“The Newsroom” episode 9 recap: Tea (Party) for 2(.0)

MacKenzie McHale, executive producer of News Night dealing with a blackout that has shut down power to the Atlantis Cable News studios, drops this week’s Capra Moment™ early to muster the troops for a remote broadcast. They have been battered and grumbly in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom because so-called News Night 2.0 has been compromising its 2.0ness because news consumers have been demanding Casey Anthony murder trial coverage even though Tea Party suicide bombers are playing chicken with the U.S. debt ceiling. But the blackout can bring them all together, McHale says, because they are plucky professionals with skills.

“I say the power going out is the best thing that ever happened to us!” McHale announces. “I say the power going out is—”

The power comes back on. “— son of a bitch!”

Nobody saw that coming. McHale (Emily Mortimer) can be forgiven some agita after singlehandedly jumpstarting the career of anchorhack Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and canonizing him in spite of routinely being subjected to psychological abuse at his hands because she cheated on him years ago with her ex, Brian. On top of that, aforementioned compromising-of-her-vision has been undertaken to bolster ratings and win a Republican primary debate to be the testing ground Will McAvoy’s bold new Debate 2.0 concept, and her agita has been heightened by the absolutely wrong twist of McAvoy handpicking Brian, a struggling print-journalist, to do a feature story on News Night 2.0, thus seeing him hang out in the Newsroom playing butt-hurt Greek chorus.

The Newsroom has floated some semi-intriguing plot-threads in the last couple episodes, but you’d be hard-pressed to keep track amid tangents into McHale’s masochism, McAvoy’s facile self-examinations, and the endless who-gives-a-sh-t wrinkles of Sorkin Archetypes 3, 4 and 5 — respectively, Proficient But Socially Awkward Earnest Guy, Flustered But Gives-110% Female Wonk and D-Baggish Pro Who Nevertheless Has Your Back When the Chips Are Down. Now Sorkin has conspired to soil the one believable, balanced adult human being he has written into this show, SA4’s roommate and briefly SA3’s girlfriend, Lisa. Lisa, it turns out superconveniently, went to high school with Casey Anthony and, like it or not, News Night needs a new perspective on the babykiller opus. She’s avoided TV because, in a bird-flip to Nancy Grace, “I can’t provide insight and I can’t stand people who think they can.”

SA4 entreats her, to wrongly swelling music, that if they can just get through this trial and bolster ratings, it will get them to Debate 2.0, which is “important” and “a good thing, for everyone.” She accedes, then, before SA4 leaves, he asks her out again. She resists because she knows SA3 and SA4 dig each other, though SA4 remains relationship-bound to SA5. Lisa, beating a pulpy horse’s corpse, sees that relationship fraying and considers SA3 “on deck” for SA4.

Back at the Newsroom, McAvoy is keeping a bouquet of flowers sent to SA5 by…a woman who is not SA4. SA3 signed for them and, honorably, hid them in McAvoy’s office for discretion’s sake.

SA4 and MacKenzie cleverly feed Lisa a cribsheet for her on-air segment that puts a twist on it as she admits her unfitness to discuss the trial but points out the thousands of abused and murdered children that don’t get wall-to-wall media coverage because there mother is not a pretty white girl.

All this is for the brass ring: Debate 2.0, the bold concept wherein McAvoy will ask GOP presidential candidates about stuff they have said and to back it up, versus standard moderator procedure of letting them recite passages of Newspeak from their campaign websites. The staff auditions a mock-debate for RNC operatives, earnest principled Republican and McAvoy-chum Adam Arkin and Smarmy Control-Freak Republican Archetype. How The Newsroom’s skunkworks of purehearted brainiacs could not have seen coming what comes next beggars reality.

SCFRA shuts it down, insisting the candidates will never stand for being fact-checked by actual metrics. Adam Arkin, exhibiting the moderate clarity of no Republican living, suggests it would help “clean out the clown car” and cull candidates compromised by idiocy. But SCFRA will only give ACN the debate if they adhere to a strictly-credulous-memorized-press-release format and keep McHale off the project.

“I want the old Will McAvoy,” SCFRA says, “not that thing she turned you into.”

McAvoy tells him to blow. SCFRA sneeringly suggests News Night is not the only ACN team and offers the debate to SA5, producer of the 10pm hour, who responds, “Eat me.”

PFA then offers it to Sloan (Olivia Munn), up-and-coming business news hotshot, who says, “F— you.” Munn’s deficiencies aside, she does this well.

Hard not to enjoy the pithiness of this exchange, particularly if you are in The Newsroom’s audience, as that likely means you are not a Republican.

McAvoy, postponing McHale’s psychotic break, bails on the Anthony coverage to take on Sloan’s story about Tea Party lunatics about to crash the world economy. McHale for no discernable reason then reminds SA3 to gather rosebuds while he may. He visits SA4 and Lisa’s house later, there about to say something, but Lisa assumes it to be a resumption of woo, smooches him and they go out.

“Nice ending, don’t you think?” SA4 says. “He had a whole speech he didn’t get to use.”

Sorkin characters should say this way more often. SA5 decides to come clean about his other girlfriend realizing SA3 may have, in fact, come over to spill about the flowers as a way to step into the on-deck circle. Could that be his rosebud-gathering?

Here’s where I would normally say I still (violently) don’t care. But here’s what we all see coming: Sorkin will not stop until he milks the cutesy furtive looks between SA3 and 4 into a full-on romcom pukefest and, naturally, Lisa, made human as mere afterthought, will get the short end of it.

My pre-emptive admonishment to Sorkin sounds much like Sloan’s to the Republican guy.

The season finale of The Newsroom airs Sunday night at 10/9CT on HBO. Catch a sneak peek below:

 

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