If this show were a ten-hour movie, this would be the montage sequence, as we jump forward six months with a series of good, sometimes breathtaking short scenes, culminating on Election Night 2010. The whole thing is framed around a flashforward/flashback framing sequence as Charlie has to answer to the financial powers that be for Will's new choice to tell the news instead of driving the ratings...and we finally, finally get a taste of what Jane Fonda's Leona Lansing really can do, as all sorts of stories move forward during the jolting, brilliant time jumping.
I didn't see this much of a time-skip coming, but it really opens the show up. Let's jump in.
THE SHORT VERSION: We’re all about the emergence of the Tea Party this week, as Will McAvoy and his team attempt to shed some light on the big-business moneyed roots of the “aw shucks” next-door image of the movement in its infancy. The episode bounces forward a total of six months, from early May all the way to November, framed within a sequence of Charlie answering to Leona and Reese (the finance guy from last week) about the show’s falling ratings and responsibilities to its advertisers.
As the months pass, Will lures in various guests and flattens them with a combination of sterling rhetoric and damning facts, and it’s a spectacular little montage at the center of the episode. Will, however, digs a little too deep and uncovers the Koch brothers, who are not only the funding stream of the Tea Party but are good friends of network owner Leona Lansing and major advertisers. About a full third of the episode is Charlie being raked over the coals, while he sits there almost blissfully letting it roll off him, as if there’s no consequence to the meeting. It’s a little confusing, because we’re clearly supposed to feel the stakes of this meeting, but we don’t until the end. We’ll get to that.
On the Mac and Will front, Mac gets all emotional due to Will having a string of hot dates meet him in the newsroom; she counters by entering into a three-month relationship, revealed at the end when the boyfriend kind of makes an ass of himself in front of Will. Jim makes a move on Maggie, who continues her on and off thing with Don, and Jim slinks away. And Neal and Jim are clearly beginning a bromance, as we see them bouncing off each other a lot as the months progress. Of note with Maggie—we see that she’s got a medicated anxiety issue, with her roommates’ friends stealing her xanax. In the middle of a panic attack, Jim talks her down, while Don goes AWOL. We know how this is going to end, folks.
The flashforwards end with a private conversation between Leona and Charlie, as Reese (who we learn is a: a jerk, b: Leona’s son and heir apparent, and c: the president of the network) ducks out and Leona makes her case clear to Charlie: Will needs to shape up, throw in some human interest stories, and soften his stance, or Leona will definitely fire him. Charlie acts surprised. We end on the night before, election night, as the gang goes out for a drink, unaware that the whole game is about to change.
THE ANALYSIS: Well, we get a whole bunch of time passing, which is good. I don’t think I want to see ten episodes of a neophyte newsroom working on gelling, and neither does Sorkin. With this episode, we get a more mature News Night, with relationships essayed in shorthand. The bizarre thing is that, in six months of working together, many of the broad strokes stay the same—Will and Mac and Jim and Maggie are frozen, exactly where they are at the top of episode two.
Also, I’m worried about one thing—Sorkin’s ability to write women. This episode is strong, and it works because of the uncomfortable fact that it’s driven by Will and Charlie, with Leona as a foil. Leona’s a fun, angry tigress of an antagonist, and Jane Fonda has a great time playing a twisted version of her ex-husband Ted Turner (or maybe I’m just assuming, there…). But our protagonists—Maggie, Mac, and Sloan—don’t get a lot to do, other than panic, respond badly to an ex’s dating tendencies, and provide some exposition, respectively.
These are supposed to be amazingly talented newspeople who happen to be female; let’s see some gender equity in these plots, gang. And then, maybe I’ll quiet down on this issue.
So, what did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts—and I’ll see you next week, as we move into episode 4…
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