Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Newsroom 1.08: "The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn"

“It’ll be a polished, tightly-produced abomination.”

This was kind of an odd episode of “The Newsroom,” perhaps because it was part one of a two-parter. It felt a bit more plodding and preachy than usual, and considering this is an Aaron Sorkin show, that’s saying something. He certainly knows how to bring the preachy. I guess by this late point in the season, the season’s conflicts have all been set up, so it’s time to see how our characters end up resolving (or not) those conflicts. AWM top brass and the News Night crew continue to dance around each other, each hoping they can trip the other up. Will’s baser impulses to seek higher ratings lead him to dumb down the content of News Night. And most of the New Night staff is getting a bit pissy over the aforementioned dumbing-down. Well, I guess it isn’t just his baser impulses. Will really wants to be invited by the RNC to moderate one of the Presidential debates, and he wants to have a debate-format segment on News Night to show them that he can do the job. He’s afraid he won’t get the executive support he needs to do that in the middle of a ratings slump. And he’s probably right. Although the holier-than-thou way he treats the idea of having a debate is kind of irksome.

The episode begins with Will trying to set up some ammunition against Leona’s in-house smear campaign. He’s interviewing a rival reporter named Brian to potentially do a cover story on News Night 2.0. News Night (and Will) needs the good press, and Brian has fallen on hard times and could really use the cover story. So they have a meeting of the minds. We later learn that Brian is Mackenzie’s ex, with whom she cheated on Will, so I’m not sure what sort of masochistic impulse led Will to consider hiring him. But hire him he does, for an off-the-record trial period, at least. It soon becomes apparent that while Brian was hired to cover the quick transition to News Night 2.0, he’s actually witnessing the almost as quick transition back to something like News Night 1.0. This is mostly due to a meeting Will has with Reese, who I only just realized is played by the same actor who plays Danny Castellano on “The Mindy Project.” Reese is a more serious role than Danny, but he’s really just as smarmy. Reese informs Will and Charlie that News Night’s ratings have gone down 50% since they decided not to cover the Casey Anthony trial. All their viewers are bleeding to Nancy Grace’s coverage on HLN. After a bit of protest (mostly from Mackenzie), the News Night team agrees to devote some coverage to Casey Anthony, in an effort to save Will’s job and the possibility of the new debate format.

We next see Mackenzie and Sloan having a bit of a girl’s night at the local bar. Sloan warns Mackenzie about the dangers of the games House Republicans are playing with the debt ceiling, and Sloan really wants to lead an upcoming News Night broadcast with that story. Mackenzie is pissed that she has to lead the next broadcast with Casey Anthony instead of Sloan’s story, and Sloan is pretty equally pissed, although as the episode progresses, it seems like she blames Mackenzie and not the greater forces. Mackenzie ends up revealing to Sloan that Brian’s the guy she cheated on Will with, but the conversation gets interrupted when news gets out that Congressman Anthony Weiner accidentally tweeted a very name-appropriate photograph. The timing of this is perfect, just as Mackenzie is wondering what other infotainment crap she’s going to have to report on instead of real news.

Mackenie’s fears come true back at the office when Will asks her to schedule three minutes of the next broadcast for a story on Anthony Weiner. This argument happens in front of Brian, which of course is all sorts of awkward. After Mackenzie leaves, Brian and Will have a chat, and Brian figures out that Leona is working diligently to manufacture cause to fire Will. Meanwhile, out on the floor, the ducklings are working on preparing for a mock debate (Jim as Michelle Bachmann is kind of hilarious). Maggie goes on this rant about how Michelle Bachmann claiming to hear the word of God insults her as a Christian that was really just another excuse for a Sorkin preach-fest. Anyway, Mackenzie interrupts the rant to inform the crew that they’re going to cover Casey Anthony, and she’s brought in Don to teach them how to sleaze up the broadcast a bit. He does a sort of play-by-play of Nancy Grace’s latest coverage of the trial that is really quite disgusting to behold.

Meanwhile, a very enthusiastic Charlie takes a trip to the New York Public Library to meet with the mysterious NSA employee who called him on the day Osama bin Laden was killed. He’s a rather high-up software engineer for the NSA, and he reveals to Charlie that the NSA is currently capturing tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls a day, with and without a warrant. He’s testified both before Congress and the Pentagon about this to no avail, and he wants News Night to run a story on it in exchange for damning information about AWM. The information is that AWM-owned tabloid (and thorn in Will’s side) TMI has been engaging in News of the World-like wiretapping shenanigans, and those actions were ordered by none other than Reese. Charlie goes back to the office and tells Will and Mackenzie what he learned, and they’re going to assign Jim to vetting the NSA guy’s story. Will warns Jim about the importance of confidentiality, which I’m sure means that before the end of the season, Jim is going to screw this up royally.

Will has another chat with Reese, and Will can barely contain his contempt for Reese, especially after learning the new information about him. The only real purpose this conversation serves is for Reese to make a comment about the weather. There are tornados and unusually hot weather- the kind of hot weather that can lead to blackouts. Will is snippy right back to Reese. Mackenzie also has herself a rather snippy conversation, but hers is with Brian. He’s trying to interview her for the article, and she’s not being especially cooperative. Neal interrupts this conversation to pitch a story idea to Mackenzie, and for once it’s not bigfoot. He wants to do a story on internet trolling (not that it’s really a novel concept). Mackenzie gives Neal permission to go ahead and do some research, which includes acting as a troll himself towards someone on the News Night staff. He runs into Sloan and asks if she would mind being the “victim.” In a moment that I found absolutely outrageous, Sloan physically pushes Neal into a wall when he asks her this. In what universe does Aaron Sorkin live where a woman would act like this? It was disgusting, and I expect better from his writing.

I’m going to skip over the bit where Will barges in on his therapist and his therapist tells him he needs to forgive Mackenzie. Instead, we’ll fast forward to Charlie being kind of stupid and confronting Leona. He tells her to call of the Will smear campaign, but she refuses. She’s still really pissed that Will continued to take on the Tea Party and the Koch Brothers on News Night even though she explicitly told him not to. She’s concerned that she won’t be able to get favorable legislation through Congress if Will keeps this up. Charlie tries to warn Leona that she’s not going to like the consequences if she doesn’t let up, but she doesn’t listen. It’s clear he’s going to go forward with the NSA story full-throttle now. It was very Tenth Doctor of him to give her a chance to admit her wrongdoing before going in for the kill.

Back at the office, Maggie is stuck interviewing a woman who claims to be one of Andrew Weiner’s conquests. The woman is a real piece of work. She has an agent booking her on all of these interviews, and she wasn’t upset that Weiner was married (she knew that). She was upset that he had other mistresses. She’s just gross. Anyway, while setting up a pre-taped segment with the mistress, Mackenzie and Sloan get into another argument over Sloan’s desire to do the debt ceiling story. Sloan just doesn’t understand the pressure Mackenzie is under, and Mackenzie is frustrated that she can’t run the story she knows is most important (although the consequences turned out not to be as bad as many economists predicted, but I think we just got lucky with that one). The News Night crew finishes all the set-up for the pre-taped segment, and they all seem to be feeling pretty horrible about themselves for stooping this low. Mackenzie goes so far as to as for a sign that they shouldn’t be doing this. And of course, at that moment, the power goes out.

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