The Newsroom, Ep 1.06: “Bullies” adds character depth in an unexpected way

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The Newsroom, Season 1, Episode 6: “Bullies″
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO

One often overlooked peril with a no-holds-barred approach to journalism is that it takes no prisoners, and often leaves those with the unfortunate task of answering the questions between the unyielding forces of their superiors and the investigators. Human sacrifices become the norm when establishing a larger point, but it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, while some people deserve the thorough dressing down and associated loss of reputation that comes from intense journalistic questioning, a lot of these people are simply middlemen, and real human beings who often face the consequences of being publicly humiliated while those in power simply find someone else to hide behind. This episode focused on those who end up on the other side of the uncomfortable interviews Will and his coworkers often put people through, and emerged with what may possibly be the best episode of the first season to date.

Just as Dev Patel got his moment in the spotlight last week, this episode put Olivia Munn’s Sloan Sabbith front and centre, giving her a chance to shine, and Munn rose to the challenge. This is a unique role for Munn, her previous acting work having consisted primarily of comedic parts on The Daily Showand Perfect Couples, but in her limited exposure on the show to date, she has managed to effectively carry her own weight, and proven her place among the strong cast of the show. Given one of the main storylines of the week, she did not falter, conveying Sloan’s conflicting emotions in a properly subtle manner, and holding her own against Sam Waterston in a crucial scene. This trend that The Newsroom has established over the past two episodes of fleshing out the supporting players is a welcome step in the show’s ascension, and hopefully it is continued, as it’s bound to lead to further exploration of some of the members of News Night 2.0 who are, at this point, known simply by name. While an expanded role for Chris Chalk’s Gary Cooper would be welcome, as Chalk has proven his capability previously on the excellent first season of Homeland, as long as the show does continue to flesh out the characters, whom they choose to enhance next is a minor detail.

The show as a whole took a fascinating turn this week. Some have levelled criticisms at the show as being little more than a soapbox for creator and showrunner Aaron Sorkin to air his views on modern media on a weekly basis, but this episode went a long way towards dispelling that notion, as the lens of scrutiny was turned inwards this week, revealing previously unknown character flaws and humanising the leads at the core of the show in the process. Looking at how the actions of the staff of News Night 2.0 affects the people they interview, and building the interview subjects into more than just disembodied voices, as they’ve appeared on the show on a number of occasions, adds a new dimension to the show, and it will be interesting to see how the consequences triggered this episode affect Will and co. going forward. Credit should also go to Aaron Sorkin, who penned this particular episode, for zagging instead of zigging, and not going down the predictable route of internet anonymity-bashing either, instead using the comments to lead into a larger story.

So far in its premiere season, The Newsroom has shown a propensity for effectively utilising their guest stars, and this episode was no different, with both David Krumholtz and Terry Crews making appearances. Krumholtz is a fine actor who, talent-wise, fits right in with the regular cast of the show, and his character Dr. Habib developed an easy chemistry with Will almost instantly, something that takes other shows seasons to establish. His act of slowly drawing the truth out of Will was also believable, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. The same goes for Terry Crews’ Lonny Church, who added a degree of levity to the proceedings without going over the top or taking audiences out of the episode.

Overall, this was perhaps the strongest episode of the show to date. While there were some issues, chief among them being the stereotypical weaknesses handed to Sloan this week — she was won over with the promise of an entire Gucci rack of clothes, and was infatuated with Lonny’s pecs, despite nobody else commenting on them — the strengths far outweighed them. Examining the actions of the news crew adds another layer to their actions in future episodes, as they will have to monitor their actions despite their defiance of Leona Lansing. Jeff Daniels was once again sublime as Will McAvoy, and the show’s march towards becoming a true ensemble is welcomed. This is a strong way to start the second half of the new season, and if future episodes build on this, the show’s audience is in for a treat.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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