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The Newsroom Review: ‘Bullies’

By on July 30, 2012

The Newsroom cast. Photo: Melissa Moseley © HBO

In this week’s Newsroom episode, the plot focuses mainly on Will as we flash from his present-day therapy session to previous conflicts. It is a stressful time for Will as he confronts some inner demons, receives an anonymous death threat and, as usual, struggles with grey areas in the news. Sloan has the opportunity to fill in for an absent newsman, but things go poorly. The Jim, Maggie and Don triangle is barely present, though we continue to see development as Don’s character becomes increasingly likeable.

After receiving some irritating anonymous comments, Will decides to put in a new system on the show’s website. Posters will be required to give some personal information, such as their name and level of education. Will chooses to enact the system as he feels that writing anonymously is cowardly. According to Will, he is going to “singlehandedly fix the internet”. Somehow a poster gets around the requirements and sends Will a death threat, going so far as to write Will’s address in the comment.

Due to that alarming threat, the insurance company insists Will have a bodyguard. Unsurprisingly, Will resists. The two of them banter back and forth for a while until Will amusingly says the bodyguard can only tell one joke a day. Not everyone gives the guard a hard time, though. Sloan takes an unusually giddy pleasure in tapping the man’s well-built chest.

While a death threat itself would be good reason for someone to talk to a therapist, Will also attends his session because of his insomnia. He is very reluctant to actually talk to the therapist (guest star David Krumholtz), especially when he finds out the man is a mere twenty-nine-years-old. All Will wants is a sleeping pill prescription, but he does not get it until he starts digging into the possible causes of his insomnia. They discuss how when Will was in the fifth grade he cracked a bottle against his alcoholic father’s face to stop him from abusing their family. Will also mentions how much he hates scaring people. He hates bullies, which leads them to discuss a recent event from one of Will’s broadcasts.

In an interview with an adviser to Rick Santorum, Will gets caught up in his emotion over the subject. Using homophobic quotes from Santorum, Will throws those back at the adviser, who is a gay black man. The man becomes upset to the point where he looks near tears. While they both give nearly as well as they receive, the exchange is rather agonizing to observe. After retelling this to his therapist, Will admits that he acted like a bully and is disappointed in his behaviour. This admission also leads him to add that maybe the therapist does know what he is doing.

Olivia Munn is given the opportunity to expand her character, Sloan, in this episode. Sloan has been an intriguing but relatively unexplored character up till this point. When she is asked to fill in for Elliot in the ten o’clock spot, her anxiety leads her to talk to Will about it. He compliments her, but warns her not to let her interviewees get away with lying or spreading inappropriate message on air. He later feels bad about giving her an agitated lecture, especially when she makes an enormous mistake during her show.

Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith. Photo: © HBO

Sloan is interviewing a Japanese spokesperson for TEPCO about the Fukushima nuclear plant when she makes her error. In the pre-interview, Sloan got the rep to admit that the INES rating for the reactor was a seven, and not the publicly understood five. This was off the record, so when Sloan brings that information up on air, she manages to damage her professional reputation as well as the honour of the spokesperson. She even attempts to cut off the translator by speaking to the man in Japanese. Don repeatedly tells her to stop from the control room, but she rips out her ear piece and keeps going. Thomas Sadoski as Don is actually very funny in this part as he emphatically pleads with Sloan not to go rogue.

Fortunately for her, the fact that she spoke in Japanese is the only thing that saves her from suspension and investigation. An initially infuriated Charlie finds that the word for ‘seven’ is very similar to the word for ‘four’ in Japanese, so they use that to claim a misunderstanding. Sloan is still quite shaken and troubled by the blunder, so it is a stirring scene when Don gently lifts her chin up and walks away.

Sloan and Don have another scene later when Don blurts out that he is afraid he may be losing Maggie to Jim. For a smart and capable man, Don caught on to that relationship a bit late. Sloan assures him that he is not, but when Don asks her if she is good at knowing this kind of thing, she says she is not.

Jim and Maggie are given a task by MacKenzie, but most of their time is filled with cute exchanges. When Maggie shares a couple of embarrassing mistakes she made that angered Will, Jim incredulously asks how she still works there. Her playful response is that she dodges bullets.

It is Will and MacKenzie’s romantic relationship that is given more attention in this episode. MacKenzie confronts Will when she finds out that he had an offer from FOX to do a late night talk show. Since the offer was presented when they were together, she accuses him of making her feel guilty about ruining their relationship when really he never planned on marrying her. Will chooses that moment to shock MacKenzie by pulling out a wedding ring from his desk. He states that he didn’t tell her about the FOX offer because he knew it wasn’t real and at that time he had been trying to impress her. MacKenzie leaves the room, flustered, after telling Will, “Listen, when you do propose to someone, that’s the ring that’ll do it!” We later find out through Will’s therapist that Will only bought the ring recently, despite letting Mackenzie think it had been in his desk for five years. The therapist’s analysis of that action is that it is ‘not normal’. No, not quite. Will claims that he plans to return the ring, but then tosses the receipt.

This episode, ‘Bullies’, showed a slower than normal pace for The Newsroom. This allowed us to dig into the characters motives as well as some of the ethical dilemmas a newsroom faces. How will Don react to the threat on his relationship with Maggie? Can Will and MacKenzie ever move past their troubled history? The daunting Leona Lansing has been absent the past couple of episodes, but that seems more unnerving than comforting. Tune in August 5 on HBO to see how all of these situations unfold.

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