Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Newsroom 2.05: "News Night with Will McAvoy"

“It should be obvious to you by now that fundamentally small people are going to try to raise their profile by standing on your neck.”

The “real” critics out there seem to have been very divided on this particular episode of “The Newsroom.” I think I’m pretty firmly in the “didn’t like” camp. This was one of those episodes where Sorkin seemed to be trying to work out his personal hang-ups (can’t say that for sure, of course, but that’s how it felt watching it). There was contempt for women, and there was plenty of sympathy for the poor, downtrodden yet perfect Will. It was all simmering below the surface enough to keep me from wanting to go full-on Malcolm Tucker at my television, but it was definitely there. And I didn’t really appreciate it. Not only was Will deified while Maggie was infantilized, but the character of Sloan was completely cut off at the knees.

Up until this point Sloan had really been the redeeming character on “Newsroom.” No matter how misogynistic other elements of the show could be, Sloan was generally (other than her ridiculous crush on Don) above it all. She was hot and smart, and while she was sometimes a little clueless about social interaction, her cluelessness manifested itself in a strong persona, not in a way that was demeaning. In this episode, a usually strong Sloan is completely torn down. Granted, she shows strength again at the end of the episode, but she shows it in a way that will likely get her slapped with a criminal charge, not in a positive way. The problem for Sloan is that her weasel ex-boyfriend has posted naked pictures of her online.

When this first happens, Sloan has to deal with the possibility of losing her job. Her contract with AWM, you see, has a morality clause. In order to have some ammunition to make Sloan tell the truth about what happened (how infantilizing is that!), Reese threatens to use that clause to terminate Sloan. Sloan was trying to preserve some dignity by arguing that the photos were Photoshopped, but Reese would stop until she tearily admitted that the photos were actually her. It turns out that she got her boyfriend a camera for Christmas, he asked to take some photos of her for fun, and when she dumped him, he posted some of the pictures online. Sloan spends most of the rest of the episode sobbing in Don’s office and talking to Don as Don tries to sort out a blog that spun a joke he made as truth about someone. It’s kind of pathetic, really. By the end, Sloan goes to her creeper ex’s workplace and kicks him in the balls in the middle of a meeting. I would have rather seen a more dignified resolution. This really just perpetuated the “bitches be crazy” stereotype.

Meanwhile, Will continues to play the downtrodden martyr who doesn’t understand why everybody in the world doesn’t love him. Neal has made the disturbing discovery of a Post reporter who tweeted that Will was standoffish when she ran into him at a restaurant. Mackenzie tries to keep this from Will, because she knows it will mess him up, but Will finds out anyway. Of course, when he knows, he gets all bent out of shape. He resists considering a response until the reporter tweets that she’s lost him as a viewer. Because of course that’s what upsets Will. To be fair, Will has a somewhat more serious plot too. He gets an upsetting call early in the episode in the middle of a News Night broadcast. It’s his estranged father, and Will doesn’t pick up. Later, he listens to the voicemail and discovers that his father is in the ER following a heart attack. Throughout the whole episode, Mackenzie keeps nagging Will to leave a voicemail for his dad during a commercial break. Because of course she knows what’s best for Will. Will keeps procrastinating, saying that he’ll call the hospital after the broadcast. Unfortunately, by the time Will actually gets around to calling, his father has already passed away, and he has lost his chance to mend that relationship.

The two real life news stories highlighted in this episode are the immediate aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing and that Rutgers kid who uploaded a video of his closeted roommate having sex. The latter story was dealt with quickly. A Rutgers student is going to be interviewed on News Night, and Mackenzie figures out that he want sot use the opportunity to come out. Mackenzie thinks this is beneath News Night, so she tries to shut it down. Meanwhile, the George Zimmerman 911 call has been made available to the press. It’s Maggie’s job to download it, and Jim hovers over her as she does so. They have a rather discouraging conversation about Hallie’s latest blog posts about Sandra Fluke. It feels like it is basically an opportunity for Aaron Sorkin to voice why he thought that Sandra Fluke was overplayed. That opinion is voiced by Maggie, by the way. I disagree, and let’s just leave it at that.

The one thing I liked about this episode was Will pointing out to a silly Gingrich campaign flunky that oil prices are set globally, so no President can singlehandedly affect them. This is why, by the way, we still have crazy high gas prices despite producing a record amount of oil domestically. If other countries don’t produce as much oil, the global price is still going to go up. It’s a global market. Anyway, Maggie eventually gets the Zimmerman call downloaded, and she quickly tries to edit it to fit in the remainder of the broadcast. Unfortunately, she edits it a bit too much, and it sounds more disparaging to Zimmerman than is fair considering the disparaging remark in question was in direct response to a question from the dispatcher (Maggie cut the dispatcher’s question). Will’s got to give an on-air correction. He pauses a bit, still reeling from his father’s death, but he pulls it together just as things start to get awkward. Because he’s Will McAvoy, of course.

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