The Newsroom Watch: Episode 9, The Blackout, Part 2: Mock Debate

I’m conflicted, readers. I dearly love this show, moment to moment. But in standing by the fridge, reaching for a refreshing beverage half an hour later, I find myself pulling at threads and seeing some things unravel. We’re going to get to that.

We open right after last episode ended, with a blackout hitting the studio (and New York!), putting the kibosh on interviewing vapid Sandy, who swapped illicit tweets with Anthony Weiner. Everyone panics for a second, and then Mac takes control, and makes it clear this is a sign from God that it’s time to report the news again instead of sensationalism. The team preps an impromptu plan to move the broadcast to Times Square, in a reaffirmation of being the pulse of New York. Mac is ecstatic and full of passion and energy as she rallies the staffers…and then the power comes on, five minutes after it went off, and everything returns to normal, and Sandy gets her interview. Oh well.

Anyway, we discover that Maggie's roommate Lisa (Jim’s ex now!) went to high school with Casey Anthony, so Maggie and Jim go to her job and beg her to be on the show. She relents, and ends up working with the team to give statistics on other neglected and murdered children instead of dishy gossip. It’s a fine moment for journalism…until she goes rogue on an odd pro-choice rant. And then, someone vandalizes her place of work after tracking her down. And she maybe loses her job. Oops.

Meanwhile, the prototype for the Republican primary debate is put together and displayed to two members of the RNC, one an old friend of Will’s from his speechwriting days for Bush 41 (Adam Arkin!) and the other a younger and surlier guy. The debate ends up a little harder hitting than the surly guy would like, and the debate goes to CNN instead. We get a little moment at the end where we see the two guys watching Michele Bachman comment on liking both Elvis and Johnny Cash in a softball question, and it’s clear they made the wrong choice.

Sloane gives an impassioned argument for exactly how screwed up the debt ceiling debacle is, and gets her piece on air. Neal’s attempt to play troll on the internet and shake loose some news is fruitless, until Sloane gently implies he should fake a death threat towards her. That…is not going to end well.

Will sees his therapist, who once again lambasts him for his treatment of Mac. Mac nails Bryan Brenner to the wall for his jealousy of Will, after he says he “definitely” would have turned down the sensationalistic stories the show is covering this week. Mac makes it clear why Will is great: he understands that there is no “definitely” when it comes to hypotheticals. He understands the value of not knowing. It’s a neat moment and Bryan is definitely left looking like an idiot when she calls him on the carpet.

Will also has some sort of problem putting on pants, and falls down. It’s a running theme, and it sort of makes him look like an idiot. Oh, and Mac has another emotional outburst about her love life in the Newsroom, which is, once again, inappropriate.

Maggie and Jim almost get together, but then stay with Don and Lisa in a ridiculously convoluted bit of maneuvering. Charlie’s NSA contact has some serious credibility issues. And we end on a montage to Amy Winehouse’s menacing cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” where we find out that the death threats against Will are escalating, no one’s happy, and the future of News Night is uncertain.

SOME THOUGHTS: It’s the second to last episode of the season, gang! One left, and not a single scene with Reese or Leona. This didn’t feel like the ramp-up I wanted; it was sort of plump and stolid, quietly ticking through plotlines instead of actually accomplishing anything or making me want to cheer with bits of on-point societal commentary.

And here’s where the cracks are starting to show—this could’ve been, on relationships alone, an older Sorkin show. Tonight’s Mac and Will bits could’ve been Casey and Dana from Sports Night. Jim and Maggie felt like Josh and Donna from The West Wing (same with the death threat plotline). Tom was pulling dialogue from Matt on Studio 60. The only original thread, whole cloth, was Charlie and the NSA contact, and it’s barely touched upon.

The montage at the end was a red flag—an episode of Studio 60 ends with the SAME DAMN SONG, albeit by a different artist, with similar shots throughout. Sorkin’s doing more than playing with motifs from his old work—he’s ripping himself off. And I know he’s better than that.

Here’s to a rocking finale, gang. It’s going to need it to get this faint taste of pseudo-plagiarism out of my mouth. See you in seven.