The Newsroom, Season 2, Episode 3: “Willie Pete″
Written by Michael Gunn, Elizabeth Peterson, and Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO
One of the big weaknesses of the first season of The Newsroom, alongside the poor characterisation of many of the show’s women, was the often preachy tone that would accompany storylines, as the writers often struggled to balance the show’s depiction of a fearless news team with an ability to humanise the opponents to the debate, or a portrayal of the core cast as three-dimensional characters rather than simply mouthpieces. The exploration of real-world consequences and conscience attacks suffered by the team at ACN did a lot to mitigate this issue, and while the second season premiere showed promise in further exploring this storyline, this week’s episode manages to fall down the rabbit hole once again, taking a few steps backward from a lot of character progression the show has made, and delivering an unpleasant episode this week, where the bad qualities outweighed the good.
Jim’s storyline on the Romney campaign bus this week is a perfect example of the sanctimonious tone the show unfortunately strikes when it is unable to humanise its characters. While pursuing the idea of holding politicians accountable for the fact that they often change their stance depending on the demographic they’re appealing to, or the fact that they often take credit for natural circumstances, is an interesting one, the way it is presented in this episode not only makes the idea off-putting, but it also makes the character of Jim Harper off-putting by extension. Jim assumes that other members of the press tour are not interested in pushing beyond the talking points given to them by the Romney campaign, an assumption that is unfounded in any of the characterisation of Harper’s peers to date, yet a stance that the show seems to support by painting Harper as an outlaw hero. While his insistence to try to dig past unwilling press liaisons, to the detriment of the rest of the press corps, could have been used as a moment to deepen the audience’s understanding of what makes Jim Harper tick in a professional capacity, the show’s insistence on instead using him to poorly make a point exposes one of the poorest aspects of The Newsroom, and makes it a far cry from the compelling drama it could be.
Overall, this was unfortunately a very weak episode all around. Mackenzie’s handling of the Occupy Wall Street situation is particularly baffling this week, as there’s no real motivation given for her dismissal of Neal’s story, particularly in light of seeing the video last week. This may be indicative of either of two things; the writers indicating that Mackenzie was prescient enough to recognize that the OWS movement would ultimately fail, in which case her reasoning has yet to be revealed. Alternately, the show may be foreshadowing her blindness towards the Genoa tip with an inability to properly read the OWS situation, which unfortunately makes Mackenzie look professionally inept, another weak point from the first season. Linklater’s search for further information on Genoa, however, continues to be compelling, and the show is demonstrating a deft touch in revealing sources for the story that seem credible, but plausibly may not be, as the season premiere indicated. Reese Lansing’s anger at Will and Charlie was also an interesting aspect of the episode. While Reese’s reactions to Will being let off the leash by his mother have not been extensively explored this season, his anger is a good contrast to the other reactions McAvoy’s reporting has caused, as Reese’s damaged reputation and standing in his professional circles is collateral damage to ACN’s crusade. Hope Davis’ Nina Howard is also a welcome return to the show, and hopefully her return will also mean the return of Terry Crews and David Krumholtz as well. With Sloan, Neal, and Maggie all getting reduced screentime this week despite having some of the more compelling storylines of the second season, revisiting them is worth tuning in for next week.
– Deepayan Sengupta