The Newsroom Watch: Episode 8, The Blackout, Part 1: Tragedy Porn
Last night's episode delivered on so many levels. And hey, welcome to the big dance, MacKenzie. I really like you so much more when you're portrayed as an actual thinking, super-competent person as in this episode, instead of a little girl who gets pen on her face. Sorkin and his team showed up for the party last night, as we hit the beginning of the endgame for Season 1.
THE SHORT VERSION:We're in the middle of a ratings plummet, as Mac and Will have decided to not cover the Casey Anthony trial and are now getting spanked by Nancy Grace and everyone else on a nightly basis. Reese intervenes and tells them they have to cover the trial. Will is willing to do whatever it takes to bounce back, because he's courting the GOP with a mock debate format in hopes of getting the real thing later on. Mac is aghast, and makes a really dark snuff film reference (reused, word for word, from the premiere of Studio 60). Meanwhile, journalist Bryan Brenner (played by the great Paul Schneider!) to write a New York Magazine piece on the rebooted NewsNight. Here's the thing: Will and Bryan don't like each other. Here's the other thing: Bryan and Mac have a past. Here's the other-other thing: Bryan and Mac dated before Mac and Will, Mac sort of cheated on Bryan with Will, and definitely cheated on Will with Bryan, ending their relationship. Uh. Oops.
Mac cuts 22 minutes of stories to wedge in the trial coverage, and Don is brought in as the "master of the dark arts" of this sort of thing, and gives a series of lessons in how cheap journalism works by dissecting video of Nancy Grace. It's actually really cool, and will make me watch CNN differently. See, this is how I like my entertainment; I was one of those kids who dipped his french fries in his frosty, and this has that feeling. Also, I loved that this gave Don a real reason to be in the room this episode; it usually feels a little forced, given he's the EP of 10pm now, and they have to invent reasons to pull him back. Not so here. It worked. And I'll never forget the lesson of how "tragedy porn" manipulates us. It's a great 4-minute sequence that is worth the price of admission alone.
Charlie meets his contact who tipped off the Bin Laden story, and it's a high-ranking NSA information technology official who has word that the government has billions and billions of hours of illegal wiretapping and surveillance on its citizens--and that ACN, Rupert Murdock-style, is also to blame. Leona doesn't know about this, but Reese definitely does, and Charlie back-pockets the information for later usage. It's going to be awesome when he throws this down. Charlie's contact wants him to break the story about the NSA, and in return will protect him and his team from the Lansings' wrath. The whole scene, it's worth noting, is shot in the NY Public Library (or a reasonable facsimile), and is gorgeous and stately. It's a neat contrast to the constant electronic sheen of the studio--just millions of books and wood as a setting for a huge bomb-dropper of a scene.
Charlie then has a tense, awesome scene with Leona on the streets of New York, where they threaten each other while making nice.
Those are the big beats--in little beats, Will pays a rude surprise visit to his therapist, and gets called out for looking at life as something you have to survive instead of live. His therapist tells him he needs to forgive Mac, and he's keeping Bryan Brenner around as a way of proving he's tough enough for anything, which is stupid. Neal pitches an internet trolling undercover assignment, and Jim goes to work on some TMI counterprogramming. Oh, and then one of Anthony Weiner's flirtations shows up for a spot on the show, and Mac's going to be sick, and they spend some time prepping the idiot, and it's just about to happen when Mac says a prayer to God for a sign this is wrong...
And the power goes out. To be continued.
THOUGHTS: I loved this episode. Loved it. I've ragged on this show at times, but this week was everything I hoped for when HBO announced the development of this show over a year ago. Just beautiful writing, tightly put together, with a wonderful team on every front.
Also of note--the Jim-Maggie-Don thing was absent this week, and the show improved because of it. It looks to be back next week, and we'll see how that goes.
I'm amped to see the final transformation of Will McAvoy in the next two weeks; he's become a fascinating lead, intensely competent and incredibly self-loathing, and I want to see where this goes.
See you in seven, friends, for part two. Have a great week.
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