In Rudy, each member of a football team offers to sit out so an unheralded benchwarmer can play in a game. In The Newsroom, each member of a news team offers to pay a little money so an overpaid millionaire can afford a $250,000 check.
Rudy is a metaphor that does not work in an episode that did not work on a show that does not work. But what a fascinating calamity The Newsroom is turning out to be! Did Aaron Sorkin warn HBO in advance that The Newsroom was going to be a show in which everyone eventually made the right professional decision without fail? This is television scripted with a 4-year-old’s understanding of justice. The good guys always win.
It’s still winter in New York, but Arab Spring in Egypt. Tahrir Square is doing its thing, and Eliot is watching from a hotel in Cairo. Don is upset he can’t see his anchor’s impressive forehead in HD, and also that that forehead hasn’t yet been bashed by a rock. Jim’s forehead, meanwhile, is being bashed by Maggie, who loves Jim so much she can’t help but break his skull open so she can have an excuse to douse it with rubbing alcohol. Romance.
To match Jim’s wound, Elliot goes and gets himself beat up with a rock. (That Sorkin, noted feminist, did not reprise Lara Logan’s horrifying ordeal is for the best.) Don is so distraught he throws himself against a heavy door, leaving three of News Night’s men with broken bodies. One gets hurt for love, one for honor, one for hubris. Men, always willing to sacrifice their bodies for a worthy cause! (Women, meanwhile, are too stupid to even do math. More on this in the Sorkin Sexism bullets below.)
Elliot’s injury forces News Night to find a new correspondent on the ground. That’s when Neal, pretending he’s @acarvin, says he knows a guy — or at least a guy’s Twitter feed. To prove the anonymous correspondent is trustworthy, Neal reveals his own deeply personal details, including that he was on one of the trains used for a terrorist strike in London in 2005. (For those keeping deus ex machina score: Jim has high-ranking friends and family at two of the biggest corporations in the world, Maggie, an obvious liberal, slept with a staffer for one of the staunchest conservatives in the country, and Neal was at the scene of one of the most substantive terrorist attacks on the West since 9/11.) Will responds with a non sequitur about Rudy.
To put Neal’s guy, Kahlid, on air, they have to convince him to reveal his identity. Somebody tells him, “You will never forget tonight.” You know what else he’ll never forget? Getting beaten up. This argument — that Kahlid should go public because it’ll be a great story to tell someday — defies the show’s own logic. Journalists don’t report stories for the Instagram pics. They report stories to help inform the electorate. Or at least so we’re told.
But Kahlid’s convinced, and so goes and reports the news. That then gets him caught, and he needs $250,000 in ransom to get bailed out. Will, ever the naive messiah, decides to send the money to a sketchy Cairo/Dubai charity/commodities company without vetting the organization.
A better show would punish Will for his free spending ways. The money would have gone to a terrorist group instead of a charity. Or the military would have taken the money, but not released Kahlid. Or Kahlid himself would have duped News Night, forcing Will and MacKenzie to reevaluate their news judgment. But this isn’t that show. This is a show where the good guys win. And Will, as we’re told and shown incessantly, is a good guy. Kahlid is freed.
Of course, the one area where the characters are allowed to err is romance. It’s Valentine’s Day and the office is decked out in kitschy decorations even though everyone who works there is far too cynical and overworked to care about something like Valentine’s Day.
One of the show’s love triangles made its inevitable collapse to a love line. Wade, despite never showing a hint of being an ass, was apparently an ass, using MacKenzie to get on the air to put viewers to sleep with lectures on Countrywide. Jim consoles her: “You deserve a lot better.” MacKenzie demurs: “I deserved what I got.” Vengeance dating never works out.
Somebody tell that to Don, who is clearly more in love with Elliot than he is with Maggie. Would Don throw himself into a door for her? I think not. In the boring Jim-Maggie-Don-Lisa lopsided quadrangle, nothing much happened except for another private argument happening in the most public place in the office. Think we’re up to a half-dozen of those by now.
The most touching love scene in last night’s episode (more touching than Will and MacKenzie’s will-they-won’t-they bear hug) was that final shot of Neal and Kahlid reunited. Is there a better Valentine for Neal than Kahlid? Are there others out there willing to join a fanfic group for Neal-Kahlid ‘shippers? My attempt:
It’s midnight, and Neal Sampat is at home. He’s had one too many beers at the poorly lit karaoke bar down the street from his office, but he’s buzzing more from the latest Bigfoot rumor than the alcohol. He can’t fall asleep yet, not when Wikileaks is releasing a new round of diplomatic memos at 2 a.m. But what to do? What to do? And that’s when the alert appears in the corner of his screen. “Amen is now online.” Neal’s heart lurches, the same way it does whenever he presses Publish on a new blog post. He debates whether to call or video chat. He asks Amen to join him in a Google+ hangout. “Amen is typing … ” And typing, and typing. What’s taking so long, Neal panics. “Sure,” Amen writes. Is he playing hard to get? Or is it the language barrier? And I wonder what scarf he’ll wear tonight.
I’ll leave it there. Fill in the rest in the comments.
- MacKenzie cannot subtract without her fingers.
- MacKenzie: “I don’t know anything about economics.”
- Later, MacKenzie: “Did you know it was Bill Clinton who repealed Glass-Steagall?” Will: “Everybody knows.”
- Lisa, according to her own roommate’s description, is an emotional basket case who can’t deal with a bad Valentine’s Day.
- I hope Emily Mortimer gets to star in a Gloria Steinem biopic after she’s done with The Newsroom. Only fair.
Other observations that didn’t get picked up by a nondirectional microphone:
- That Sorkin — excuse me, Sloan — implied Glass-Steagall helped land a man on the moon is inexcusable claptrap. Glass-Steagall helped a banking system stay responsible, it didn’t help the economy avoid all recessions or give the government money to fund a space program. This is the worst kind of Sorkin history: revised so drastically that it insults the viewer’s intelligence.
- There was one moment when Charlie and Will acted like awful journalists. In the Koch side plot that went nowhere (there were a lot of side plots last night), Will and Charlie are deciding whether to go after the Kochs again in light of protests against Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Charlie: “This is exactly the kind of story Leona doesn’t want us to chase, so … ” Will: “Let’s chase it as hard as we can.” This is the kind of reverse bias that journalists are told is nearly as bad as favorable bias. Going after a story just to piss somebody off has its own pitfalls.
- More scenes of Sam Waterston screaming directly into anchors’ ear pieces! Felt a touch voyeuristic, no? Between that and his kiss for Elliot, I like Charlie as an underdog romantic lead for The Newsroom.
- At News Night, no web video can be watched just once.
- Good Sorkin: “I understand the irony, can I break union rules?” and “I’m going to put someone’s head through a fucking pyramid!”
- Bad Sorkin: Having Charlie cite the number of Google returns as proof the TMI story is out of hand. That’s a hack’s narrative device.
- Name-drops: Rudy, Evita, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Google Trends Volume Index, Richard Engel, Paley Center, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, Star Trek and Captain Kirk, Rush Limbaugh, and, through logos, Think Progress, and Mediaite.