As per its title "Election Night Part I" (Part II will be the season finale), Sunday's episode of "The Newsroom" unfolded over the biggest night of the year – every four years, really – for the ACN team. It also takes place on the eve of the public fallout Will and the gang will face over ACN's biggest crisis, the Genoa story, with Jerry Dantana set to file his dreaded lawsuit the next morning.
"Now we are going to have to read about Jim and Maggie and Don, and Jim and Maggie, and Don and Maggie, and Mac and Will. And did Sloan punch a guy in the face?" ACN president Reese Lansing complains to Charlie, who comes to Reese pleading to be fired over the matter. However we won't have to wait that long to see some of those love triangles re-examined, particularly Will and MacKenzie's, who face off again over her 6-year-old infidelity.
In addition to the usual nerves that fill a newsroom every election night, the scrutiny ACN faces after the Genoa trainwreck brings some extra tension.
"You know we are in no mood to be f-cked around with," Don warns a source promising a big story. Charlie likewise lectures the staff: "If you make a mistake run out of the building as fast as you can and keep running until you hit water, then swim."
Nevertheless, Will urges a harried-looking MacKenzie to put her concerns over Genoa aside for the time being. "Come on. Six hours of live election coverage? For you and me that's like an orgy at a spa where there are college football games on TV, and trees hanging Christian Louboutins," he tells her.
But she keeps egging him on about the consequences of the false story, claiming responsibility for wrecking the public image he cares so deeply about and worrying that Will is "a bomb that hasn't detonated."
"I want to know what the punishment will be this time," she says, referring to the way he has treated her in the six years since she cheated on him with her ex-boyfriend. At first he doesn't bite, but eventually does fire her, effective immediately after the night's election broadcast. Rather than citing her failings in shepherding the Genoa story, he frames giving her the ax with the fact that he was a "really good boyfriend." In usual "Newsroom" style, it's always personal motives, never professional concerns, that drive its characters' actions.
Likewise, Maggie continues her revenge mission on Jim, joining forces with Taylor – now serving as a conservative ACN pundit – who gives Maggie a big tip about another Republican politician.
"I love her doing the right thing," Don tells Maggie when she brings him the story.
"It wasn't so much that as wanting to give me something Jim didn't have," Maggie admits. On their biggest night of the year, can anyone put their personal vendettas aside to just do their jobs?
Nevertheless, Sunday's episode worked best when emulating the hectic mood of election night: the barrage of returns that come with every poll closing as well as the lags between calling races. In one such lull, Elliot takes the camera behind the scenes of newsroom – Wolf Blitzer style – to show the number crunchers behind the election forecasting. "This is some good television," Don says sarcastically, but such bits are certainly necessary to fill the empty coverage space between poll closings.
Genoa aside, there's plenty of other things distracting the team. Sloan recruits Neal to track down a book auctioned off for charity that Gary had signed – with some mistranslated German –in her name. Meanwhile Mac enlists Neal to correct an error on her Wikipedia page.
"It's funny the things people try to control when they feel like they're not in control," Neal tells Mac, who of course isn't listening. It would be nice if "The Newsroom" claimed a little but more control over the personal issues of their reporters – and stopped letting major stories (this time, the David Petraeus scandal) fall in their laps. One of the better storylines of Sunday's episode centered, thankfully, on a job-related matter: whether Jim would issue a retraction for a blunder he made reporting the returns. At least "Election Night Part I" captured some of the anxious energy of a news team working at full speed. We'll see how it rides out the momentum to next week's finale.