Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Newsroom 2.03: "Willie Pete"

“I really thought we were done with the Mission to Civilize.”

“Willie Pete” pretty much just continued the storylines that were set up in the first two episodes of the season. It didn’t really have one big news event to give the episode something that would let it stand on its own. There was a reference to when people booed a gay soldier at a Republican presidential primary debate, but that’s not on the level of the Tucson shootings or killing Osama bin Laden. Was late 2011/early 2012 just a bad time for news. I can think of a ton of news that has happened in the past six months, but none of that will likely make it to the show until season 3. Well, maybe Sandy Hook could potentially make it to season 2, but that would be cutting it close, and I think Sorkin has already said that this season will end before Sandy Hook.

The biggest development in this episode is that Will has returned to his “mission to civilize” with a vengeance. This time, his mission centers around Nina Howard at TMI. She knows two very potentially damaging things about Will and News Night. First, she knows that Will was high on the night of the Osama bin Laden broadcast. Second, she knows that Will didn’t have the flu during the 9/11 tenth anniversary broadcast. Mackenzie and Charlie think that Will should just not say anything to her, thereby not giving her the confirmation she needs to run either of these stories. Will has other ideas, though. He wants to appeal to Nina’s better nature and ask her to not run the 9/11 story in particular because of some sacredness that 9/11 possesses.

Will wines and dines Nina in the AWM executive dining room. He even makes sure they have the dining room all to themselves, and he orders her a mimosa (having learned from Facebook that it’s her favorite drink). Will doesn’t really have to explain himself much at all to get Nina to agree not to run with the 9/11 broadcast story. He just has to tell the truth about the fact that Charlie was the one who took him off the broadcast. Will also brings up the idea that they should date, but Nina thinks it would be unprofessional. Since when did that ever stop anybody on “The Newsroom?” Anyway, later, Will and Charlie figure out that the exchange about telling the truth means that Nina must have somehow known the truth to begin with. This means that Reese is still up to his bugging/wiretapping tricks. Charlie and Will try to confront Reese with the recorder that has Reese admitting to wiretapping, but they accidentally delete the incriminating recording, and Reese just laughs at them. It was nice to see Will not win for one.

Anyway, on the campaign trail, Jim is still on the Romney bus, and he’s kind of hating it. Every day, he tries to ask the tough questions, and he asks for 30 minutes face to face with Romney and he keeps getting denied. It’s gotten to the point where he’s really irritating the rest of the press, because they don’t want to have to deal with the conflict every day. They’re content with the regurgitated talking points that they get as long as it keeps the peace. He spars a bit with fellow reporter Hallie (played by Grace Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep and younger sister of Mamie Gummer) who vacillates between wanting to be obedient and wanting to really press the Romney staffers on women’s’ issues. Apparently she started her own blog so she could report on women’s issues the way she wanted to, but she’s kind of grown complacent on the campaign trail. Eventually, Jim has had enough and in a big classic-style Sorkin speech he demands answers from the staffers and asks the rest of the press corps to stand with him and demand answers too. Only Hallie and one other guy end up standing, and all three of them get thrown off the bus and left by the side of the road.

Back in New York, other than the Nina stuff, the Operation Genoa investigation continues. Mackenzie and Jerry have lunch with a potential source, but Mackenzie (and Charlie too) are still skeptical. Jerry gets a team of lower level staffers, including Maggie, together to work on getting more trustworthy underpinnings for the story. They’re going to look at tweets from the region of Pakistan in question when Genoa allegedly happened. They get a translator to translate the Pashtun, and this translator will apparently only correspond by fax because he likes to pretend it’s 1985. The sporadic faxes coming through with translations does add a bit to the drama of the sequence. For what appears like days on end, nothing comes of all of the team’s efforts. Mackenzie is just seconds from shutting down the whole thing when the fax machine finally gives them what they want. Tweets that seem to be describing Genoa start coming through with a vengeance. Jerry appears to be vindicated, but as we know from the season premiere, it can’t last. In this case, I think all the foreshadowing might have lessened the impact of the moment. We can’t revel in the team’s success, because we already know it’s going to turn into an epic failure.

In addition to working on the Genoa investigation, Maggie is also preparing for her trip to Uganda. She’s gotten a bunch of vaccinations, and she’s also on Mefloquine, an anti-malarial. There’s an undertone that the side-effects (hallucinations and nightmares) might get to Maggie at some point. Mefloquine is no joke, as I know from personal experience when a former roommate of mine experienced severe respiratory problems after it reacted with her asthma medication following a trip to Indonesia. The Mefloquine hasn’t really even ramped up in her system yet, and Maggie is already jumpy and freaking out. It’s not attractive. Mackenzie tells Maggie that there’s been a little snag with the Uganda trip. Maggie will only be given clearance to go to Uganda if she does a human interest story in addition to what she was originally planning to report on. Maggie agrees, and the trip goes forward.

There’s also a small plotline in this episode involving Don and Sloan, who make a superior paring to Don and Maggie for sure. Sloan asks Don’s advice on two things. First, she told her viewers on the air not to buy a particular stock that was doing well for moral reasons, and her EP was upset about that. Second, she thinks she might have been the person who leaked that Will didn’t have the flu. Sloan ends up standing up (with Don’s support) to both the EP and to Will. Surprisingly Will’s not mad, because he quickly figures out that Sloan wasn’t actually the leak. The scene where Sloan is trying to come clean is when he and Charlie figure out that Reese is still eavesdropping, actually. Unfortunately, the whole mess just serves to undermine Sloan (she has to tell everybody about her date with Nina’s book agent). Because we can’t have any female character in an Aaron Sorkin show who isn’t a flighty mess.

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