If last week’s “Willie Pete” was a narrative pit stop in an already shortened nine-episode season, “The Newsroom” kicked back into full gear on Sunday with “Unintended Consequences.” Lawyer Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) returns to continue her deposition of the staff, with Maggie Jordan’s (Alison Pill) life-altering Uganda story finally being told, the Operation Genoa investigation bearing more fruit and the organizers behind Occupy Wall Street once again getting kicked in the nuts. Basically, it’s more of the same in a season that continues disappoint after a patchy but much more involving first season. As we hit the halfway mark of season two (with “The Newsroom” notably still not renewed for a third season), here’s hoping the second half sees things turning around.
Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill)
So, what “messed up” Maggie in Africa? Well, the incident provides the central focus of this week’s episode, and it’s both heartbreaking and shamelessly manipulative, in a manner that isn’t really all that surprising for “The Newsroom” anymore. Before she can begin her actual investigation into how the continent could be the next crucial location on the war on terror, her trip with colleague Gary Cooper (yes, that’s his real name, in an endlessly unfunny running gag) requires a PR pit stop to an orphanage that’s getting some construction assistance from American troops, for a puff piece organized by the Pentagon.
It’s there she meets a young boy named Daniel, who sits apart from the other kids in the school the orphanage also runs. It turns out he actually has parents, but is staying with the other kids because his father own a lot of cattle, and lately there have been clashes with armed gangs known as “cattle bandits,” who not only steal livestock but are now known for raping and killing as well. (The violence is so common and widespread, than when Gary pulls out a small camera, the children scream and duck under their desks in fear, thinking it’s a gun). Maggie makes it a point to reach out to Daniel, and soon bonds with the child by reading him “The House on East 88th Street,” a book he clutches close to his chest almost like a shield (cue Amazon sales taking a bump). Can you take a guess what happens next?
Forced to spent the night at the orphanage thanks to a mixup with their fixer, Maggie and Gary soon experience the terror of the “cattle bandits” firsthand. Approaching gunshots are heard in the middle of the night, and the kids are quickly evacuated onto a school bus to be driven to safety. But Daniel can’t be found. Maggie tracks him down hiding under her bed, and with help from Gary they manage to get him out, but as they run back to the bus a gunshot is heard….Daniel is killed as Maggie is carrying him, stopping a bullet that surely would’ve ended her life. Later she learns that the bandits didn’t want the children…they wanted the newscamera….
This is all told through flashback as Maggie relates her story to Rebecca, who is trying to determine how credible and stable a witness she can be given the drugs (she doesn’t take) and therapy Maggie received upon her return to the United States after the incident. It’s crucial because Maggie will testify that the source for Operation Genoa didn’t say, “It happened.” And while Maggie claims over and over to Rebecca that she’s fine, her blonde hair — that so entranced Daniel, who had never seen hair that color before — now cut short and dyed orange is a indication of the emotions she’s still grappling with.
It’s credit Alison Pill who sells the entire story with far more feeling that it deserves, but using the death of a cute, young African kid in attempt to pull on the heartstrings is fairly shameless, particularly in the way its established here.
The Apology & Operation Genoa
The other big chunk of “Unintended Consequences” is a wheel-spinning arc that in which most of the rest of the principal cast, trying to appease Occupy Wall Street activist Shelly Wexler (Aya Cash). Neal (Dev Patel) finally manages to get the show to cover the protest event, with Mackenzie making good on her promise to do a segment if a guest from the movement could be found. But things don’t go well. At all. Will (Jeff Daniels) basically uses the five minute portion of the show to turn Shelly into a human punching bag, once again trotting out the problem of leaderless movements, and the misguided effort of OCW participants refusing to meeting with politicians. Shelly is hugely embarrassed but it’s not just her pride at stake. It turns out she knows someone at Zuccotti Park who used to work for an NGO that got shut down, for what they believe was a report the group had written pointing toward the use of chemical weapons by American troops.
And so, when the episode isn’t telling Maggie’s story, it sends the the rest of the ACN staff after Shelly, to get her to introduce them to the individual. But she wants an on-air apology from Will, which simply isn’t going to happen. Sloan (who it’s randomly revealed hasn’t watched “Titanic” until recently) gives it a try as does Don (Thomas Sadoski), but both wind up insulting Shelly further, while Neal’s continued pleas get turned down. Finally, after being told that Shelly could be the key to a much larger story, Will (who is kept in the dark in case he’s need on the Red Team who will vet the story later) is finally convinced to go see Shelly. He admits he probably was too hard on her, and yes, the media could probably do a better job in reporting on all manner of political malfeasance. He also reveals he’s going through a “crisis of confidence.” But this whole thread of chasing Shelly is useless because it turns out the team tracked down her pal anyway. So this whole things turns into unnecessary episode padding.
Anyway, after interviewing the source and reading his report, Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) and Jerry (Hamish Linklater) are becoming more and more convinced of the veracity of Operation Genoa.
Jim Harper (John Gallgher Jr.)
After getting thrown off the Romney bus with the eternally grumpy Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer) and Third Wheel (played by Some Guy), Jim trails the campaign in a rental with his pals. He continues to needle the Romney press rep (played by Constance Zimmer) who blows up at him, offers him the coveted interview with candidate he’s been asking for as an apology, which he passes off to Hallie. Why? He feels bad for her because her boss is a big meanie (seriously). When Hallie finds out she’s temporarily pissed for some reason, but winds up kissing him at the end of the episode. And when Mackenzie finds out, she’s understandably vexed as to why Jim gave away plum reportage. He gets pulled off the campaign and thankfully this whole subplot is (hopefully) finally over.
So yeah, another messy, frustrating and shockingly dull episode of “The Newsroom” that seems to losing firepower this season with each passing week. Here’s hoping the heat gets turned up as it tumbles toward the conclusion. [C-]