Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Newsroom 2.06: "One Step Too Many"

“Women can vote and your vote counts as much as my vote. I’m really supposed to worry about a stigma?”

Well, there wasn’t much about this episode of “The Newsroom” that made me want to scream and throw things at my television, so I suppose that could be considered a limited success. Okay, maybe the Quote of the Episode up there raised my blood pressure a little (stigma can keep women from exercising that right to vote, Don!), but nothing compared to the previous episode. This episode was fairly evenly divided between in-office and out-of-office drama. Many of the characters are continuing to dither over potential romantic entanglements that have been set up since last season. It’s more than a little frustrating, honestly. It would be nice for at least one pairing in what has become quite the love polygon of doom to be decided upon. In the midst of all these romantic complications, the News Night team’s work on the Operation Genoa story is heating up. Jerry’s got a big interview with a retired flag officer who may know about the operation, and the “Red Team” of Don, Sloan, and Jim is beginning to try and pick apart the work that has already been done. As one could predict, Jerry gets way too invested in the potential outcome of the investigation and starts to become the villain of the piece.

While I’m not especially invested in the Operation: Genoa story because it isn’t based on real life events (I find reliving the recent past to be one of the more interesting aspects to “The Newsroom”), it is remarkably prescient. We’re watching how a news team would react to a hypothetical Sarin attack by the United States just as we’re having a national conversation about the right way to respond to an alleged Sarin attack in Syria. Granted, there’s nobody in real life saying that the United States has used Sarin, but it’s interesting to look at the hypothetical flip side through the lens of “The Newsroom” as we, in real life, are trying to figure out if and how to punish others for the use of Sarin. It’s an interesting philosophical exercise, really. As much as I rag on many elements of “The Newsroom,” especially its treatment of women, I think tackling foreign policy was a very zeitgeist-y thing to do with this season.

Anyway, Stephen Root guest stars in this episode, as the retired flag officer mentioned earlier. Root is best known as Milton (“excuse me, I believe you have my stapler”) from “Office Space,” although he has had a prolific career since, including guest stints on “True Blood” and “Pushing Daisies.” He’s good at being vaguely creepy. Anyway, he’s a nerve gas expert, and he has written books about how the use of chemical weapons can sometimes be justified. Mackenzie and Charlie visit his home to ask if he’d be willing to do an interview, and the General agrees, as long as his image is in shadow and his voice is altered. Jerry is the one who actually does the interview. Maggie was there to assist, but the General kicks her out because he didn’t have a chance to do a background check on her. The General avoids specifically confirming Operation: Genoa, but he goes into detail about how such a mission would have happened if it did happen. Jerry, being the easy villain that he is, edits the footage to make it sound like the General is indeed confirming Genoa. I wish it was one of the regular News Night team involved in all these shenanigans – it would have been the riskier choice. Anyway, the Red Team still doesn’t quite buy the story even with Jerry’s doctored footage, and Jerry doesn’t take that well at all. Clearly he’s going to do something stupid very soon.

As I mentioned earlier, there were also a few out of office plots going on in this episode, all centered around office romances, of course. Seriously, doesn’t the AWM HR department have anything to say about this? Or the legal department? Anybody? I appreciate that Sorkin hangs a lantern on this at one point in the episode. Don and Mackenzie are at a bar, and Mackenzie mentions that Sloan is on a date with a football player. Don expresses some consternation about this, and Mackenzie asks why Don hasn’t pursued Sloan. Don mumbles about how since Sloan sometimes covers on the 10:00 show, he’s sometimes her boss. Mackenzie points out that the HR department has never done anything about this before, including when Don had a relationship with Maggie when he was actually her full-time boss. This gets Don to admit that he’s mostly just intimidated by the type of guys Sloan has dated in the past, and he thinks he wouldn’t measure up. Because of course he really doesn’t have any qualms about dating a subordinate again. Of course.

There’s also some serious Jim/Maggie awkwardness. Jim and Hallie are dating, and Hallie is going to be in town. They have a really romantic evening planned which is supposed to end at a fancy hotel, but they run into a few snags. First, Hallie wants to bring one of her colleagues along for dinner, and Jim has to enlist Neal to make it a proper double date. This colleague of Hallie’s is an overly exuberant Ron Paul supporter. Not really much more to say about that. Oh, and on top of turning it into a double date, Hallie invites Romney’s press aide, who, coincidentally, hates Jim’s guts. She seemed sad, so Hallie couldn’t turn her away. We later learn that the press aide was sad because she had just been fired. Jim gave her a whole speech about all the things he thought the Romney campaign could be doing better, and the press aide says she got fired for giving the exact same advice. Oops. Then, as they finally get their alone time, Jim and Hallie encounter Maggie, who is drinking by herself at the hotel bar. She claims she’s there with a friend, though, so Jim doesn’t worry too much. Hallie gets called away to work before she and Jim can enjoy their night together, so Jim finds himself back in the hotel bar. Maggie continues to insist that she’s fine, and she and a random walk off to have a one night stand.

The final relationship explored in this episode is the unholy alliance between Will and Nina. Nina acts a bit like Lady Macbeth in this one (Mackenzie even helpfully points that out). Sloan catches Will watching focus group reaction to a recent News Night episode, and she’s confused, because Mackenzie has forbidden focus grouping News Night. Will says that he decided to pay for his own focus group. He’s upset because his likeability numbers are down. He discusses this with Nina, who we get the impression encouraged Will to hire the focus group in the first place. Nina thinks Will should take steps to improve his likeability, specifically going on the morning show. Will takes Nina’s advice, feels ridiculous at the morning show, and throws a tantrum when he’s asked to throw a football. Will finally realizes that he needs to keep doing News Night the right way, likeability be damned, and he (thankfully) breaks up with Nina.

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