We left off with Will declaring his commitment to Mackenzie’s content-driven programming with, “I’m in.” What he’s actually in, is trouble, and Charlie not Will is finding out just how much.
The episode begins with Will’s public apology for his own inability to provide the American voters with the news necessary for an informed electorate, a vital element of democracy. Ratings-driven content, he says, has damaged and resulted in great injustices and detriment to the American public. He continues with a history lesson, discussing what news was intended for, and the repercussions of not stipulating the barring by Congress of paid advertising during informational broadcasts. He explains that News Night and his staff are no longer in that business, and are joining the minority in the media that are concerned about content, and relevant facts, over marketability. To validate his decisions, Will confidently declares Mackenzie and himself as the media elite, adding that their credentials are readily available.
This week’s episode spans through the months of April to November in 2010. It tackles the emergence of the Tea party movement and its hijacking of the Republican party in the lead up to the 2010 midterm elections. Over the course of this period, Will interviews members of this movement running for Congress and sheds light on how radically conservative these candidates are on social issues. Finally, the ever-so-brilliant staff of News Night, through their pursuit of the money trail, uncover that this grassroots movement with seemingly no central control, has actually been funded and organized indirectly by the billionaire Koch brothers of Koch Industries. The episode ends with ACN’s coverage of the election, followed by Will and Charlie meeting Jimmy and a few of the staffers at their regular after-work karaoke bar. Charlie receives a text from Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), CEO of Atlantis News Media, the parent company of ACN, for a board meeting the next morning.
It is very hard to believe that any major media corporation would take over 6 months to come down on its news division for matters that conflict with their business, yet here we are. Charlie and his antithesis Reese, the numbers guy, who we now find out is president of the company as well as son of the CEO, have a back-and-forth about the effects of News Night’s programming over the past months. As we cut in and out of these intense, heated segments of Charlie staunchly defending the show, the previously silent observer, Leona, speaks up and acknowledges she has business before this Congress, and that she cannot afford to trifle with the Koch brothers. She orders Charlie to ensure that Will slowly start backing unless he wants him fired.
The Newsroom brought a lot to the table in this episode, which is jammed with historical references to McCarthy and Murrow, and with cast members who were present to experience their contributions. Jane Fonda was very convincing as a balanced corporate leader, which can be attributed more to Sorkin than to her screen presence. The conflict of her responsibility to her stakeholders versus her commitment to providing real news is represented well within the discussion between her and Charlie.
Mackenzie’s continued emotional ties to Will are untangled as Will starts inviting his dates to the office. The alpha female at the office is now a small fish in the big sea of young, vibrant and, in some cases, remarkably accomplished women. It’s hard to sympathize with Mackenzie, considering the details of her breakup with Will. The jealous and self-conscious attitudes seem like something you would expect more out of Maggie than Mack.
Maggie, as predicted, is still on and off with Don. We also learn more about her and Jimmy when she experiences a panic attack. Jimmy calms her down using techniques he came to learn in Afghanistan.
The contrast between Don and Jimmy is becoming more prominent. Don, it is now clear, is self absorbed and opportunistic, which explains his quick climb up the corporate ladder, while Jimmy demonstrates noble qualities and a multi-faceted skill set, which explains why he is personable to Mackenzie and Charlie. Until this episode, Don’s character has predominantly served as the roadblock to the coupling of Maggie and Jimmy, rather than as a producer on the network. Ironically, even when he’s doing his job as producer, and instructs his anchor Eliot to make more of a contribution to the discussion of the election coverage, Eliot retorts with an ultimatum for Don to get over his breakup, get back with Maggie or be fired. I am hoping Sorkin has plans for Don because he’s starting to become just as insignificant as Neal, Kendra and Gary.
It is increasingly evident that Sorkin has based the character of Will McAvoy on Keith Olbermann. The similarities are uncanny, and extend even to the early graduation of high school and college. Charlie also mentions that Will was previously a successful prosecutor with a 94% conviction rate with the New York District Attorney’s office, and there we see a dash of Eric Spitzer in this character. The comparison leads me to believe the fate of Will McAvoy and News Night will be much like Olbermann’s exit to a smaller network (that also happens to have Eric Spitzer) to do what he does best. However, this no-competition clause in Will’s contract that Leona points out puts a wrench in that wheel. This unpredictability was exactly what I needed to get excited for this show.