Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Newsroom 1.07: "5/1"

“America thinks bin Laden’s alive. If I can make him dead one minute sooner, my entire life in journalism up until this point will have been worth it.”

Aaron Sorkin does big, emotional moments like nobody else in screenwriting, and “5/1” which tells the story of the News Night team reporting on Osama bin Laden’s death, did not disappoint. I’ll admit, this one didn’t hit me quite as much as the Gabrielle Giffords episode, mostly because I wasn’t glued to the television set for the bin Laden death coverage like I was for the Arizona shooting coverage. Still, I can see how for people who lived in New York and DC on September 11, 2001, the moment could have been extremely cathartic. And News Night folks telling other characters the news of bin Laden’s death still made me teary. And so did the cut to President Obama’s press conference at the end of the episode. So yeah, this episode was definitely emotional. And I think this episode, and the moment I alluded to in “Fix You” demonstrate why choosing to set “The Newsroom” in the recent past, while that choice has been heavily criticized, was very effective. Especially if you’re a news/political junkie like me (I can’t remember a time when we didn’t watch the news during dinner when I was growing up), these events are things you remember very specifically, and that provides an emotional trigger that immediately brings you into a scene like Don telling a pilot that bin Laden is dead or the News Night team announcing the shooting of Giffords as Coldplay’s “Fix You” plays on.

The episode opens witch Charlie getting a phone call from a mysterious person who fancies himself the next Deep Throat. The mysterious caller wants to establish his credibility as a source, and he tells Charlie that the News Night team will get an e-mail from the White House at 9:00 telling them to get to work. Getting to work at 9:00 PM is going to be a challenge for the News Night crew, because they’re all partying it up at Will’s apartment for the one year (and one week) anniversary of “News Night 2.0. To make things even worse, Neal’s girlfriend Kaylee has secured some pot cookies from a friend in LA. Will ate two of them and took some Vicadin too, which means he’s pretty much baked out of his mind. He claims he has a super metabolism and will be able to handle all those chemicals, but Neal and Kaylee are doubtful. As the party craziness builds, News Nighters start getting a strange email from one of their national security experts. The email basically just says “call me, I’m available.” Know that I’m really trying very hard to avoid a Carly Rae Jepson joke here.

In the news of pure stupidity department, Jim is trying to do work while at the party, and he gets a call from Lisa on Face Time. She’s talking to him while walking to the party. Maggie is in the room too (she insisted Jim take Lisa’s call), and she gets a little bent out of shape when Lisa tells Jim “I love you.” She says that Jim has to break up with Lisa immediately because Jim obviously doesn’t feel the same way (and also obviously, Maggie wants Jim for herself, even though she refuses to let go of Don). Maggie’s nagging of Jim doesn’t last too long, though, because News Night staffers get the e-mail Charlie’s contact said was coming. The President of the United States will be making a speech to the nation at 10:30 PM on an issue of national security. Understandably, this breaks up the party pretty quickly. The team dutifully files out of Will’s apartment and heads back to the office in cabs to prepare for the broadcast.

In this episode, Sorkin only showcased his talent for big, emotional moments, he showcased his madcap style of humor as well. Sloan, Don, and Eliot spend the entire episode stuck on a plane that is waiting for a gate at Laguardia. They can tell something is brewing from the messages they are getting on their cell phones, but they can’t all sit together to discuss it without getting yelled at by the flight attendant. This situation escalates throughout the episode, with the passengers getting suspicious of the News Night folks’ behavior and Don even falling in the aisle at one point. Also in the madcap humor department, Will and his bodyguard get stuck in horrible traffic on the way back to the office. Confidence medicinally boosted, Will decides to jump out of the car and run. Lonnie the bodyguard is frustrated and attracts the attention of come nearby cops, who become suspicious of Lonnie for the crime of driving while black. It doesn’t help that Lonnie is carrying a gun, too.

