After last week’s episode, I felt that ‘The Newsroom’ was getting back to the quality we saw in the first season. However, Episode 4 (entitled ‘Unintended Consequences’) is so predictable and poorly written (sorry, Mr. Sorkin!) that it easily qualifies as the worst of the series.
It doesn’t help that the primary focus of the episode is on the show’s least appealing and most annoying character. As the episode gets underway, Maggie (with her amazingly awful cropped and dyed hairdo) gives a statement in front of the ACN lawyers, led by Rebecca Halliday. I’ve more or less enjoyed Marcia Gay Harden’s portrayal of Halliday up until this point in the season (although, granted, it’s been limited), but here she comes off totally different than we’ve seen her before. She’s rude, abrasive and quite unprofessional. Harden actually replaced Rosemarie DeWitt in this role when Sorkin decided to go back and reshoot the first two episodes of the season and DeWitt was no longer available. (Sorkin’s reshoots are also the reason we’re only getting nine episodes this season instead of ten.) One wonders what DeWitt was like in the role, but I can’t say I like where Harden goes with the character in this week’s entry.
Anyway, Maggie relates what happened to her in Africa and, in traditional ‘Newsroom’ fashion, the remainder of the episode is told in flashbacks. Things get underway with Occupy Wall Street member Shelly Wexler getting ready to be interviewed by Will. Before she goes on, she mentions (note: the first instance of horrible writing) out of the blue that she knows a Pakistani man who keeps talking about how U.S. troops used toxic gas on his people. This, of course, is part of the “Genoa” story that ACN has been working on, so when Jerry and Neal hear her mention this, they’re desperate to get Shelly to take them to meet this man. However, after Will blasts Shelly and the OWS movement during the interview, Shelly is so upset that she refuses to help the others unless Will apologies on the air.
Jim is still covering the Romney campaign, but now he, Hallie and one other reporter are off the campaign bus. The three struggle to find lodging and to keep up with the candidate’s daily statements, since they’re no longer getting briefed by the campaign team. Romney’s press representative (Constance Zimmer) becomes so annoyed with Jim that she drops an f-bomb in front of him during a statement on the record, which leads to Jim finally getting what he wants – a 30-minute interview with the candidate. However, Jim had overheard a rather harsh (and extremely sexist) conversation between Hallie and her boss earlier in the day, and decides to give Hallie the interview instead. This results in both Hallie finally expressing her true feelings for Jim, and Jim getting taken off the campaign by MacKenzie, who recalls him back to New York City.
Now, let’s get to the worst (and worst written part) of the episode, Maggie and Gary’s trip to Uganda. They’re taken to a camp where orphans live and are schooled by some of the locals. Upon arrival, we get to hear a story about cattle raiders who come into the camps at night. Immediately, we know that this will happen to Maggie and Gary. The two visit a school where Maggie notices and befriends a shy boy, and once again we instantly know that the child’s fate is sealed. He also likes touching Maggie’s blonde hair – again, a totally unsubtle clue as to why she no longer has it.
The scenes in Africa drove me crazy. Not only are they so transparently telegraphed, they exist for no other purpose than to put Maggie’s character into a questionable psychological state. Yes, the young orphan gets killed by a bullet while Maggie is trying to help him escape. That’s the whole Africa story, and I can only guess as to what Sorkin was thinking when he came up with it. “Oh, I need Maggie to be on the edge of a breakdown in Season 2. I’ll just send her to Africa and kill an orphan boy. That should do the trick.” It’s shameless, and not at all the kind of well-thought-out storytelling I’d expect from someone like Aaron Sorkin.
Fortunately, the result of this week’s lackluster episode is that both Maggie and Jim are back at the newsroom. At the very least, this should mean that both the Romney and the Africa storylines are over… though I won’t be shocked if Hallie finds her way to New York before the end of the season.
Yet again, viewers get an episode where Will McAvoy is little more than a secondary character. However, next week’s episode promises to put him in the forefront once again. So far, though, Season 2 has been a big disappointment.