THE NEWSROOM, “Willie Pete” Episode Recap
Was this episode of The Newsroom supposed to run as episode one this season? They touched on almost every thread that was running through last season (except Will’s life being in danger), and handled it nicely. This maybe isn’t one of those momentous occasion episodes, like the kind when Coldplay jams out to the evening news. But it was well written, swiftly paced, and the actors finally had time to breathe and make sense of their characters. And hey, you guys won’t have to hear me complain about Maggie and Jim. That’s a treat for all of us, trust me.
I’ve spent the last two weeks wishing Will (Jeff Daniels) was back at the news desk. Those were some of my favorite moments of season one. Will is back at it to open this week’s episode “Willie Pete”. He swiftly takes down the GOP candidates and their thin, conditional support of our troops and he is damned serious. His eyes redden, his brow furrows, his loose chin-skin quivers. It turns out that Will is back on his “mission to civilize”. Hey, remember that old gem from last season? I’ve always liked that about Will. It drove him to be demeaning, angry, caring, and passionate. Without his raison d’etre, he seems just like an old curmudgeonly dick.
Flirting with last season’s plot threads, Nina Howard (Hope Davis) returns to the scene. Not only is she dealing with Will not covering the 9/11 anniversary because of a faked flu (who reads gossip columns to find out if Wolf Blitzer shit his pants covering Hurricane Sandy? What gossip column is she writing for?), she’s handling moments that grew from last season. These types of connections build this episode, providing a satisfaction I’ve not felt yet in season two. I’ve spent all this time watching this show shouldn’t I have some pay off? But it’s these moments that tie to last season, unlike episode one and two, that are making it worthwhile to stick around for the new threads, in which we’ve yet to invest ourselves fully. But Nina holds the key to last season’s romantic cliffhanger when Will left a message for Mackenzie. Mac only knows part of it, “I’m not just saying this because I’m high…” which I’ve always thought ended, “…but The Who kicks so much ass, I need to go to the ass store…to buy more ass…to replace the ass which was kicked…by The Who”. But Mac thought it was something else entirely. Nina agrees with Will not to run the flu story (awww man, what am I going to read between Kimye’s baby and Amanda Bynes’ wig shopping spree?). Then, she sleeps with him. Nina, along with Sloan (and at times Mac), is one of the best-written females on the show. And I rag on this every week. But I feel it’s one of the weakest components of the show. And I’ll get back to Sloan in a minute…because damn!
It’s my kind of episode when Maggie doesn’t show up until after the halfway point. Then when she does, it has zero to do with Jim. She’s actually a funny and endearing character when she’s neurotic about the pills she took and snapping at her coworkers. Neurotic, single Maggie is a fun Maggie. Let’s keep her that way. Salvage every last bit of her that’s left. And that’s pretty much it for Maggie this week. She’s going to Africa and I don’t hate her right now.
Jim is having a tough time on the road. And it makes sense. He’s a Senior Producer and he’s roughing it on the road with a bunch of green journalists. Except for Hallie. It’s revealed that Jim has called her Maggie on two occasions now, which proves my Maggie 2.0 theory. Then she’s deepened with a self-possessed, strong and intellectual background. She worked in Denver, covered politics, but was booted for her aggressive approach with conservative candidates on the basis of women’s issues. She even scoffs when Jim boils “women’s issues” down to pro-choice or not. Dude, Hallie is awesome. I really like this character. It’s obvious that her and Jim are going to bang and have little opinionated babies crawling around with press hats and little pads of paper, but she never once turns to mush around him. She doesn’t break down and babble like a moron when he’s around, unlike many of the other women on this show. In fact she owns his ass on more than one occasion.
Speaking of badass women, say “damn girl” to Sloan Sabbith this week. She laid the smack down on her executive producer, threatening to destroy each of his knuckles with a ball peen hammer for treating her like a petulant dog. Don is over there doing pratfalls, while throwing in his support of Sloan’s incredible intelligence, making this duo my favorite aspect of the show. I am in strong support of this relationship taking center stage on this show.
This week ended on a strong note. Sort of. Mac and Sam don’t believe in the Sarin gas story (Genoa). They find the source lacking in credibility and the info is weak. But just when they pull the plug on Dantana and his crew, a fax comes in from the translator. Then another fax. Then another. They are translated tweets describing the American attack with Sarin gas. It was moving. How still the air was between each fax and especially when Mac finally says, “He’s describing Genoa”. It’s a fantastic ending that makes you wish the episode had just another 20 to 30 minutes to carry on from that. But it was all a bit too perfectly timed. Other than the coincidence of that fax, you can’t help but love the composition of that scene. The rapid-fire cuts between the faxes, the hands, the facial reactions, the quieted voices, ending on Mac’s previous quote and then cutting to a wide-shot of the room, and everyone is frozen. You can imagine their hearts pounding in unison. It’s well-crafted drama and that’s what this show does well (when it’s actually doing it). I’m hoping with the Genoa storyline making picking up steam, that they might throw Will back behind the news desk a bit more, give us some of that old fashioned gun-slingin’ that made me keep coming back to this show, week after week.
– Sam Waterston saying, “Will, we ride!” Yeah, it happened. And it now needs to become part of the GIF-meme culture. Sam is an American Treasure and deserves to be immortalized in GIF form. Don’t let me down, internet.
– Not so much in the way of Occupy Wall Street. Mac still doesn’t take Neal seriously. Which is hard to believe. She does have a background in foreign wars and conflicts, many of which might have been protests that led to violent coups and uprisings. This could be why she scoffs at OWS. I mean, we all scoffed too and most of us are not warzone journalists.
– Will apologized to Mac. He was sincere. He was humble. I, um…wait, what?
– “I’m on a mission to civilize” isn’t quite like being on a “Mission from God”…but’s damned close in Will’s book.
– I really enjoyed this episode. I feel like I’m growing on a personal level. I don’t feel an immense hatred for Maggie right now. And I’m damned proud of that.
– It does bother me that they picked up last season’s threads as though to say, “oh yeah, chronology!” Episode one and two almost seem entirely detached from last season despite picking up almost immediately after season one ends. But I’m glad they did it. When seeds are planted, we don’t skip straight to the flower in bloom, we have a bunch of little steps in between. Sorkin needs to remember that here and allow these stories to grow.
Let’s get the discussion going here. How do you feel about the season so far. You can also find me on Twitter @MichaelO_Brien where I talk about this and other topics.