Anyway, the rest of the News Night team makes it back to the office without incident, and they have a big meeting to try to figure out what the President’s upcoming speech could possibly be about. The most likely choice is that we killed bin Laden, so Mackenzie has a team work on that possibility. The next most likely choice is that we killed Gadhafi, so Mackenzie assigns a team to that as well. Neal thinks we might have had contact with extra-terrestrials, and Maggie wonders if the President is going to admit that his birth certificate is fake after all, but Mackenzie doesn’t give credence to either of those theories. Will finally arrives at the office too, and it turns out he’s been extremely productive during his run from Lonnie’s car to the office. He’s spoken with General Wesley Clark (who said it’s not Gadhafi), and he got himself a nice falafel. So now with Gadhafi out of the mix, the team is going under the assumption that the news is most likely about bin Laden. Jane, the anchor at the ACN Washington bureau, really wants to report a tween that says it’s bin Laden, but Mackenzie won’t let her. Jane is played by the wonderful Salli Richardson-Whitfield, most famous for playing Dr. Alison Blake on Syfy’s “Eureka.”

Mackenzie and Will have a conversation where Will reveals just how baked he is, and it’s quite hilarious. Mackenzie is pretty furious at Will for being in that state on such an important night, but she also knows that he needs to report this news. Eventually the team gets two confirmations that it’s bin Laden, but Charlie still says it’s a no go as far as reporting it before the President’s press conference. He doesn’t want to put any lives in danger if the mission isn’t quite finished yet. ACN will report bin Laden’s death when the President says they can. Jane doesn’t make complying with Charlie’s wishes very easy. She tells one of her reporters the news, and Mackenzie has to cut the feed from Washington to keep the news from getting out. Charlie and Will make a big announcement about bin Laden’s death to the News Night crew, and Kaylee is the only one who is upset. She goes out on a balcony so that she doesn’t ruin anyone else’s happiness. Neal talks to her about it, and the reason she’s upset is because her dad died on 9/11, and she thought bin Laden’s death would make her feel better, but obviously her dad’s still gone.

For some reason, instead of doing her work, Maggie starts bugging Jim again to break up with Lisa. Lisa barges in on the conversation and ends up doing the job for Jim. She says she knows she was a set-up that Jim didn’t want and that Jim has been too polite to end things, so she breaks up with him. She can also see how he and Maggie feel about each other, and she doesn’t want to get in the way of Maggie’s happiness. Both Jim and Maggie vehemently deny that they’re interested in each other, but it’s obvious that the reporters doth protest too much. Jim ends up asking Lisa for another date. He says he likes her and wants to ask her on a real first date without any of the set-up pretense. This can’t possibly end well, although I guess I don’t blame the guy for trying to have some happiness considering Maggie seems unwilling to give up Don.

Speaking of Don, he’s still super antsy on the plane, both about the breaking news and about his future with Maggie (he is so much more into her than she is to him…dude should get out before he gets even more hurt). He starts to hear other passengers telling each other the wrong information about what’s going on national security-wise, and he stands up to try to address the plane. The flight attendant gets really pissed off because it looks like Don is trying to “take control of the cabin,” and she calls for the captain. Don looks at the captain and the gravity of what has happened finally sinks in. He gives a really nice bit of oratory about how he wants the captain and his crew to be the first on the plane to know that bin Laden was killed. And this is where I started to get a little teary. Lonnie also gets to deliver the news in similarly moving fashion to the police officers who have been giving him trouble when the officers take him to News Night so they can verify his story.

While the team is still waiting for the official “go” to broadcast the news, Charlie gets another call from his mysterious would-be informant. It turns out that the man works for the NSA, and he is calling to warn Charlie that AWM (ACN’s parent company) has been engaging in News of the World-style phone tapping. Charlie comes to the conclusion that this means TMI must be doing the phone tapping and that is how they have been getting all their dirt on Will and the rest of the News Night staff. Will himself finally fights through the chemical fog long enough to realize he hasn’t checked his Blackberry for a while, and it turns out he has a twenty minute old e-mail from none other than Joe Biden saying that they can go ahead and report that bin Laden is dead. This moment cracked me up, but the mood quickly becomes somber as we see Will report the story and transition into President Obama’s actual speech as the credits roll.

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