The Newsroom, Ep 1.05: “Amen” gives Neal his time in the spotlight
The Newsroom, Season 1, Episode 5: “Amen″
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Daniel Minahan
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO
Journalism can be a dangerous profession. Trying to cover the news in, or tell the story of, volatile or war-torn regions, especially, can be downright fatal, the most obvious example in recent years being Tim Hetherington, who lost his life in 2011 whilst trying to cover the Libyan uprising. With the accelerated timeline that The Newsroom has been following, the Middle East revolutions were bound to come across Will McAvoy’s desk sooner rather than later, and with their emphasis on reporting the news at all costs, it would be interesting to see how they chose to tackle this story. The episode most certainly did not disappoint on that front, not only giving us a better glimpse of how news producers scramble to get the full story, but also giving us glances at different sides of some of the established characters.
The highlight of the episode was the development of Neal’s character into a fully fleshed out individual. Last week’s odd emphasis on making Neal an enthusiastic Bigfoot believer showed all the signs of a defining quirk that allows the writers to declare a half-baked character finished and toss them aside, but this episode thankfully chose to do more with him. The character of Neal, despite his importance in the proceedings to date, hasn’t been much more than a convenient character to push certain plot points along, and Dev Patel has done what he could with the character, but giving him a backstory that explains his position makes perfect sense, and adds to the ensemble feel of the show. Hopefully the action will be repeated for other members of News Night’s crew in the coming episodes, shifting some of the focus away from the core group of Will, Mackenzie, Maggie, Jim, and Don that seems to have developed in the show. A true ensemble show doesn’t shy away from relegating some characters to the background every so often, and The Newsroom may have taken its first step in that direction.
Another strong point of the episode was tying in the storyline of Mackenzie’s boyfriend to the central plot of News Night 2.0. For a while, it seemed that the lingering feelings between Mackenzie and Will from their prior doomed relationship would only be used as a MacGuffin, in a sense, to act as a point of friction where there necessarily isn’t one, and while that may still be the case, the way the character of Wade Campbell has been handled allows the show to deftly sidestep this hole for now. The reveal of Wade using the news show to further his political career not only displays how easy it is to fall into the corruption that the news show rails against, but also gives some insight into Mackenzie herself via the types of men she pursues.
The relationship between Jim and Maggie, however, is still a distraction on the show. Much like the potential issues in the Mackenzie-Will storyline, the romantic triangle between Jim, Maggie, and Don seems to be in place solely to add extraneous tension that ultimately has low stakes in the overall show. While all three participants are performing admirably — Alison Pill in particular deserves credit for infusing an endearing quirky charm into a character who could have very easily become grating in another actress’ hands — their talents could be better served in a meatier storyline that provides serious consequences, and hopefully one will be forthcoming for all three as the season progresses.
Overall, however, this was another good episode for the show. There was an interesting trend of physical violence and injuries that came up periodically, with Elliot’s severe beating in Cairo, Neal breaking his hand on the monitor, and Don spraining his shoulder on the door. Hope Davis continued to play admirably against type as Nina Howard, and by showing Leona Lansing’s power through such means rather than having characters talk about it onscreen, the show is doing a very good job of establishing how capable and dangerous she is in an effective manner. It shall be interesting to see how the show chooses to expand on that, as well as whether or not they continue defining secondary characters such as Neal in more detail, as the season progresses.
– Deepayan Sengupta