Sunday's episode of the "The Newsroom" – as its title "News Night with Will McAvoy" suggests - unfolds over a single episode of "News Night." While there's plenty going on (and going wrong) over the course of the program's broadcast, it's actually the side plot - having nothing to do with Will's show - that proves most fascinating. Naked pictures of Sloan have ended up online courtesy of a scorned ex-boyfriend and Don steps in to comfort her. With them, "The Newsroom" admirably takes on sexism and shame, surprisingly, considering the show's own problems with misogyny.
It helps that Sloan and Don have emerged as the show's most likeable characters this season and their budding romance is something worth cheering for. At first, Charlie believes the pictures are photoshopped; Sloan – smart, shrewd Sloan – would never pose for such pictures. But she did, she admits, for her boyfriend, in front of a camera she bought him.
The humiliation sends her huddled in the dark of Don's office. "This is who I am now," she tells Don, crippled by the shame she feels. She ducks out of her television spot because she doesn't feel worthy to interview the guest.
It's not hard to not see the slut-shaming angle in Sloan's narrative. But the issue manifests in the episode's other plotlines. In the background, Will discusses the "women's issues" bubbling in the presidential campaign and grills a conservative guest when discussing Rush Limbaugh calling birth control-advocate Sandra Fluke a slut.
But it's Maggie, in a discussion with Jim about the same Limbaugh story, who makes the most direct commentary on the Limbaugh scandal.
"Rush Limbaugh called a woman a 'slut.' it's not hard for me to get over that. But now I have to ask, 'What's wrong with sluts?' That's a woman who has a lot of casual sex with different guys. Why isn't that good as long as everybody's safe?" she says.
Maggie makes a good point. However her brashness on the issue is also supposed to make us think she's losing it after Africa (and also jealous of Hallie, who has been writing prolifically about it). Jim accuses her of drinking too much and drops hints that he believes she may also be engaging in so-called "slutty" behavior. "Limbaugh is not the interesting conversation. He was wrong. Sluts was the interesting conversation," she argues.
Don is engaging in his own version of slut-shaming when trying to comfort Sloan.
"I don't believe that someone that is capable of this, that a sh-thead this big is able to keep it a secret from the person they're dating for seven weeks," he says, asking Sloan why she always seems to date guys like that.
Even with Don's best intentions, it's a classic case of victim blaming and Sloan is right to challenge him: "You're saying I knew he was like this, and I didn't care."
It's hard to tell where Aaron Sorkin wants us to come down on this, whether he wants us to agree with Don's (and Jim's, for that matter) assessment of Sloan's (and Maggie's) situation or critique it. After suggesting Sloan is partially to blame for the photos and that she has a low opinion of herself, Don gives her the oh-so-romantic boost of confidence she apparently so desperately needs: "You're impressive."
However, it's not Don's counseling that ultimately shakes Sloan out of her sadness. It's when Sloan rescues Don, helping him clear the name of a political nominee he inadvertently slandered. Sloan moves on to the "rage phase." She can channel her hurt towards the jerk who wronged her rather than projecting it on herself, and seeing her beat the crap out of her ex is certainly satisfying.
Back to the A-story - the onslaught of issues Mac and the team must deal with over the course of Will's hour-long broadcast. The seemingly unrelated problems actually put some intriguing shade on the Genoa arc, the path to disaster is becoming increasingly more clear. Whether correcting Maggie's mistake with the George Zimmerman audio cut, sniffing out the motives of a guest on to discuss the suicide of a gay college student, or figuring out that a Syrian caller was a fraud, this episode painted the ACN staff as an astute news team devoted to bringing forth the truth.
Meanwhile, the Genoa tip is looking more real. The Pentagon flack who shows up to chase Charlie off Genoa actually seems to confirm it. The two themes make the fate of the Genoa story - a massive blunder that could end "News Night" - both surprising and understandable.
The final piece of the puzzle may have been given to us at the end of the episode, with Will's father dying. The stage is set for a Will McAvoy breakdown which could distract the rest of the team from seeing the red flags in the Genoa story. And maybe next week it will be him, huddled, crying in a dark office.