News, perhaps more than anything else, cannot exist in a vacuum. The importance of news is largely determined by how people react to it; occasionally, some news pieces unexpectedly become important based on how the public ends up being interested in it; the other side of that coin, however, is news stories that can be predicted to make it into history before they are even known widely. While The Newsroom has been exploring events in 2010 and 2011 so far that were unpredictable news events, this episode takes a look at an event that anyone would have been able to predict would capture the public consciousness, and by extension, explores the impact news can have on individual members of society.
One strong aspect of the episode is the portrayal of Mackenzie, possibly at the strongest she’s been since the pilot. The first episode painted Mackenzie and Will as towering equals, clashing strongly when on opposite sides, but a force to be reckoned with when working together. Subsequent episodes, however, have failed to live up to this idea, as Mackenzie’s been hampered by storylines of personal misfortunes, mostly related to Will, but this episode reminds us of why she was brought on in the first place; because she’s very good at her job, and ruthless when the situation demands it. By keeping the focus on her professional capabilities, rather than her tenuous personal relationship with Will, the show manages to put her again on firm footing with her peers, and re-establish her position in the hierarchy.
Another unexpectedly touching part of the episode is the character of Kaylee. Natalie Morales is a fine actress who was all set to be wasted in this role, which had seen her appear briefly onscreen once, but her character was handed an actual arc this episode, and Morales manages to go from charming to encouraging to emotionally vulnerable in a convincing manner during the show’s duration. Using Kaylee as the individual to represent people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks is an interesting move on Sorkin’s part, and allows for the growth of a seemingly minor character without manipulating a sensitive issue for the sake of drama on the show itself. The way the scene between Kaylee, Neal, and Jim plays out is also commendable, as the show wisely uses low-key music that doesn’t overwhelm the scene, and allows the actors to carry the emotional weight instead.
While the show did right by Mackenzie, however, this episode continues the poor usage of Maggie. While Don was given a strong subplot involving him being sequestered on a plane, far away from where the news was happening, Maggie once again deals with the issue of the romantic triangle that the episode broadens into a romantic square by the end. Alison Pill continues to be the saving grace of the character, who otherwise is essentially less of an individual, and more of a plot device whole sole purpose seems to be to add to the friction, and who has yet to effectively prove her position on the News Night 2.0 staff. With the progression of Sloan and Mackenzie, hopefully Maggie is next in line to be fleshed out further, as the character is simply squandering her potential right now.
Overall, this episode was an improvement on last week, which was already one of the strongest episodes of the season. Sorkin is effectively diving into an exploration of what the news means, and what effective reporting entails, and the results are fascinating. The strong acting performances evident in the series continue in this episode; in addition to the aforementioned Natalie Morales, Thomas Sadoski as Don got a particularly poignant moment near the end of the episode that he delivered on. Going forward, I’m interested to see where Charlie’s interaction with his new NSA source goes in particular, as it allows the audience to see Charlie even when he’s not interacting with someone onscreen. While this episode didn’t take the route of adding another dimension to a hitherto minimal character, it was nonetheless an enjoyable one, and proof of what makes this show so enjoyable.
– Deepayan Sengupta