Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Newsroom 2.04: "Unintended Consequences"

“Sometimes there’s mud. Sometimes there’s a genocide. But there wasn’t much of either that day, so we got there by early afternoon.”

“Unintended Consequences” was another episode of “The Newsroom” that was more focused on advancing existing plots than setting up anything new. We did get some definite progress in several plots, though. Jim and Hallie finally got romantic (ugh) and we finally know what exactly happened to Maggie in Uganda. There’s been significant online criticism about how Uganda was portrayed in this episode. While I do agree that there were some aspects of the Uganda story that were incredibly stereotypical, some aspects of the story rang more true compared to my own experiences in rural Africa (granted, I was in North Africa, not East Africa, but still…). I did not look for drug lords out of the window of our bus as we drove through the Middle Atlas, nor did I encounter cattle rustlers. I did, however, tour a school that was only in slightly better shape than the one depicted in this episode, and little kids in the village were extremely interested in our group. I have a photo of little kids from the village walking along the road with a bunch of my classmates. So yeah, it’s a stereotype, but it’s one of those instances where it’s a stereotype because it’s true. And yes, if you’re wondering, we did feel a little exploitative, but we tried to counteract that with learning as much about Moroccan culture and social policy as possible. And some of those classmates now work in international development.

Anyway, let’s stop talking about my experience in Africa (for now) and talk about the episode. For this episode, we’re back to using the future Operation Genoa deposition as a framing device. This time, the AWM lawyers are interviewing the short red hair version of Maggie. Basically, they want to see if she will still be a credible witness to anything Operation Genoa-related. This forces Maggie to tell the story of what happened to her in Uganda. It turns out that she and Gary never got the chance to do their story on the American troops who were sent to help track down Joseph Kony. They never got past the orphanage story they were also supposed to do in exchange for the access they needed to do the Kony story. On their way to the orphanage, Gary rides in the back of the truck because he’s hoping to get B-roll of genuine drug lords. Yeah, that was one of the Africa stereotypes in this episode that was going too far with the stereotype.

Anyway, Maggie and Gary arrive at the orphanage and interact with the kids while the kids are in school. Maggie especially takes one young boy, named Daniel, under her wing. Daniel wants Maggie to keep reading the same storybook over and over, and Maggie obliges. One of the teacher explains to Maggie that Daniel’s fascination with her likely has to do with Maggie’s blonde hair. He and the other children at the orphanage had never seen anyone with blonde hair before. This is another stereotype, but this one is more based in truth. When I was in Morocco, I experienced no attention from the locals until I walked through the Rabat medina one day with a classmate who had a blonde pixie-cut. Go figure. Anyway, Maggie and Gary learn that the area of Uganda where they are has essentially been taken hostage by cattle rustlers. Everyone in the area lives in fear of these very violent thieves. It’s so bad that when Gary first walks into the school with camera rolling, the kids all cower in fear under their desks because they think the camera is a machine gun.

Anyway, back in the States, we also learn some more about Jim’s time on the Romney campaign trail, and super surprising, it involves more mysogeny! Life as maverick, off-the-bus reporters isn’t all puppies and rainbows for Jim, Hallie, and the other dude. Heaven forbid, they have to make their own hotel reservations! More importantly, they are no longer getting e-mails directly from the Romney campaign. This means that the Intrepid Three can only file stories after big Romney speeches or events, not beforehand like their competitors can. This, understandably, pisses of their bosses. Hallie gets it the worst of any of them. Unfortunately for her, she’s Bluetoothed her phone into their rental car’s sound system, so everybody can hear her boss abuse her. Jim keeps badgering the press secretary, who continues to delight in failing to offer 30 minutes of Romney’s time. Eventually, the press secretary says something especially disparaging to Jim, he threatens to print it, and she finally feels bad enough to offer up the 30 minutes.

Jim, of course, being the noble sort of soul that he is, convinces the press secretary to give the 30 minutes to Hallie instead. Apparently he feels bad for her thanks to the lashing she took from her boss earlier. Hallie, not realizing the set-up, is super excited for the opportunity, and she works hard to put together a good interview and subsequent article. Then she overhears Mackenzie Skype-chewing Jim out for giving up the opportunity. At first, Hallie is understandably furious. She tells Jim to write the article himself since he’s the one who earned the interview. Jim tries to make excuses that Romney would be more likely to agree to an interview with Hallie’s print publication than 30 minutes on camera with ACN, but Hallie’s not buying it. By the end of the episode, though, Hallie is feeling bad for Jim being kicked off the campaign trail, and she kisses him. Pillar of self-esteem, that one.

Back in New York, the Occupy Wall Street story intersects with the Operation Genoa story. Neal has the OWS activist he’s been talking to booked on News Night, and on air, Will completely shoots holes in everything she has to say. It seems almost like he’s enjoying her humiliation. The OWS activist said that someone else in her area of the park was fired from an NGO for writing a report about US use of nerve gas in Pakistan. She was originally going to take Neal and Jerry to talk to this guy, but after the humiliation, she understandably rescinds the offer. Neal and Jerry spend the rest of the episode trying to fix this, first arranging a meeting between Sloan and the OWS Activist, then later a meeting with Don. What she really wants is an on-air apology from Will. Eventually, Will placates the OWS activist with an off-air apology and a request to audit the college course she teaches. Oh, and the News Night team already figures out which other OWS-er she was talking about.

So, to wrap up the Africa story in a way that follows Chekhov’s rule (a gun seen in the first act should be fired in the third), the cattle rustlers pay a visit to the Ugandan orphanage while Maggie and Gary are there. It happens in the night, of course, for maximum scariness. The “fixer” who accompanied Maggie and Gary tries to negotiate and explain to the cattle rustlers that there are just orphans and no cattle, but it does no good. Thus begins a frantic effort to get all the kids in a bus and hightail it out of there. Daniel, though, decides it would be a better idea to hide under one of the bolted down bunk beds. Maggie eventually gets him out and carries him on her back towards the bus, but Daniel takes a bullet during the run. Maggie’s got a double does of guilt. First, Daniel took a bullet for her, and second, the cattle rustlers were demanding “give us the camera.” The AWM lawyer asks Maggie if she really is okay after all that, and it becomes increasingly clear that the answer is no.

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