The Newsroom Watch: Episode 6, Bullies

We take a backseat from the broad themes of the show this week and don't even touch on the Will-versus-Leona plot. Instead, we get a character piece about Will, with some wonderful little deconstructive bits. Sorkin does this occasionally, with an entire episode dedicated to the inner workings of a single character. He's sort of perfected that trick with this go-round, and gives us a fascinating look inside Will while also moving a number of subplots forward.

So, THE SHORT VERSION: It's another flashback episode, framed around Will entering therapy (he's had a standing appointment paid for every week for years that he doesn't use) to treat a bout of insomnia. He goes to his therapist--with a bodyguard, and we'll get to that--and finds out that, in the four years since he last showed up, his therapist has died and his practice has been picked up by his son. Will's new bodyguard, Lonny, is a result of a death threat posted to the "News Night" site after Will goes nuclear (bad pun, we'll get to that in a minute) on a woman who likens a mosque built near ground zero to a terrorist attack. Will cites that Christians have been responsible for far more terrorist acts on Americans than Muslims, and then there's a threatening message and AWN's insurance division flips out a little bit. So, we get Lonny, who is a nice change in both his strong silence and dry wit.

Meanwhile, Sloan has been bumped, temporarily, from her comfort zone of financial expert to cover Elliot's 10pm slot at the last minute. Her tenure as a news anchor is a little bit rocky, though; it's April 2011, and the earthquake in Japan has led to a continual worry about the level of fallout of a reactor. Sloan has an in-depth private conversation in Japanese with a contact at the reactor, which reveals that things are worse than the Japanese are letting on. This explodes violently on-air, when, in interviewing the contact with a translator, Sloan realizes she's being lied to and goes a little rogue, taking off her earpiece and removing Don from the conversation (his freakout is fun to watch) and getting pretty dogged to her contact in Japanese before revealing the off-air conversation to the world and screwing up all sorts of tenets of journalistic integrity. Oops. Charlie takes her to task, and she stands up to him in a moment of conversational brilliance that made me want to hug both Sam Waterston and Olivia Munn. It's a neat moment.

Oh, and in digging up some of Will's skeletons, we also find out that Maggie, when she was Will's assistant. sent some flowers to a grieving friend of Will's with the signature line of "So Sorry for your Loss LOL," assuming LOL meant lots of love, and got berated for it. How is she not fired?

There's also an ongoing conversation driven by Mac about risk assessment, and finding dirt on Will as a means of limiting TMI's ability to hurt him. It's not a great subplot and it ends up with her uncovering a bid Fox made to steal Will away years ago, and that he never intended to marry her. Will flips this around by showing her the engagement ring he'd bought for her, which shuts her up. The thing is--the ring was purchased two weeks ago by his agent, as a means of shutting down this whole argument. It's uncharacteristically cruel, and he plans on returning the ring at some point. We get a whole bunch of insight here via Will's therapy, and find that his dad was an abusive alcoholic and he, in fifth grade, defended his family by breaking a bottle of scotch over his father's head. This whole subplot turns around again when he rips up the receipt for the ring, saving it for some future occasion (awwwwww...)

And then we get to the real massive flaw of Will McAvoy, which is something to see. A senior aid to GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is booked; Santorum is famous for his controversial stance on race (google it) and incendiary remarks on homosexuality (google it, but not at work, it's naughty, and it's Dan Savage's fault). Santorum's aid is both gay and black, and Will proceeds to lash into him for an uncomfortable five minutes about his working for what he sees as a bigot. The staffer steps up and calmly asserts his agreement with Santorum's pro-life agenda, and Will gets nasty and bullies the poor guy into almost quivering--and then, he fights back, puts Will in his place, and asserts that his beliefs are more than his skin color and sexual orientation, and Will's continual implication that those two factors keep him from aligning with Santorum are the worst kind of bigotry.

It's a how-dare-you moment that is the best kind of tv; it's uncomfortable, it's riveting, and it reveals a lot about Will. This isn't a "Rudy" moment like last week; the lion of our show reveals his soft underbelly and Jeff Daniels acts the hell out of it. And. as he tells his therapist about it, the tension drains, he gets a prescription for some ambien, and we move on to next week.

In tidy subplot cleanup: Sloan and Charlie make up when she takes the fall a little bit to save her contact's job in Japan, in exchange for the truth about the reactor damage being revealed, and Don realizes that he's losing Maggie to Jim, and intends to fight for her.

THOUGHTS: Okay, first, Sorkin has a problem with writing women. Mac's biggest character traits thus far are getting pen on her face and gum in her hair, and Sloan's mistakes this episode are rookie ones. Couple that with the LOL bit with Maggie and we're beyond the growing pains of competent people in unfamiliar situations; we're in a place, instead, where smart people are made to act like idiots to move a plot along, and that's not fair to the characters or us.

I'm willing to forgive it, though, if we get writing as beautiful and telling as found in this episode; Will and his therapist echoes a bunch of Sorkin's best moments (he had a similar episode with Josh in season two of The West Wing) and it's just gorgeous. And the way Will is laid low in the Santorum interview is shocking and perfect. We learn a lot about all involved parties in a very short time.

I'll be back next week, as we enter the third act of this season and the big fight of Will versus Leona--and News Night v. TMI--gears up. See you in seven.