The Newsroom Review: Final Warnings and Jealousy in ‘The 112th Congress’
This week’s Newsroom episode, ‘The 112th Congress’, flashes back and forth between the past and present, creating a powerful build-up to the finish. Jane Fonda makes a guest appearance as Leona Lansing, the intimidating president of Atlantis World Media. Leona meets with her son and Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) to discuss the direction that Will is taking the show. That direction is revealed in the flashbacks, which stretch out over a period of six months.
In that time, Will sincerely apologizes to viewers for the failure of the program to successfully inform viewers. In a controversial move, he claims that real journalists are a minority and declares he is “quitting the circus”. This is the same thing he has been toying with for the past few episodes, but now he really runs with the philosophy. Using the interrogative skills he learned as an attorney, Will interviews Tea Party representatives and exposes some inaccuracies. Specifically, he goes after the Koch brothers for funding the Tea Party, a move that does not win him any points with Leona.
As if suspecting that, Will checks in with Charlie several times over the six month period. He wants to know if the “44th floor” has anything to say about the show’s new direction. Eager for Will to continue without hesitation, Charlie makes sure to dismiss Will’s concerns. Indeed, Charlie seems very confident that he will be able to smooth things over – that is until Leona threatens to fire Will. Charlie is shocked that Leona would consider that, but she states that she has “business in front of this congress” and is serious about it. When Charlie says he thought Leona got to her position by being fearless, she sharply retorts, “No, I got to where I am by knowing who to fear.”
The office romances continue in a fairly predictable fashion. Jim is still pining after Maggie, who inexplicably adores her boyfriend, Don. It is painfully obvious that Don is merely a roadblock in the Jim and Maggie storyline. When Maggie suffers from a panic attack, Don is uninterested and Jim is the one that calms her down. The unhappy couple break up numerous times in this episode alone, but just when Jim is about to make his move, they make up. Again.
It is also clear that MacKenzie and Will are dealing with a bounty of unresolved feelings for each other. They deal with this rather childishly, with Will parading his various (young) dates around the office. MacKenzie reacts with jealousy and anger that seems unfair when we later find out she has been dating someone else for three months. Then again, MacKenzie did keep her relationship private (until she was caught). Will almost seems to take pleasure in MacKenzie’s envy, noting that one of his pretty conquests is “literally a brain surgeon”. When Maggie guilts Will into feeling badly about his taunting, he goes to apologize to MacKenzie. That apology dies on his lips when he is introduced to MacKenzie’s slightly smug boyfriend.
One area the show has made progress in is Will’s likeability. The audience has had time to learn more about his character and why we should like him. This is, of course, a crucial aspect to the show succeeding. In the first episode Will’s temper and pride were overwhelming, but already his character is becoming more rounded and amiable. The fact that his acts of kindness are kept quiet and downplayed only serve to make him more appealing.
MacKenzie’s character has also developed in a more complex, though not very positive way. When she breezed into the office in the first episode, full of confidence and charm, we did not expect her to become so flustered over something like her ex-boyfriend going on a date. Her impressive work history and ability to insert herself in her new EP job made her seem more composed and assertive than she is acting now.
The episode structure was complicated, but very well-done. Having so many flashbacks in a show that does not normally use that pattern can make it hard to follow. The show did not have that problem and the change of pace provided an air of mystery for viewers. That suspense seemed to be leading up to a big finish, and Leona threatening to have Will fired certainly provided that.
How will Will react to the threat, considering his history of catering to ratings? Hopefully he will find a better way to co-exist with MacKenzie as they both juggle their own romantic lives. And will Maggie come to her senses and ditch Don for Jim? An audience can only take so many wistful looks across a newsroom before the arrangement becomes stale. Check out the next episode of HBO’s The Newsroom on July 15 to see how these stories unfold.