I will start off by saying that this was, by far, the best and most enjoyable episode of The Newsroom thus far. Were there still kinks? Sure. But it was during this, the season’s sixth episode, that the series seemed to finally find its legs. And it did so by rectifying my two previously-cited major problems with the show, being its lack of development and the unrealistic perfection of its characters. The characters never struggled morally, their motives were confusing and haphazard, and the show rarely had any real stakes. Until now.
Complete turnaround this week! People were screwing up left and right, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Will, on a whole new level of elitism, declares that he is going to “fix the Internet!” by making commenters list their name, age, and education level before posting on the website. Come on, now, McAvoy. What about what TV shows they watch? Shouldn’t they list those too while they’re at it.
Within three days of this new commenting system’s implementation, someone tricks Neal’s complex programming and posts an anonymous death threat for Will. So begins a chain of events that are putting a strain on Will/keeping him awake at night/send him to a psychiatrist for a sleeping pill. Well, he comes for the sleeping pill but stays for the hour of therapy that frames the episode. Will’s been paying the man for a standing session that he does not attend for the past four years. Four years did you say? Shouldn’t that put us right about the time…Yep. When Will and Mac broke up. And the shrink has a whole file on it.
Framing the episode through the therapy session is an old trick, but it does provide us with part of what I said the show has been missing–character development. The most important revelation of this episode is that Will had an alcoholic, abusive father from whom he had to protect his mom and three younger siblings. From this stems a lot of things. We see reasoning and motivators behind Will’s actions now. He treats women as inferior because he feels he needs to protect them. He has a controlling personality because from the fifth grade, he had to gain control of the situation. He hates that people are afraid of him because it reminds him of his father. His close bond to Charlie could maybe even be traced to Charlie’s drinking, making Will more inclined to see him as a father figure. When Aaron Sorkin granted us this nugget of information about Will’s background, so much of the show unlocked itself and came together.
Now, onto the mistakes.
There are three arguably gray areas of morality and ethics this week. Starting with the smallest infraction and working our way up, here we go:
First, comes Will preemptively buying a Tiffany’s (Tiffany’s) engagement ring so he could shove it in Mac’s face when she inevitably came to accuse hi of not wanting to marry her. … Three years ago! Sorry, did I forget that detail? The backstory here is that Charlie orders people to dig into Will’s past to see what the tabloids are going to print about him next. Jim and Maggie–flirting over the details of Will’s life–uncover that back in 2006, Will was in talks with Fox to get his own Los Angeles late night TV show. This doesn’t go over well with MacKenzie; Will never told her about the potential move while they were together. “You never had any intention of marrying me!” she whines, accusing him of making her feel guilty for cheating on him when all this time he was never even going to–THUNK. Will drops a diamond ring on the table between them and Mac shuts right the hell up.
It’s kind of a crappy thing for Will to do, and it also takes away part of his victim status. Sure, he’s believably heartbroken, but he’s so obsessed with remaining scorned that he buys an engagement ring to lie to MacKenzie and then shoves it down her throat for good measure. Once she finds out (and she will–this is a TV show), he’ll be in for it. It will even somewhat level the wrongdoing playing field between them. Consequences…they are sure to follow this exercise of human error and weakness.
Moving along, the second mistake comes from advice WIll gives to Sloan. Don asks her to fill in for Elliot at 10, and Sloan asks Will for advice on how to succeed on the bigger platform. He ridicules her into being a toucher interrogator, saying the way she has conducted past interviews makes her comparable to a drug dealer. Way harsh, Will. Desperate her Will’s approval (there maybe be more than one set of Daddy issues in this show), Sloan burns her Japanese TEPCO source by repeating what he told her off the record on air and also doing part of the broadcast in Japanese. Not good, Sloan. Not good at all. The man might lose his job, Charlie puts Sloan on suspension after a hilarious, raging scolding (“I don’t give a shit, Madame Butterfly!”), and Will feels guilty for pushing Sloan (his new little sister figure) into a meltdown on air. The negative effects of this development are obvious, but to add to it, Sloan eventually has to lie on air to make herself sound dumber in order to save the Japanese man’s job, her own job, and the network’s reputation. Compromising both truth and moral standards. Is this right or wrong? For once, The Newsroom is asking instead of telling us. It is exploring gray area instead of shining a white light in our faces.
Lastly, Will becomes the bully himself (again) when he verbally beats up Rick Santorum’s gay, black aide on the show. “Stop hitting him,” Mac pleads in his ear as the man nears tears. This Republican, Catholic opponent of abortion eventually gets a word in over Will’s bullying and then shuts him down in a perfectly elegant Sorkian speech. Will gets the last word in this exchange, but the only reinforces our growing recognition of his need to be in control and how far he’ll go to keep it. It’s refreshing that Sorkin gives Will a worthy opponent this time around because we get to see McAvoy come up short. Is is not a coincidence that in this episode, the tabloid story subplot reveals a complaint filed on Maggie’s behalf when Will yelled at her a year ago. The guilt over being “the bully” chased Will all the way to the shrink’s office.
That’s a lot of positive this week. There was a lot of story in this episode and a lot of
growth. You know the developments are compelling if I’ve gotten through the whole recap and barely mentioned Jim and Maggie. They’re usually my bread and butter–the shining light in all the darkness. No worries, they’re still doing their little dance. There’s probably going to be some movement there soon since lately they’ve been only a cute side act. It’s time for a big Don fuck-up. Like sleeping with Sloan, which I’m totally calling now.
Although, Girl, you have to have better standards than that.