I’m still not sure what to make of this season of ‘The Newsroom’. The positive news is this week’s episode (‘News Night with Will McAvoy’) is the strongest entry of the season. The bad news is that it still pales in comparison to any episode of Season 1. With only four episodes left, I think it’s safe to call the show’s sophomore season a huge disappointment.
I was looking forward to this episode, since the previews seemed to indicate a re-focus back on Will McAvoy after a handful of episodes where he’s been little more than a supporting character. Sadly, Jeff Daniels doesn’t even get out of his news chair in this episode. Even though his character should be the emotional focus of the story, Will once again seems like he’s playing second fiddle to the Jim/Maggie storyline and (in this episode’s case) a subplot involving Sloan.
As this week’s episode gets underway, Sloan meets with Charlie and ACN president Reese Lansing over nude photos of her that have popped up on a “revenge porn” web site. Sloan admits that the photos are legitimate, taken by an ex after Sloan had given him a camera as a present. She then spends the majority of the episode sitting on the floor in Don’s office, whining to him about her predicament. One scene between the two would have been fine, but after an hour, my patience with Sloan’s self-pity drew a little thin. Thankfully, she pulls herself together and goes to see the guy who posted the photos, kicking him in the groin and clocking him with a punch that I’m sure would have her arrested for assault on any realistic show – though I don’t expect we’ll see any repercussions here.
For someone who claims he’s no longer interested in being with her, Jim still spends a lot of time hovering at Maggie’s desk, doesn’t he? He has her download an audio file of George Zimmerman’s 911 call that takes exactly as long as the episode needs the two characters to be together (in other words, most of the hour). Just as I was taking notes for this week’s recap asking why Maggie still has her blonde hair and why she seems so chipper and unaffected by the events in Africa, Jim brings up that he can smell alcohol on her breath and that she’s wearing the same clothes she had on the day before. Later in the episode, Maggie makes a mistake editing the Zimmerman audio (leaving out the 911 operator’s question asking him about the race of Trayvon Martin when Zimmerman responds that he’s black), but she insists it was because she only had a few minutes to edit it and not because of her drinking.
While we’re on the use of the George Zimmerman story in this episode, I find it interesting that last season the News Night team groaned and griped to management about putting the Casey Anthony story on the air (calling it “tragedy porn”), yet no one in this episode bats an eyelash at running the Zimmerman story on the newscast, even though it would seem to fall into the same ballpark. I think that’s an indication of where Season 2 is failing us. Most of the news stories this season aren’t getting the debate and discussion they did in Season 1, so even when Will dissects them on his newscast, the impact of his opinion doesn’t hit viewers with the same emotion as last season.
Charlie has a meeting with a Naval officer (whom Charlie believes is also a government spy), who has come to the newsroom to question why Jerry has been investigating the Genoa story (though the officer claims not to know specifically what Jerry is trying to uncover). Charlie won’t give over any information about the investigation, but does acquire a list of items that used in the Genoa operation. Charlie determines that one of the items on the list doesn’t actually exist, and deduces that it must be the Sarin gas that Jerry suspects was used. He shows his findings to Mac before the close of the episode.
Which brings us back to Will McAvoy. During his broadcast, he notes that his father has been trying to call him. When he calls back during a break, he finds out that it was actually the hospital, and that his dad has suffered a heart attack. Will doesn’t seem very concerned (keep in mind, his father was abusive to him and the two men have a distant relationship), but Mac convinces Will to call back and leave a message for him. Will does, but learns before the end of his broadcast that his father has died. His last moments on the air are spent in silence until he finally looks into the camera and states, “Well, I guess it’s just us now.” Is he referring to himself and his sisters? Himself and Mac? Or himself and his audience? It’s a nicely ambiguous ending that’s a strong point in an otherwise so-so (but above-average for Season 2) episode.