[Review] - The Newsroom, Season 2 Episodes 4 and 5, "Unintended Consequences" and "News Night with Will McAvoy"

Courtesy of HBO

Here we have two very different episodes, in tone, in structure and in success. One was an over written melodramatic mess, the other was a brisk but engaging experiment. Both had their own particular flaws and successes, but if nothing else came of these two weeks of programming, it was the final nail in the coffin of my interest in Jim and Maggie as characters: I don't, if I ever did, care about these two, independently or together. Not when you've got Sloan and Don being far more engaging and interesting in the next room.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that shouldn't have said that last thing.

Ah, the awkward time jump. Keen eyed viewers might have noticed that, when the season began, things picked up pretty much where they left off, meaning that the show was a year and half behind the modern time. And for the first four episodes, managed to cover all of one month, September of 2011. Between these two episodes, seven months have passed, launching us into March of 2012, which rears the ugly head of one of the major issues I had with last season, and one of the major issues facing the show's format, an issue that Sorkin has yet to solve, largely because their isn't an easy solution: Skipping through time is all well and good as a gimmick, but in terms of creating a believable universe for the characters to exist in, it is problematic. Characters discuss issues, some of them minor, that have occurred months apart with perfect recall. Time, within the universe, seems not to have passed. Hair cuts remain the same. People refuse to move on.their lives remain stagnant until the cameras return. It causes breaks in the suspension of disbelief. The show, as a whole organism, tends to work better when the episodes, and therefore the stories, are concurrent.

Speaking of formatting, these two episodes explored in vastly different ways, how individual episodes could be structured. Episode four returned to the flashback testimony of the season premier, this time with Maggie in the hot seat. Episode five went with real time, the fifty seven minutes of the show focusing on what happens during those same fifty seven minutes of the nightly broadcast. In terms of everything else, episode four was a mundane conclusion to the first mini-arc of the year. Jim's time on the campaign trail came to an end, and we finally found out what happened to Maggie in Africa. About the biggest highlight of this was a final and proper kicking at the OWS movement, which provided the episode's only laughs and high points, as Will tears into the strawman spokesperson, unabashedly destroying their sense of undeserved smugness with his own. As he says late in the episode, "I did it because it felt good," and we can understand why he did. Because even when Sorkin gave the OWS a chance to state their case, as was the case in real life, they never could. Will wins not by having the argument, but making a linear and clear one.

I can decide which was the worse sub plot: the Jim on the buss stuff, which was never as clever as Sorkin thought it was, but just gave up here and  let cliche take control; or the Maggie in Africa stuff, which had every potential to be interesting and heart breaking and be a real commentary on an area of strife and horror, and instead was insultingly without courage. There could not have been a more exploitative way to tell Maggie's journey, save possibly for rape. It is a harsh reality of the region, but from a story telling perspective, a dead child is pretty much an admission that you couldn't come up with a better idea. It's a lazy tactic that plays way to heavily on the "weak emotionally fragile women" stereotype, which was given strength in the next episode when Gary is shown, seven months later, to be fine, while Maggie falls apart.

Here's the problem with Jim and Maggie: they are meant to be the bumbling romantic comedy duo, the star crossed lovers that can never seem to get it together, until the end when they do. If Will and Mac are Tracey and Hepburn, then Jim and Maggie are... I don't know, Hugh Grant and Katherine Heigl. And about as engaging. Jim has never shown the intelligence or skill that someone of his position, someone who was suggested all the way back in the pilot was something of a wunderkind, should have. He bumbles his way through each episode, as if that alone is meant to make him charming. And Maggie has never shown an ounce of competence, in either her professional or personal life. So, from a character stand point, we're expected to like and support these characters simply because their romance was forced on us an inorganically as it was forced on them.

That's not going to happen, not when you've got Don and Sloan next door blowing them out of the water. I've said it before, but Don was a wholly unlikable character when the series began, and finished the first season my favourite character, and my fondness for him only grows with each episode. Same too with Sloan, with Olivia Munn impressing the hell out of me at every opportunity. Episode five was no different, with each giving their best by doing very little. The scenes in Don's office, very subdued and simple, showed a far greater depth of character and interest on the writer's part then Jim and Maggie yelling at each other out in the newsroom. It also helps that Don and Sloan are much funnier characters, seem like more whole realisations of people and have a more realistic dynamic between them. Perhaps this is because they both started off as minor, almost adversary characters, whose roles have grown as the actors have shown what they are capable of, not thrust into preset coordinates form the get go.

Episode five was pretty joggy, mostly because of the real time aspect, and there were subplots that didn't have much weight to them mostly because the characters couldn't be involved all of the time. Some, like the young gay kid wanting to out himself on TV, might have carried an entire episode's subplot. So too could have Reese's grilling of Sloan on the origins of the pictures. The episode though was focused on the emotional effects of what just pops into your lap sometime, like the twitter stuff just being there and being an element of the day. So Sloan got to have an hour of introspection, before moving onto rage. And Mac got to think she can apply logic to human emotion. Will's father's death is a major moment, and I hope we see some lingering effect of his passing in the episodes to come. Having a shit father is rather like killing a child, it's an easy pass. And a favourite of Sorkin's, with Bartlett having an abusive father too. It will be interesting to see how Will deals with it.

Meanwhile, Patton Oswalt watch enters it's fifth week. If you've seen him or have any information concerning his whereabouts, please let us know; his viewers miss him and want him home.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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