‘The Newsroom’ 3.01 Recap: “An Unwelcome Opportunity to Be Sure”

Followers of my past recaps of ‘The Newsroom’ and/or my reviews of the Blu-rays already know my position on this HBO series. I was a huge fan of the first season, but I thought Season 2 almost completely took away everything I loved about the show. Many out there feel the opposite, and thought the second season was a huge improvement. Now entering its third and final season (with only six episodes scheduled), the big question is which ‘Newsroom’ are we getting this year? Let me answer by saying I was very happy with the Season 3 premiere.

One of my biggest complains about last season was that creator/writer Aaron Sorkin seemed to completely forget that Jeff Daniels was his leading man, and didn’t feature his character Will McAvoy nearly as much as he should have. Sorkin seems determined to correct that problem in Season 3. Jeff Daniels is featured prominently throughout the episode, as is Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner, who also didn’t have much to do in Season 2. Additionally, fans may be interested to know that Jim Harper’s on-again/off-again new girlfriend Hallie (played by Grace Gummer) is now part of the ACN team.

The episode begins with Will and MacKenzie bickering about how many bridesmaids and groomsmen will be at their wedding. (She wants nine of each, but Will obviously wants fewer). The discussion breaks when MacKenzie looks up at one of the monitors and notices an explosion at the running of the Boston Marathon. The date is April 15, 2013, and this season premiere focuses primarily on ACN’s coverage of that news story.

While every other network goes on the air to report the terrorist attack, Charlie and the staff at ACN are gun shy due to the events that happened with the Genoa story during Season 2. They finally go live with the story, but are the last of the major networks to do so. Meanwhile, Jim suggests that Maggie be sent to Boston with Elliot to cover the events. Although the rest of the team has reservations about Maggie, they eventually agree to send her.

A mysterious contact asks for the encryption key to Neal’s computer and sends him an encrypted message. When Neal decrypts it, it’s simply a message for him to get better decryption on his computer. Further contact with the mystery man (or woman… Neal doesn’t know) reveals that he/she wants Neal to go to one of the city’s fancier restaurants, where a flash drive will be taped inside a toilet tank in the men’s room. When Neal reveals this in one of the team meetings, Charlie is quite skeptical, but after the meeting, Will gives Neal his credit card to purchase an “air-gapped” laptop (one that has never been connected to the internet and is isolated from unsecured networks), which the mystery person insisted Neal get before using the flash drive.

The episode also has a third major storyline, as Sloan meets with Reese about ACN’s failing financials. Sloan has recently gotten a brand-new $24,000 Bloomberg computer system in her office, and by using it, suspects that some major corporation is about to buy some other major corporation out. (The fact that viewers can figure out what’s going on pretty much immediately but it takes Sloan the entire episode is one of the few week points in this entry, and perhaps yet another mark against Sorkin, who never writes his female characters as strongly as he should.)

Neal obtains the flash drive from the restaurant. When he inserts it into his new laptop, he finds thousands of documents (later in the show, we’ll learn that it’s about 27,000 total) relating to a riot in Kundu that killed 38 people, including a few Americans. If you’ve never heard of Kundu, don’t worry, it’s not a real country. If, on the other hand, Kundu rings a bell, it’s because the fictional country was also used in a former Sorkin series, ‘The West Wing‘.

In Boston, Elliot is about to report on the air when Maggie points out that the chicken salad he’s eating has walnuts in it. Elliot is allergic to walnuts, and his tongue suddenly goes numb. This means that Maggie has to do the news report. Naturally, everyone back in New York is nervous, but Maggie pulls it off without a hitch. This, of course, leads to a shot of Jim, who may be re-analyzing his feelings for her. After two tiresome seasons of the Maggie/Jim relationship, I hope Sorkin doesn’t go back to that well a third time, but I suspect that he probably will. Hopefully, it won’t take up as much screen time as it did previously.

The episode concludes with Reese meeting Will and Charlie up on the roof of the news building. He tells them that the network is now in fourth place in the ratings, and while he and his mother can protect Will and Charlie’s jobs if the numbers are good, he can’t stop the Board of Directors from ousting them if they’re not. Will decides that he’s going to quit and maybe it’s time to do sports. (This is a subtle nod to real-life anchor Keith Olbermann, whom many have said – although Sorkin still denys it – the character of Will McAvoy is based on.)

