In Sunday's all-new episode of "The Newsroom," personal injury and protest are recurring visuals against the powers-that-be — an interesting idea that's clouded by Sorkin's grating use of Valentine's Day as a female crazyfest.
February 2011: The "News Night" team covers the Egyptian revolution riots in Cairo. Mackenzie is frustrated that she can't get on-the-ground coverage — the situation on the streets of the city is very dangerous, especially for Americans. When correspondent Elliott leaves his hotel room, he gets pummeled with a rock and sent to the hospital.
The necessity for a native Egyptian correspondent is clear. Through the magic of social media, Neal discovers a young man shrouded in a bandana, "Amen," with a live internet connection willing to be the team's reporter. Amen, whose real name is Khalid, must bravely give up his anonymity in order to be a legitimate source for "News Night."
Meanwhile, Charlie discovers via tabloid TMI that Mackenzie's boyfriend, Wade, who she features on the show regularly, is running for congress. This isn't good for her or for "News Night," as it looks like the producer's boyfriend is getting an election push through a news outlet. Mack feels used by Wade, and breaks up with him.
Khalid goes missing, perhaps during a military round-up of foreign journalists, which has the team in a worried panic. He's ultimately retrieved, but not without a ransom sum of $250K aimed at the network.
Will meets with Nina Howard to pay her "protection money" to stop skewering Mackenzie in TMI. He almost goes through with it, but can't stomach Nina's all-inclusive use of the term "journalist," and refuses to write the check. He instead threatens to pay her plenty of negative attention on "News Night" if she goes after any of his staff.
Will's money goes to a better place, as it's revealed that he wired the ransom to Egypt to have Khalid safely freed. Mackenzie has the staff pitch in ("Rudy"-style) with individual checks to help cover the cost.
The body politic:
Injury is a recurring visual motif throughout this episode. Elliott returns from Egypt with cuts and bruises on his face, Neal breaks his fingers when he punches his computer screen in frustration, Don gets his shoulder in a sling when he rams into Reese's door and Jim hits his forehead on a glass door twice. Will rips a big red Valentine heart in two, and pastes it proudly on his office door. We never see Khalid physically injured, but the concern is there – he easily could be harmed, or worse, while reporting from the ground in Cairo.
Sorkin comments on injuries via Will's monologue to Nina. Will uses his staffers' sprains, bruises and cuts as a way of illustrating the difference between his notion of a journalist (someone willing to risk life, or at least limb, to get the story) versus Nina's use of the term (someone willing to corrode another person's life as the story).
While the men are busy heroically putting their bodies in harm's way, or shelling out large sums of money to keep others from being in harm's way, the women are concerned with the most important thing that happens in mid-February: Valentine's Day! I've commented before on the strange and annoying relationships the "smart" women of this show have with men, and this episode brought all of my annoyances to the surface again.
Maggie supplies Jim with an arsenal of red-and-pink Valentine's junk to give to her roommate Lisa for the special occasion, because apparently Lisa will have a meltdown if she receives any less than six wrapped items on the big day. Bing bing! Lisa does have a meltdown during an embarrassingly written scene in which she arrives at the office, screaming because Jim blew off their Valentine's dinner plans. By any measure Jim is the jerk in this situation, but somehow that's forgotten when Lisa is the one having the hysterical freak-out. The writing sets her up to look bad.
Sloan coaches Mackenzie on the history of economics for an upcoming panel, which could have been an interesting arc if it didn't dissolve into Mack's insecurities about her past relationship with Will. I would have liked to see Mackenzie on the panel she was preparing for, delivering smart information and showing off her flair for eloquent speaking. But instead we see her showing off random facts to Will in a cutesy way, like a proud third grader.
(As related to the theme of injuries, Mackenzie supposedly sustained a few knife wounds during her time in Afghanistan. Of course this is in the storied past, where we can't see it. Instead, what we see from episode to episode, is Mackenzie being a twit. With all the male-centric injury in this episode, wouldn't it have been an appropriate time to at least address some of Mackenzie's war wounds, to prove that she, like her male counterparts, has also taken a couple of scary hits in the name of reporting? Let's see her scars!)
Bits and pieces:
- Neal reveals that he was a bus passenger during the London bombings, a pivotal moment when he realized the pursuit of news was more important to him than being a mechanic like his father. If I had just relayed a story like that, and then someone equated it to "Rudy," I would probably be offended. But maybe that's just me.
- Will takes on Koch Industries again, showing the corporation's connection to Citizens United. No doubt he'll hear from Leona Lansing about that one.
- Don and Elliott had a few nice moments in this episode. I liked that Don wanted Elliott to go on air with his injuries, so that viewers could understand the risk he'd taken for the network. This was a fatherly move, if ultimately too emotionally manipulative to actually see air time.
- The Wisconsin teachers' strike was another issue tackled by the "News Night" staff, making the act of protest a through-line in the episode.
Other ideas or interpretations? Thoughts about the episode?