The Newsroom, Ep 1.09: “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate” proves the show can be funny too

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The Newsroom, Season 1, Episode 9: “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate″
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Alan Poul
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO

Two-part episodes are never easy to pull off; on one hand, they can be freeing, as writers now find themselves with twice the amount of time to tell a story. On the other hand, however, audiences have a natural break point at which to tune out, necessitating storylines that captivate in a stronger manner than one-shot episodes. Knowing this, many shows tend to shy away from the idea until they’re well established, and have a strong sense of the show and characters, and some even choose to make it an advertised event. Thus, the significance of The Newsroom choosing to engage in a two-part episode right in its first season is not lost; Sorkin seems to be pointedly saying that he has an assured idea of what the show and characters are like, and the confidence to display it. The second part of the two-parter manages to show that the confidence is not misplaced, as it manages to effectively build and deliver on last week’s setups, while exposing a hitherto unnoticed comedic vein.

The most interesting aspect of this episode was the subversion of expectations that occurred throughout. While The Newsroom started out the season as  a beacon of hope against sensationalist and neutered journalism, the past few episodes have done a fine job of illustrating the nuances that cause the sharp edges of a show to get sanded off, be it an issue of not chafing upper management, maintaining ratings, or simply accounting for others’ feelings, Sorkin has done a great job of adding realistic conflicts to News Night 2.0’s approach to journalism. The beginning of this episode, however, made strides towards regression, as Mackenzie tries to use the blackout that closed out last week as the catalyst for a call to arms, before the power comically comes back on just as she is about to hit the climax of her speech. Similarly, Mackenzie’s defence of Will’s actions to Brian precede Will hopping out of his office, locked in struggle with his pants (a fight that was foreshadowed), Lisa, previously painted as just an additional point in a love square, gains importance from a news perspective, and despite leading up to it for most of last week and this week, Will’s proposed debate format does not win over the RNC representatives. Sorkin took a few rights when he could have gone left, and the end result made for an episode that didn’t end up in the predictable places.

It was also nice to see a further character progression for both Neal and Sloan. Despite the growth Neal has shown following the ill-advised Bigfoot conspiracy storyline, the credentials that led him to become the blogger and go-to computer expert was still suspect, but this two-part episode has gone a long way towards resolving that, displaying his ease amongst the internet community while not belittling him. Sloan, likewise, has been an interesting choice for the bait that Neal uses to establish credibility, and her reactions give the audience a glimpse into her character that wouldn’t otherwise be visible, displaying both her reluctance at being objectified, and her desire to see a colleague succeed. Sloan’s reaction to Tate, in addition to tapping into the aforementioned comedy vein this episode surprisingly displayed, also is an apt summary of the character; someone who may appear to be easily manipulated, but is stronger than one might think.

Overall, Sorkin managed to successfully pull off The Newsroom‘s first two-part episode, effectively building on the mock debate that was heavily spoken about last week, as well as displaying the strain that the Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner stories were taking on the team, Mackenzie in particular. Adam Arkin’s presence this episode continues the strong guest performers the show has managed to snag, as his chemistry with Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy easily lends credibility to the idea that the two are old friends. Both Paul Schneider’s Brian and David Krumholtz’s Dr. Habib, two other notable guest performers who fit right into the show, get moments of their own this week as well. The conclusion of Neal’s storyline opens up a series of possibilities, the exploration of which promises to be exciting, and it was nice to see the friendship between Mackenzie and Jim, another storyline that hasn’t been seen since the pilot, resurface this episode, and hopefully this isn’t the last time those two characters will interact this season. The show has had a very strong run of episodes leading into next week’s finale, and by giving Maggie some focus from a news perspective, it has closed one of its major issues as well. It will be very interesting to see what Sorkin and co. choose to tackle in the finale, and if this two-parter is any indication, the audience is in for quite a ride.

– Deepayan Sengupta

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