‘The Newsroom’ 2.02 Recap: “Prison Changes a Man”

Two episodes into the new season of ‘The Newsroom’, it has become obvious that Sorkin and company are taking a somewhat different approach to telling stories. Gone – for the time being at least – is the weekly focus on watching the team research and bring together one major news event. Instead, Sorkin seems obsessed with detailing the Jim/Maggie relationship at the expense of the more interesting characters on the show. As a result, this episode (entitled ‘The Genoa Tip’) is one of the first in the series that I consider a big disappointment.

Does anyone really care if Maggie gets back together with Jim? Why would anyone want to date Maggie in the first place? She’s the most grating television character we’ve seen in a long time. In this week’s episode, she goes out of her way (recruiting Sloan to help) to track down the woman who posted her ‘Sex and the City’ bus tour rant on YouTube. Maggie hopes to get it off the internet before her gal pal (and Jim’s ex) Lisa sees it. Naturally, that doesn’t work. While Lisa agrees to let Maggie move back in with her, she makes it clear that it will be nothing more than a landlord/tenant relationship. Good for you, Lisa.

Meanwhile, Jim has finally made it onto the Romney bus, thanks to another reporter named Hallie (played by Grace Gummer, who happens to be the daughter of Meryl Streep). The two spend most of the episode at odds (albeit friendly ones), which almost assures they’ll be a couple at some point this season.

Back at ACN, Don spends most of his time trying to convince both Will and Charlie to air a story about convicted cop killer Troy Davis, who Don believes is innocent. He’s collected information about all the former witnesses who have redacted their testimonie, as well as jurors who have questioned their ruling. Will, a former prosecutor himself, spends much of the episode explaining to Don the rule of law and how the burden of proof moves onto the defendant once he is found guilty of a crime.

Neal is still investigating Occupy Wall Street, but their first protest turns out to be embarrassingly small, and Neal is once again the butt of jokes at the staff meeting. However, the next protest turns out to be much more newsworthy, and one in which Neal is arrested by police. He manages to upload video of the incident back to the newsroom, and Will takes a copy of the video down to police headquarters where he uses his knowledge of the law to free Neal and void any record of his arrest.

Maggie has decided that she wants to get away as well, and places her focus on Africa, hoping to go there with staffer Gary Cooper. After proving to MacKenzie that she knows her stuff about the region, she gets the go-ahead to book her travel, only to find out that the once-peaceful area she’s going to has suddenly turned violent (a fact she asks Gary not to reveal to anyone else). Sadly, we already know that Maggie survives her Africa trip (Gary, we’re not sure about yet), so any hopes she’ll be eaten by a lion while there are already dashed.

The big ongoing story this season, of course, is the “Genoa” black ops investigation, headed up by Jerry Dantana. Near episode’s end, he calls MacKenzie into his office, where he has a retired military person on the phone who admits to using Sarin gas on civilians during a recovery mission. Again, the viewer at home already knows that the Genoa story is bogus and will result in heads rolling at ACN by season’s end. However, the real mystery here is who is setting up ACN… and why.

My biggest issue with this episode (and much of Season 2 so far) is that Will McAvoy, who should be the star of the show, has been nothing but a reactive character so far. Coworkers bring issues to his office, he comments on them, and we don’t see him again until the next debate comes up. That’s a big difference from Season 1, where the crux of the story was about McAvoy. Also, although it was one of the reasons many critics and viewers were turned off by the first season, the first season always had a great amount of time spent in the newsroom and on the air, with McAvoy debating guests and providing editorial comments. We’ve seen very little of that in Season 2, and while that change may be refreshing for some, it’s made the show a little more watered down and a lot less controversial.

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