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‘The Newsroom’ Episode 2 Review and Recap: ‘News Night 2.0,’ One Strange Step for Womankind

'The Newsroom' Episode 2 Review and Recap: 'News Night 2.0,' One Strange Step for Womankind

Best laid plans go awry as the newsroom staffers attempt an upgraded show, and as “The Newsroom” writer Aaron Sorkin gives us female characters with some serious mood swings.

What happened:

After the successful coverage of the oil spill, the “News Night” team is trying to usher in a new era for the show. As Mackenzie puts it, “We don’t do good television, we do the news.” During a meeting she unveils an easel with her three points for good news coverage, which the staff accepts despite her idealistic, grade-school approach.

We discover that Will and network higher-up Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) have daily advice sessions “about numbers.” Reese wants Will to stretch out the oil spill coverage for as long as possible — it’s ratings gold. He also points out that on conservative websites, Will is respected because he doesn’t take cheap shots at Sarah Palin. After Palin’s idiotic remarks regarding the oil spill, Reese wants Will to refrain from lampooning her. Will declines to lead with the spill coverage — “News Night” is now focusing on Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration act — but considers the suggestion about Palin.

In this scene we see Will’s conflict between his old and new way of doing things. Like Mackenzie, he wants “News Night” to have a different direction. But he’s also an incessant ratings pleaser, and rich because of it. He tells Reese: “I still want your advice every day.”

Mackenzie convinces economist babe Sloan (Olivia Munn) to make the step up to primetime and join Will on “News Night.” Mackenzie knows the TV game — her show needs a smart, qualified news anchor “who doesn’t look like George Bernard Shaw.”

Through a series of missteps, Maggie loses the show’s most important guest for the evening, Arizona governor Jan Brewer. Instead the show must go on with a motley crew of pro-SB 1070 guests: A blatantly racist self-published academic, a pageant queen (one breath away from saying “like such as”) and a militia man who insists on keeping his rifle in the frame with him. Will must carry the episode. Importantly, Will ends the show with an awkward explanation of Palin’s “Dutch and Norwegians” remarks about the oil spill.

After a rough night, the “News Night” staff goes to a bar down the street. Maggie gets drunk. So does Mackenzie, depressed by Will’s cowardice. Will calls her to tell her he’s “in”: He made a blunder with the Palin apologizing, but he’s now committed to “News Night 2.0.”

Crazy, stupid love:

I’m trying to like the women on this show. And in truth, Mackenzie and Maggie are likeable when they’re proving themselves as intelligent, capable newsroom employees. But Sorkin writes his female characters to vacillate so wildly between two stereotypical ends of a spectrum: The “career-oriented” end, and the “romantic relationship” end.

We’ve been told that Mackenzie has stab wounds on her stomach from her tough, cutting-edge reporting in Afghanistan, but apparently she can’t figure out how to send an email to the appropriate recipients. Twice in this episode she sends a message to the entire staff when attempting to send a personal email to Will. The second email is the most damning, revealing gossip about Will having cheated on her. (Which is backward — Mackenzie cheated on him.) Mackenzie discovers her mistake, and goes batshit frantic in front of her colleagues, caterwauling at everyone to erase the email she sent, and even breaking someone’s smartphone.

When Mackenzie approaches Will after his Palin remarks, and puts him through the ringer for ratings whoring, it’s a satisfying moment that’s completely undercut by her other actions throughout the episode. It’s hard to take a person’s reproving seriously when we’ve seen her hysterically stomp on a co-worker’s phone like she’s a misguided rom-com heroine.

I like the scene between Mackenzie and Sloan, because it’s two women talking honestly about career moves. Sloan is a prime candidate for “News Night” because she has brains and great legs. There’s no shame in this, and the reasoning behind Mackenzie’s offer is accepted by both women with matter-of-fact efficiency. Then Sloan brings up Mackenzie’s past relationship with Will, and before you can say “character inconsistency,” Mackenzie is flailing and squawking like a chicken with no head. Only two seconds earlier she was a shrewd TV producer — what happened?

Maggie loses Jan Brewer as a guest because she had an embarrassing college relationship with the Brewer point person, Glen Fisher. Jim takes the fall for Maggie, telling Mackenzie that he bungled the phone interview. Maggie calls Jim on this later at the bar: “Why do you think I need protecting?” She interestingly points out that Jim may have a “girl in distress fantasy.” But Maggie is completely wasted on martinis when delivering this line, which muddles the potency of her observation. The Maggie-Jim dynamic thus far consists of Maggie constantly bumbling, and Jim constantly calm and in control of his emotions.

Romance can certainly confuse a workplace, and a woman is no less smart or capable if she betrays tumultuous feelings about romance. But there’s a difference between realistic emotional fluctuations, and bipolarity played for laughs. The characters on “Newsroom” have potential for interesting nuance, and the actors are estimable. Let’s see this game stepped up.

Other interpretations or ideas? Thoughts about the episode?

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