The Newsroom: 2.05 - News Night With Will McAvoy
Thanks to last minute rewrites and reshoots, we only get nine episodes in The Newsroom season two, which means this fifth episode sits exactly in the middle of the whole set. Perhaps aptly, then, News Night With Will McAvoy ends up as a stock-take, a muted, sombre look at where the characters are, as the Genoa story keeps threatening to tip over in the background.
Does that make it a masterful interlude, or tepid filler? Let's find out. Spoilers etc.
MAKE NEWS, NOT SOAPSHappily, this one really works. Definitely the best season two episode so far, arguably the best of the whole show. It's a pleasing vindication for those of us who thought this could become a good show if Sorkin just stepped it up a notch, added in subtlety and tension and played down the preachy attempts to show us how the news should have been done. On the other hand, it does make it slightly more frustrating that he hadn't been doing this in the fourteen episodes beforehand, who knows if he'll manage it for the four episodes left this season?
The main ingredient for pumping up the excitement is a "real-time" element - this one-hour episode of The Newsroom takes place entirely within a single broadcast of News Night, the show-within-a-show we've been watching for two years. It's always been the case that the most exciting Newsroom scenes have been the parts involving the actual show, rather than getting bogged down in the cast's personal lives, and this proves that hypothesis nicely. Sorkin doesn't forget the ongoing character storylines at all - in fact, they're still the focus of most of it, the news barely even matters - but he weaves them in to the ongoing drama of producing the show itself.
It's an impressive demonstration of how even long-derided storylines like the Maggie/Jim tension don't have to be awful, they just needed to be presented more interestingly, in a way that doesn't make the characters look like idiots. And yes, my long-held soft-spot for Sloan and Don meant I greatly enjoyed their storyline, even if it did take me a few scenes to work out what was happening with Don's part. I'm not complaining, though - I'd much rather see the show move quickly and expect us to keep up, not get bogged down explaining every little thing.
The Maggie's Hair Time MachineThe most memorable storyline: Will finding out about his father's death. It's played beautifully by Jeff Daniels, forced to do a lot of acting with expressions alone, as he tries to carry on with the news broadcast. To get the full impact of this, it's useful to remember his history defending his siblings from his father's drunken rage (helpfully mentioned in the starting recap), but either way, it's well done, including his attempts at deflection on Twitter. Meanwhile, Mac has to both manage Will's crisis and look after an attention-seeking guest, giving Emily Mortimer an always-welcome chance to look hyper-competent. You've got to admire the sheer volume of storylines in this one, too.
The Genoa storyline doesn't advance hugely, but Charlie's small storyline with his intelligence contact is very well written. In terms of whole-season structure, I'd like to see that move on soon. Since we already know it's going to be a disaster, we may as well jump to the exciting part, surely? But then again, if the episodes on the way continue to be this good, I'll probably be okay. Oh, and slight timeline confusion with Maggie suddenly going blonde again - this episode is set before she cuts her hair, I suppose, but it's an odd choice. How many timelines are operating in this season now?
Still, this is one of my favourite The Newsroom episodes yet, and there's still four episodes left to do the whole-season stuff. Fans of old Sorkin work Sports Night might enjoy this especially - this really felt like one of the better episodes of that. Genuinely excited to see how season two finishes up. (Please don't fall apart now.)