‘The Newsroom’ Feels Free to Be Superior

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“Feel free to be superior,” Hallie tells Jim after he hears a degrading and sexist phone conversation between her and her boss.

“He doesn’t set the bar very high,” Jim returns with a little smirk.

This episode of The Newsroom was filled with tiny little nods to its own critics–an episode of self-awareness, if you will. There was a lot of talk about smugness, because after Will knocks around Neal’s Occupy Wall Street friend, Shelly, the team finds out she has a connection to Genoa that she won’t give up unless Will apologizes. And we all know what Will thinks of apologizing.

Will, Sloan, and Don all manage to offend Shelly in the course of the episode because they all show varying degrees of smugness. I’ll go on record saying Sloan’s is the most legitimate, believable, and (once again) badass.

The Newsroom itself is a smug and superior show. It gets so much hate from the journalists who write about it because they resent it for saying it could have done their job better when things are 20/20 in hindsight. Vulture’s Chadwick Matlin, who writes their weekly recaps, can never contain his glee in writing about just how much he hated the recent episode. Grantland’s Andy Greenwald wrote the show off last year and never looked back.

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Aya Cash as Shelly Wexler.

Will’s treatment of Shelly Wexler is one giant metaphor for this show’s depiction of the media. He confesses it was fun for him to destroy her, and that was wrong. The Romney spokeswoman Taylor (played by House of Cards’ phenomenal Constance Zimmer), says, “I hate the press,” and Jim points out how helpful that is considering it’s her job to deal with them. And then there is Hallie’s sharp, “Feel free to be superior” comment, which is exactly what the press says about The Newsroom.

All of this to say: The Newsroom and Aaron Sorkin know what you think of them. But ultimately, they don’t care. “Everything about it felt right. But if it was insulting, I still don’t care.”

To get to the other parts of this episode, I think it was a good one. This is Alison Pill’s moment, and boy does she deliver. Four episodes into season two, and we finally figure out what screwed her up in Africa. I have to admit, I was thinking some sort of sexual assault, but this situation does not turn Maggie into victim once again–it turns her into a guilt-ridden mess. It’s a much smarter development.

Pill has two Maggies to be in this episode–Maggie pre-trauma and Maggie post-trauma. The blond version of the character has never looked softer or more angelic. Dressed in gentle blue and white, she walks into that African orphanage like a privileged, Upper East Side savior. She reads Daniel his book a million times. She feels at peace with what she’s doing. She’s finally important. She’s finally away from her mess of a life in New York, and she made it happen. She is entitled.

The new Maggie.

The new Maggie.

The later version with spiky red hair is significantly less so. Instead of rambling, she speaks a succinctly and deliberately as possible. She makes eye contact. She is hard. It is the best word to describe her. For the first time, she seems so sure of herself in the little things. And we know what got her there is being so unsure about something so big. If she had not selfishly pushed to go to Africa, Daniel would still be alive. If only one thing would have gone differently, she could have died instead of a little boy. That kind of mind game will drive you crazy.

In the romantic department, we didn’t get any Don and Sloan together this week, which is kind of a bummer, but maybe it’s good to let that one breathe. Hallie and Jim finally brooded together with a kiss after their yelling match (“I’m the rebound. And I went to Vassar”). Is Grace Gummer off the show now? I hope not. But it seems pretty hopeless for her character now that Jim is going back to New York. No Nina Howard to gum things up for Will and Mac this week, but who really cares about that triangle?

Let’s hope that new Maggie will be a more interesting pairing for Jim than old Maggie. It could change the entire dynamic of their relationship, and that’s a change I’m looking forward to.

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