Neal arrives on the roof and tells them about the documents he’s gotten, as well as giving viewers a little more info about what happened. It turns out that the U.S. government hired a PR firm to run false propaganda stories in the country of Kundu, which then incited riots. Now, the government is trying to cover it up. Neal also tells them that he had his mystery contact send him a few more documents to prove his validity. When Will hears this, he tells Neal that he’s just committed an act of espionage. Uh oh.

Finally, Sloan comes out to the roof to tell everyone that another company is planning a hostile takeover of ACN, and that Reese needs to have an emergency meeting of the Board as soon as possible. Faced with all these problems, Will launches into a speech where he says he’s not going to quit, he’s going to help Neal, and he’s still going to marry MacKenzie. He wraps things up by saying that they’re not in their third act, but just at the end of their first.

Despite a few bumps here and there, this is a really strong premiere for ‘The Newsroom’ and returns the show to the kind of hectic situations and back-and-forth humor that I loved so much in Season 1. If the remaining five episodes are as good as the first, I think I’m going to enjoy this final season of the show quite a bit.


  1. It’s funny how Shannon and I have completely opposite reactions to this show. I thought Season 1 was a mess and Season 2 was a big improvement.

    As a Boston resident who lived through these events and the real news coverage of them, I found this episode absolutely infuriating.

    First off, it’s WATERTOWN, not “Waterton,” as it was repeatedly mispronounced by every character in the show. What a ridiculously humiliating blunder. Did Aaron Sorkin not actually follow this story when it happened, or was he so caught up writing previous seasons of this show at the time and just skim a Wikipedia article recently? It boggles my mind how he could get the name of the city wrong and no one would correct him.

    Of all the cities in Massachusetts with weird names that an outsider could be forgiven for mispronouncing (Worcester, Scituate, Billerica, Woburn, etc.), how does someone get WATERTOWN wrong? FFS, Sam Waterston is actually from Cambridge, which is right next to Watertown. How did he not say anything?

    Beyond that, though, the main plot of this episode demonstrates yet again that Aaron Sorkin has no clue how TV news actually works. When a breaking story comes in and you have actual video footage of an explosion happening on camera, you don’t need to wait for a second source to corroborate that there’s been an explosion. You run that story. Not two hours later. You run it right then.

    Yes, I understand that Sorkin is making some heavy-handed point about news outlets jumping to conclusions and rushing to judgment before the facts are in. That’s perfectly valid if he wants his fictional network to refrain from naming any suspects until they’ve been confirmed. But the fact that there had been an explosion at the marathon was never in doubt. That part was undeniable. The network would not wait to report on the fact of an explosion happening when they have plenty of video footage of that explosion from local news crews who were there covering the marathon.

    Argh, this show pisses me off so much.

  2. I was going to address the waiting to report the news further in my recap, but I didn’t have space…I actually DO agree with Josh on this – the fact that they didn’t know the cause of the explosion yet is no reason not to go live with the story. Sorkin often acts like “misreporting” the news is something NEW. No, it’s been happening on TV since at least the Kennedy assassination coverage and even earlier that that in newspaper reporting (“Dewey Defeats Truman”, anyone?).

    I think Josh and I view this show differently…I watch it as a “His GIrl Friday” old-fashioned like comedy-drama, and he watches it much more for the political commentary.

    Maybe everyone in Boston mispronounces “Watertown” as “Wahterton”? Maybe he’s in the yahrd not fahr from the cahr. 🙂

    • No one in Massachusetts has ever pronounced Watertown that way. Ever. “Wahtertown,” sure. But never with a “ton” at the end.

      They might as well have said that the marathon bombing happened in “Bastoon.” Or that 9/11 happened in “New Yoke.” That’s how idiotic they sounded.

  3. eric

    I loved season 1, I was hooked immediately. Loved every episode. But, I quit watching a few episodes in to season 2… they focused way to much on characters that I don’t really care about. Maybe I will watch this new season based on Shannon’s review above. But, I will wait until his review the second episode before bothering.

    Hopefully this first episode took some time to explore the crowd sourced information and how evidence was being discovered on Live TV and Facebook. But, it doesn’t sound like they did.

    • Eric – there was a whole scene devoted to crowd-sourcing on Reddit and how a couple of innocent guys became suspects (they even called out CNN’s John King for reporting it wrong).

  4. Mike Attebery

    I briefly edited video footage for NWCN news broadcasts in Seattle. Josh is totally right, the second we got footage of anything in flames, it went on the air.

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