This week on The Newsroom … The entire episode takes place within the timeframe of a single News Night broadcast. Will receives upsetting personal news. An under pressure Maggie makes a critical error. And Sloan packs quite a punch.
This week’s headlines
It is now March 16th 2012, nearly six months after Maggie and Gary’s traumatising trip to Uganda. Authorities in Sanford, Florida release the 911 call made by George Zimmerman, the Neighbourhood Watch volunteer who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
Zimmerman maintained that he shot Martin in self-defence after an altercation. He was acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013. The incident fostered intense media scrutiny and national debate about racial profiling and self-defence laws.
Maggie downloads the audio of the 911 call and has to reduce it to a 25-second segment but edits out an operator’s question about Martin’s appearance which makes Zimmerman’s answer – “he looks black” – sound like a racially charged statement. Jim, who is already concerned about Maggie’s drinking and casual sex, questions her objectivity and judgement.
As News Night is about to go on air, Will ignores a phone call from his father, who has been taken to hospital. Mac urges him to call back, if only to leave a message, but by the time he does he discovers he has already died. Will completes the broadcast anyway, using his relationship with his audience as an anchor.
Charlie is visited by Shep, an old friend from naval intelligence, who leaves Charlie with a crumpled piece of paper which appears to lend additional credence to the existence of Operation Genoa.
Two bombs explode in the Syrian capital of Damascus, collapsing two buildings and leaving dozens dead. This prompts a prank call from a woman claiming her husband is trapped under the rubble. Jim and Martin investigate this properly and uncover the hoax.
Neal stumbles upon a tweet which leads Mac to pull a guest from the show when she realises he is going to use his appearance to come out live on air. The guest, Jesse, had been booked to discuss Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide in September 2010 after his roommate Dharun Ravi used a webcam to film him kissing another man, then invited others via Twitter to watch the following night. Clementi committed suicide the following day. Ravi was eventually sentenced to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service and fined $10,000 in what was one of the first high-profile criminal cases of cyberbullying.
Images of Sloan posing naked are published on the internet by a vengeful ex-boyfriend. After hiding out in Don’s office and talking to him, she marches over to her ex’s office and punches him. Meanwhile Don is in a panic when a salacious news website publishes a story based on a joke he made about a potential Attorney General being paid a speaking fee by the (made-up) Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence. After a phone call fails to get the story retracted, Sloan devises a solution to get Don out of hot water.
Maggie trashes Hallie’s story about Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist who was the subject of sexist slurs by Rush Limbaugh, the well-known ultra-conservative radio talk show host.
There’s some odd behaviour all around this week, some of which felt out of character to me.
Maggie has allowed her hair to grow back. So it would seem that Uganda wasn’t the direct cause of her spiky red haircut that we have seen in the depositions. What future trigger event awaits her?
Sadly, it’s not just her hair which has reverted to type. Whatever post-traumatic stress she is suffering has sent her back to season one levels of insubordination and worrying lapses of competence. Jerry‘s challenge about her trustworthiness as a witness doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched now. And, given that Jim – her boss – can still smell the alcohol on her breath, her behaviour towards him again borders on the disciplinary. He’s entitled to question the performance of one of his team, no matter how much Maggie protests to the contrary.
Only at the end of the episode does Maggie offer an explanation for her uncharacteristic behaviour:
I’m afraid to sleep alone at night, so sometimes I go out.
Charlie is, unusually, wearing a tie rather than a bow-tie. Were they all at the dry cleaners?
It’s hard to know what to make of Will’s behaviour throughout the episode. Again, he seems obsessed by what people think of him - in this case a journalist on Twitter who feels snubbed. It’s hard to tell whether the facade he maintains upon hearing of his father’s death is the ultimate in professionalism or a comment on how he prioritises his relationship with his audience over his relationship with his formerly abusive father. Only at the very end does he freeze momentarily, before confiding to the viewers that it’s just him and them now and locking his game-face back on.
For an episode effectively taking place in real-time – this is probably as close as The Newsroom will ever get to the staple ‘day-in-the-life story’ – this was a surprisingly introspective and intimate episode, focussing on cementing some relationships and resetting others. Don and Sloan yet again make a formidable couple – “you’re impressive”, Don tells Sloan at one point – in static scenes in a dark office which are nonetheless compelling. Will and Mac switch back and forth between interacting on both a professional and a more personal level. And it’s clear that Jim has maintained some kind of an ongoing relationship with Hallie Shea – of which Maggie is equally apparently jealous – while he continues to tip-toe around Maggie, respectful (perhaps too much so) of her post-Uganda issues.
The episode’s actual news stories – Trayvon Martin, trouble in Syria, Tyler Clementi – take more of a back-seat. Points are made about each, but without the heavy-handed preaching which often plagues the series.
Overall, I suspect many viewers will have found this character-driven piece dull. However, I quite liked it – although I would have liked it more with less of the focus being on Maggie.
And finally …
We saw the potential in Mav and Goose and sent them to Miramar.
Shep jokingly uses Top Gun to support his assertion that the Navy knows what it’s doing more often than not.
The Newsroom continues on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 9pm.