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The Newsroom Review: News Night Bounces Back

By on August 20, 2012

Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith and Dev Patel as Neal Sampat in The Newsroom. Photo: © HBO

Last week’s Newsroom ended with an abrupt power outage, much to MacKenzie’s relief. That story continues in this week’s episode, ‘The Blackout Part II: Mock Debate.’ When the emergency generator doesn’t work and maintenance has to climb forty-five floors to reach them, MacKenzie talks about it being a miracle. She is glowing as she tries to inspire the staff to work together, but her passionate speech comes to a halt when the power switches back on. Her smile fades and we return to the reality that the show will go on.

None of the staff are particularly happy about the direction the program has been taking. As we learned last week, Will needs good ratings so he can introduce a new debate format. As noted by MacKenzie, he also needs the ratings to keep Leona Lansing off his back. Still, MacKenzie sadly declines when her ex-boyfriend, Brian, asks her for a comment on how she is feeling about the show. Will seems to be feeling the urge to chain-smoke, and Sloan storms around angry that the debt ceiling issue is being ignored.

Thanks to Neal, that is not all Sloan has to be mad about. In an effort to penetrate the online ‘troll’ world, Neal has to write awful things about someone online. Since he does not want to hurt feelings, Neal begs Sloan for permission to write lies about her. She is a very good sport about the slander and shows what a good newswoman she is by putting the story first. The two are so friendly it is nearly flirty until Sloan barks at him to re-edit her Wikipedia page.

Reluctantly looking for more Casey Anthony story material, Will and MacKenzie send Maggie and Jim to recruit Lisa. It turns out she went to high-school with Casey Anthony, but is unwilling to speak up about it. Maggie is sent to change her roommate’s mind, with Jim coming along for supposed moral support.

Lisa, who works at a dress shop, is busy with a customer when they arrive. In an effort to get rid of the customer, Jim compliments her dress profusely. He even offers to pay for it until he hears that it cost three times the price of his car (“For a dress?”). They are forced to convince Lisa while she assists her customer, but Lisa doesn’t want to talk about it. She doesn’t think she can provide any insight and is annoyed that other people are pretending they can. She has a valid point. However, her loyalty to her roommate wins out in the end and she agrees to be interviewed.

Maggie and MacKenzie assist Lisa in doing the interview her own way. Lisa combatively uses the airtime to talk about all the missing children and stories that no one cares about. She also ends up arguing her views on abortion. Will quickly steers the conversation back to Casey Anthony, while MacKenzie mutters, “Where’s a power outage when you need one?”

Paul Schneider as Brian Brenner and Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie McHale. Can you feel the tension? Photo: © HBO

Later on, the dress shop where Lisa works is vandalized. The words ‘baby killer’ are spray-painted across the front. Jim, Maggie and even Will (disconcertingly without his bodyguard) show up to support Lisa.

During Will’s counseling appointment, his therapist suggests that Will is extremely sensitive to betrayal. It is interesting to get inside Will’s head as he rants about his inability to forgive MacKenzie. He says that intellectually, from a logical perspective, he understands that she deserves forgiveness. When he asks why he cannot just forgive her, his therapist answers, “Because you weren’t rejected. You were betrayed.”

All of the effort the team has put into boosting the ratings is put to the test when two Republican Party officials, Adam Roth and Tate Brady, come to discuss the planned debate. Will stresses that the questions asked need to be tougher and that candidates must be held responsible for what they say. He wants to eliminate the nonsense answers from the debate. Unfortunately, Tate Brady is not having any of it.

When Tate says that MacKenzie cannot produce the debate, Will kicks the man out of his office. Tate walks out and asks Don if he wants the debate, to which Don replies, “Eat me.” Tate then offers it to Sloan, who repeats the same sentiment as Don, but with slightly coarser language. Adam Roth expresses his regret to Will, but cannot afford to risk his job for the new debate format. Will understands, though looks rather dejected later when he apologizes to the staff.

Jeff Daniels as a poised Will McAvoy. Photo: © HBO

Right after the failed mock debate, Brian pesters MacKenzie about Will and the relationship she has with him. He is nasty as he tells her that Will does not want her, and that he just wanted to be the star of the debate. He insists that Will is going to cave on the debate issue. MacKenzie retorts that she loves how Will struggles with things, because it means he wants to do the right thing. She is in the middle of talking about Will’s struggles when Will hobbles out of his office half-dressed, unable to get his pants on.

Undeterred by that sight, MacKenzie approaches and expresses her desire to get rid of Brian. She starts shouting at Will about how the show’s integrity has gone downhill and that she is losing it. Not many actresses could make a meltdown like that look quite so charming. She exclaims that she will not settle down, but then adds, “I should though. I should settle down.” Will appeases her when he decides to “throw out the rundown” and do the show properly. Everyone in the newsroom is thrilled about that.

Throughout the episode, Jim tries several times to talk Lisa into going out with him again. Lisa remains opposed to the idea until Maggie assures her that she does not have feelings for Jim. When Jim spontaneously shows up at Maggie and Lisa’s apartment, Lisa thinks he is there to give her another pitch. She kisses him, causing a pained look to flash across Maggie’s face.

It is Don, who was in the apartment when Jim arrived, that realizes Jim was there to talk to Maggie, not Lisa. Don takes the opportunity to confess to Maggie that he dated other girls during the periods they were apart. Though the conversation takes place primarily off screen, we do see Maggie looking despondent while Don attempts to explain himself.

Near the end of the episode, Neal chats with other ‘trollers’ as he tries to break into the online, inner circle. He is claiming responsibility for the death threat sent to Will when he finds out that he is talking to the person who actually did it. It is a chilling scene as we flash to Will’s bodyguard, Lonny, picking up the warning call from Neal.

Is anyone else finding the repeated threats to Will’s safety unnerving? Between that, the various office romances and the questionable future of News Night, The Newsroom has plenty to tease us with as we come to the end of season one. Tune in for the season finale on August 26 on HBO.

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