The Newsroom, Season 2, Episode 5: “News Night with Will McAvoy″
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Alan Poul
Airs Sundays at 10:00 PM ET on HBO
To date, the only female character to receive significant screentime but not get embroiled in a major personal life storyline is financial expert Sloan Sabbith. While this has made the character a breath of fresh air, and allowed actress Olivia Munn to excel in the role, it was only a matter of time until her out-of-work life infringed in some way. This episode sees the infringement occur in an interesting manner that unfortunately sees the show pull itself back from meaningful character development in an area where it is sorely needed.
This episode was particularly frustrating in how it treated the storylines of Sloan and Maggie. While the issues The Newsroom has had with painting nuanced female characters in its first season has been well documented, with the otherwise competent and celebrated reporter Mackenzie sending a personal email to the whole office standing as just one example. While the second season has seemingly taken some strides towards fixing this issue, Sorkin and the writers have seemed hesitant to take that final leap, and both Maggie’s and Sloan’s actions demonstrated this hesitation this week. The violation of Sloan’s privacy and the leaking of her nude pictures online could have been interesting in one of two ways; it could have examined how a professional like Sloan deals with an issue of this nature, or it could have expanded on how the digital age leads to an increasingly blurry line between one’s professional life and one’s private life. While it attempts to go down the former route, having Don act as Sloan’s shepherd through her emotions sadly serves to only undercut the character as incapable of handling a personal crisis on her own, thereby cutting short any growth the character undergoes.
A similar problem arises with Maggie this week as well. While the idea of the media’s portrayal of Sandra Fluke in the wake of her congressional testimony awakening Maggie’s feminist leanings is a fascinating idea, having Jim correctly chalk it up to continuing PTSD over Maggie’s trip to Africa unfortunately only serves to hold the character back, just like the mistake in cutting the audio. Having Maggie’s voice silenced, or her legitimate concerns portrayed as being the aftermath of trauma, undoes any possible progress the character could have made, and possibly sets her on a path of further incompetence. This would normally not be an issue, especially if it is done well, but Maggie’s entire time on the show has been a series of mishaps, and this does not bode well for the character going forward.
Overall, however, despite being a frustrating episode, this was not a bad one. Will’s story with his father is an interesting one, and hopefully will lead into an examination of what makes the News Night anchor tick, as his personal history outside of his relationship with Mackenzie is not one that has been explored in depth on this show. Don’s mishap with the off-the-cuff remark is a potentially fascinating storyline, and whether it comes back to affect his career is worth keeping an eye on. It was good to see the show bring back the idea of public acceptance being Will’s biggest weakness, and it will be interesting to watch whether or not that plays a part in the looming Genoa crisis. Mackenzie’s interactions with Jesse fell somewhat flat, as it was unclear what the show was going for in that particular angle, but showing up the prank callers who were attempting to cash in on the Syrian bombs was a light moment that landed quite well. Where the show chooses to go with Maggie, whose hair is back to normal once again, indicating that the full story behind her change in hairstyle has yet to come forward, as well as whether Don’s culminating failures are leading up to something big are both worth tuning in for next week.
– Deepayan Sengupta