the futility of bending to Leona Lansing's orders, and lets Sloan have two segments of debt ceiling coverage in that evening's episode. What a noble thing for Will to do!

On another note: I like Sloan. She stands up for issues she cares about, and has enough confidence in her reputation as an economist that she doesn't mind (too much) letting Neal fake-bash her online, especially because she knows he's pushing hard for his first story. She also delivers a particularly satisfying "fuck you" to Tate when he offers her the primary debates. As usual, I wasn't thrilled with the portrayal of women on tonight's episode, young women particularly so. There's slutty-vapid Sandy, there's the self-absorbed, Tony-bound model in Lisa's boutique, and then Lisa herself, who suffers from woeful foot-in-mouth syndrome. They're all so incompetent, so incapable of handling anything outside of outfit selection. And Maggie, while not vapid, bumbles her way through each episode. All this to say that I wish the women in "The Newsroom" would follow in Sloan's footsteps more often, and wouldn't be reduced to caricatures for the sake of culture skewering or plot points.

Neal attempts to shake his "small-time troll" status and gets into an online conversation with another troll, "Charizma." Charizma brags that he/she is the one who leveled death threats at Will.

Bits and pieces:

  • Don receives flowers from another woman at the office, and explains to Will in private that he's been seeing women in between his and Maggie's multiple breakups.
  • Lisa and Jim are tallying about as many breakups as Maggie and Don. Mackenzie tells Jim to "gather ye rosebuds," i.e. to tell Maggie how he feels about her. He tries, but instead gets back together with Lisa. Meanwhile, Don and Maggie break up. I'd say these characters get an "F" in the Gathering Rosebuds department.
  • Charlie is running a background check on Solomon, his NSA contact, which is returning some questionable information.

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


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