Last night The Newsroom finally revealed the shock that turned Maggie’s hair red, and critics got to vent the frustration they’ve been holding back since they finished the four episodes HBO sent out in advance. Although the setup — female journalist goes to Africa, something traumatic happens — made many think of Lara Logan, but fortunately it was just the death of a small Ugandan child.
I express that abhorrent sentiment because, deep down, The Newsroom wants us to; it’s the anti-Fruitvale Station. Sure, the boy is adorable, and his death is played for maximum pathos — just look at the way Maggie’s hands shake when she tells the story! But having built up the tension, and further misdirecting us by shifting to ominous slo-mo as cameraman Gary Cooper falls to the ground and a shot rings out, “Unintended Consequences” urges the audience to feel sorrow and relief at once. It’s too bad someone had to get shot, but at least it wasn’t somebody we know.
Should that seem an unfair reading, consider that Aaron Sorkin clearly designed this episode to be About Race, including a debate over using the former name of Rick Perry’s ranch on the air and a snarky aside from Kendra about being the only black person in the staff meeting. (Note to Sorkin: Having black characters joke about being underrepresented does not make up for black actors being underused.) He even got Carl Franklin to direct. So why is it that Maggie’s trip to Africa is presented as just, and only that? Surely Marcia Gay Harden’s lawyer would have called in Gary for a second account of what went wrong. Perhaps he might even have — and I know this sounds crazy — filmed some of the news that was taking place.
It seems like most of the writers who are still covering The Newsroom are suffering from a kind of Stockholm (or maybe Sork-drome) Syndrome, with one calling last night’s abomination one of the show’s best ever. But a few are still keeping tabs on the show, for which they deserve some sort of medal of valor.
Willa Paskin, Slate
Maggie brusquely recalls about this portion of the trip, and when they arrive the handler makes clear that he was just playing Gary for a fool. “Idiot,” he says, expressing his disdain for naive Americans who imagine drug lords are so prevalent on the Dark Continent as to be part of the scenery. Except then the rest of the episode dedicates itself to making a whole host of hackneyed, condescending clichés about dysfunctional, dangerous Africa come true.
Todd VanDerWefff, A.V. Club
I so wanted this to feel like something more than one of those episodes of ER where Carter went overseas and learned about how much terrible stuff was going on in Africa, only to realize that nobody back home cared enough. Then he would stare soulfully at the camera, and both he and the audience would think about doing something, only to have it all largely recede into the background in the next week’s episode. Worse: This episode makes important, serious issues in Africa into a character growth story point for a comfortable, well-off white person in the United States. Daniel is never anything more than a cute kid marked for death.
Chadwick Matlin, Vulture
Last night’s episode turned Gary into a punchline, Kendra into a token, a racial slur into fodder, and African children into treacle. It was the kind of episode that a supposed race warrior like Don would have found execrable.