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The Newsroom Recap: ‘You’re Impressive’

It feels like it’s been months since our last Newsroom recap. When we last left the show, it was October 2011, and all was fraught. Maggie was returning from a Peace Corps volunteer’s worst nightmare, Jim was bribing his way into bed, and Jerry Dantana still worked in New York City. Now, five months later, things are different — things are better.

“News Night With Will McAvoy” was the best Newsroom episode ever, a taut hour devoid of schmaltzy musical cues, exploitative appropriation of the news, and forced romances. Instead, it was an episode that unfolded in real time, urgent and raw. It was an hour of Newsroom about an hour of News Night. Flitting between various pairings — anchor and producer, source and journalist, PTSD alcoholic and the interventionist who helped ruin her life, etc. — it was the most structurally cohesive Newsroom to date. It felt like something that has been missing from TV over the past few years. It felt like an Aaron Sorkin show.

At the episode’s center was Will, trapped in a prison of his own choosing. For all 59 minutes of “News Night With Will McAvoy,” Will never stood up from his chair, let alone left the studio. Immobilized by a call from his father at the beginning of his show, he sat, ashen and determined. Dad had an accident bringing the cows home, Will told MacKenzie. Nothing to worry about.

But when it’s your abusive father who fell down and is in the hospital, emotions tend to get complicated. Last season, when Will was sleepless and weighed down with death threats, he told his therapist that his alcoholic father used to hit him and his family. As Will haltingly told MacKenzie late in this week’s episode, “Living with that much injustice from the person who was supposed to represent — he’s the one who tells you what the world is going to think of you and if he tells you that you’re bad — that, forever.”

Will’s ego, we’re meant to think, is as voracious as it is because it can never be satisfied. How could it be, when the one person Will most wants approval from is the one who will never — and now, can never — give it? To compensate, he’s outsourced his need to be loved to his audience, a temperamental body that, as MacKenzie puts it, doesn’t “feel about you the way you want them to.” Unable to face his father’s lack of approval, Will seeks it from the faceless masses. Whenever he loses a viewer, he loses another battle against his father, and the self-doubting part of himself that his father exploited.

And so when Will gets the news that his father is dead, he’s lost in a Freudian muck, bereft and adrift. If his career were organized around his dad as an oppositional figure, what happens when that person is gone? Will knows something has shifted, starting News Night’s F-block with an inadvertent moment of silence, and an elegiac “Well, I guess it’s just us now.” For him, it’s scarier to be without his dad than it was to be against him.

Outside the studio, Jim and Maggie reminded us why office romances were so much more prevalent during the days of dial-up modems. Forced to wait more than a half hour for the George Zimmerman 911 calls to download (something or other about so many journalists trying to get the file at once), Jiggie got to talking, and things are tense. Jim’s still with Hallie, and she appears to be writing with the kind of repetitive moral outrage she learned from Jim in New Hampshire. Maggie is unimpressed.

And drunk. Maggie, still blonde and still grieving, has turned to drink, sex, and online IQ tests since returning from Uganda. Jim’s worried about her, but can only help by recommending which liquor smells the least at work the next day. Maggie explained that she’s only drunk all the time because she feels alone, and she has to stay out later than Lisa because … well, that was sort of unclear. But she’s very concerned about whether her work’s suffering, desperate to hold onto the only thing in her life that doesn’t remind her of personal failure. She should ask Charlie for tips about how to be drunk at work.

Judging by last night, Maggie’s redemption arc is still a ways off. Whether it was because of her drunkenness, her search for justice, or just her usual incompetence under pressure, Maggie muffed the Zimmerman 911 call edit, and cut the 911 responder asking Zimmerman if he could discern Trayvon Martin’s race. News Night aired an apology, but Maggie slinked off-screen to that dank bar down the street from ACN, where she met up with the NBC staffer who did the same thing. They sat there, staring into their drinks, wondering whether to switch to vodka.

Elsewhere, on Olivia Munn’s Emmy reel, Sloane and Don stoked their romance over the ashes of Sloane’s dignity. Sloane, horrified that an ex who works for AIG leaked nude pictures of her, pulled herself off the air and went to Don’s office to sulk. Don found her there after placing a call about the Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence, a fabricated group he created as a joke but that was interpreted as real, or at least real enough for a World Net Daily exclusive.

The two of them huddled in the corner, lit by the blue tint of the piranha aquarium Don must keep in the corner. Sloane told bedtime riddles about lions, giraffes, and frogs. Don empathized with Sloane’s wanting to die. Sloane blamed herself for giving the ex the camera he took the nude pictures with. Don paid Sloane the most romantic compliment anyone can ever receive on a Sorkin show: “You’re impressive.” It was all surprisingly, and successfully, intimate.

Then the two of them took a cab downtown to kick the AIG ex in the balls.

There was one other major subplot, as the Genoa story inched its way forward to a conclusion the show has already spoiled. For that recap we of course turn back to Pride Goeth Before the Fall: An Oral History of News Night.

Charlie Skinner: For years I’ve been telling [name redacted] that if he doesn’t want people to think he’s a spy, he shouldn’t wear a trench coat.
[Redacted]:
Skinner’s such a dope. He didn’t even know that the data center the government is building in Utah was an NSA project, not a Navy exercise. A few years later, I ran into Charlie and it took us five whiskeys for me to explain who Edward Snowden was.
Charlie:
I’d known him forever. I first spotted him at a local a cappella competition when he was in law school. I can still remember his face when he had his first solo for the Acapellates. He soloed “Whiskey River” by Willie Nelson. As a former Whiskey Soda, I had to talk to him afterward.
Charlie’s secretary:
They were in that meeting for a long time. When I hear the whiskey handle slam down on the table, I know Charlie’s going to be a while.
Charlie:
The first rule I learned in journalism was that if an unsolicited source brings what looks like a primary document to you, it must be real.
MacKenzie:
While reporting Genoa we never thought through why anyone would have reason to make up such a horrific story. This wasn’t a prank call; this was a set-up. Who in Washington would want to smear the military with a war crime? And how did Jerry hook up with them in the first place?

 ***

 Edited for time:

  • Is it possible that Will’s final line — “It’s just us now” — is actually about Will and MacKenzie, and not Will and the audience? MacAvoy ’shippers, what say ye?
  • Speaking of, really enjoyed the tenor of Will and MacKenzie’s interactions in this week’s episode. MacKenzie mothered Will like a lover, and both characters’ tenderness came through because of it. More proof that the two characters are better together than apart.
  • Poor Neal! By March 2012, OWS has been exposed as a flawed experiment, and Bigfoot season is nearly over. Now he has to deal with MacKenzie rooting for his failure. Also, what came of Neal and Shelly?!
  • Was really hoping Charlie’s secretary, until now unseen, was going to be Mrs. Landingham.
  • That little Sloane-Charlie handshake was cute.
  • Convinced that that Syrian prank call was just a plot device so somebody could yell “Bababouie, motherfuckers” on TV.
  • Finally, what’s the answer to the last question we see on Maggie’s IQ test? I’m stumped. “PALINDROME: By a small stretch of the imagination, what would you call a flying carpet used by an esteemed leader or wise man?”
Photo: Melissa Moseley /HBO