Sunday's episode of "The Newsroom" has the ACN staff grappling with the things that could make their lives "easy" – be it running a Twitter scroll across the screen to please marketers or passing on looking into the government's counterterrorism policies.
"You think it's going to make our lives easier if I appear to be defending a leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula?" Will McAvoy challenges his boss, Charlie Skinner, over covering a drone strike.
"Who cares about our lives being easier?" Charlie responds, but Will won't have it.
"I do and you do, too!" The "News Night" anchor insists.
Will wants it easy because he is still hurting over being removed from the 9/11 tribute, due to some colorful comments he made about the tea party. When he is not letting his conservative guests run wild with their punditry, he's obsessively reading nasty Will McAvoy hate-blogs. To see Will buckle under the burden of last season's quixotic mission adds some much needed texture to his character. And luckily for "News Night," the rest of the ACN staff is keeping busy.
Lending the episode its name, Jerry is hot on the chase of "The Genoa Tip," tracking down a source who not only can confirm that U.S. forces used nerve gas on civilians during a black ops mission in Pakistan, but was a participant in the classified operation. While occupying only a small part of the episode, we know thanks to last week's episode's flash forward that ACN is one step closer to the gigantic controversy the story will cause.
Meanwhile, Anwar Al-Awlaki has been targeted and killed by a drone strike, validating Sloan's inclination to pay more attention to the issue. The report launches the ACN staff into a spirited debate over the legal and moral implications of the U.S. war on terror. Will gets defensive, hiding behind his Republican ideology when he appears reluctant to critically delve into the issue.
Will also reins in the special interest Don has taken in Troy Davis – the Georgia death row inmate whose case had been surrounded by doubt as he nears his execution. The storyline is one of this season's strongest thus far, as it forces Don and Will to discuss the difference between covering a subject and advocating for it. When Davis's execution is ultimately announced, it's a genuinely moving moment, something "The Newsroom" often failed at in its premiere season.
Neal's involvement in Occupy Wall Street (or as Mac calls it, "Flip and Fry Wall Street") amps up when he is arrested while covering a protest. It's all caught on tape, making for a sexier story, and a sexier reporter as well, as Neal later brags to his colleagues about his prison time, despite it lasting a little over an hour.
Jim Harper is still learning the ropes on the Romney campaign trail, having befriended a rival reporter, Hallie (played by Meryl Streep's daughter), who finally helps him land a spot on the press bus. Hallie appears to be competent (noteworthy for a female character on this show) and serious about her job, though it's pretty obvious she is being set up as a love interest for Jim. We're still early in the election cycle (remember when Rick Perry was popular?), so there's still plenty of time for her to flirt with him by screwing with the camera on his daily reports.
Meanwhile, Maggie has figured out a way to pull a Jim and run from her personal problems: In her case, an ACN-subsidized escape to Africa. She tells Mac she wants to be "a go-to person" on something, that "something" being the evolving national security scene on the continent: "I've got it the reason to cover Africa: national security!" she tells Mac, in an epiphany that should be obvious to any person (let alone journalist) who has peeked at international news in the last decade.
While Mac grills her about her motives for the trip, Maggie recites the traditions, demographic makeup and vaccine requirements – along with whatever else she memorized from Googling "Africa" – of her desired destination. Quite the transformation for ACN's new Africa correspondent, who clearly is trying to move as far as possible from the mess she has made for herself, Don, Lisa and Jim.
This wasn't the most pathetic part of Maggie's storyline the episode had to offer. At one point, we departed the ACN newsroom (and all relevant subject matter) so Maggie and Sloan can hunt down the YouTube user who posted the video of Maggie professing her love for Jim to a "Sex and the City" tour bus. They find her, via Foursquare, at a laundry mat ("My underwear is on gentle cycle while my love life is being scraped against a wall," is quite the check in comment), where Sloan uses her social media capital – her nearly half a million twitter followers – as a bargaining chip: The video gets taken down in exchange for an endorsement of the woman's "Sex and the City" fan fiction blog. The bartering is for naught, as Lisa sees the video anyway.
Maggie's mess aside, the rest of the episode nicely comes together for a climatic Sorkin soliloquy. Don's devotion to Troy Davis, Sloan's interest in drones and Neal's involvement in Occupy Wall Street converge when Will goes to spring Neal from jail, where his moral righteousness is predictably sparked:
"A U.S. citizen was targeted, another is on death row for the crime of not being able to afford a good lawyer, and a bunch more have been locked up for wearing Halloween masks," Will tells an understandably confused police officer. "So, obviously what I'm doing is dealing with the easiest one."
His resistance to covering the pricklier issues is personal – not political – stemming from the wound incurred when he was pulled off the 9/11 tribute. It's an emotional matter for Will, made clear when assistant producers uncover some tear-jerking footage of Will and Charlie during the network's coverage of the original attack.
While Mac joins the boys while they grapple with their government's transgressions and their duties as journalists, Maggie ends the episode deciphering the deeper meaning behind unanswered phone calls for Sloan. Like ACN's business correspondent, we were all better off when she didn't know or care about voicemail etiquette. It's a shame to see one of stronger characters of "The Newsroom" is being dragged down by Maggie's silly personal drama. Send that girl to Africa already!
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