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Well, we're about 1.5 out of 3, friends. This week's episode wasn't quite the sexist, self-indulgent mess of last week's spectacular misfire, but it still has a ways to go to avoid its status as a collection of Sorkin's bad habits.
Maybe this episode is best seen as a collection of shout-outs to other film and tv tropes, including an awesome M*A*S*H shoutout as Will excoriates a shameful moment of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in which he invokes Corporal Klinger, and a mish-mash Jerry Maguire/Spartacus moment on the Romney campaign bus as Jim tries to rally his fellow reporters to demand answers from the candidate. It doesn't work out well for Jim, however, as he and Hallie (who he keeps calling Maggie, oops) and Stillman (the big and scruffy guy with the porn-stache) get tossed to the side of the road, as Romney's folks have had quite enough of him. Heh. Whoops.
Sorkin's continual question with this series--and this echoes this sentiment from season one louder than either of the past two episodes--is "Does journalism matter--and if so, why isn't it working in America?" Going by last night's episode, the answer seems to be that reporters have lost the nerve to nag efficiently. That may be a little bit glib on my part, but Sorkin is also ignoring the big question: journalism in America is failing because of money and the death of local news. It's happening in every single market, and it's the big story here, and Sorkin's just choosing to assign a different reason to the collapse of idealistic journalism. It makes him look kind of myopic and stupid, frankly. We have five characters in this episode--Will, Neal, Jim, Jerry and Sloan--who all seem to want to walk the line between being journalists and being popular. And it's tiresome. We did this last year.
Neal is back on the Occupy Wall Street beat, and Mac keeps downplaying the story because it's not easy to put it into a digestible box for the audience, i.e talking points. And this is ridiculous, because Will's dressing-down of DADT mere moments before is all about how Republicans boil issues down to talking points and forget about human beings. Anyway, Neal wins the argument by pointing out that Mac has expensive shoes. It's just on the edge of misogyny, but it's far from the worst thing that happens to women in this episode.
We meet Sloan's EP, Zane, who is another boorish man who underestimates her. There's a fight between him and Don about her with her in the room, saying next to nothing. We also get Reese being the maniacal villain again by leaking info to Nina Howard about Will's non-flu on 9/11, and Jim keeps pushing for his thirty minutes with Romney, and there's a lot of talk about Will's voice message to Mac, which Reese intercepted and Nina heard (such a soap opera), and we have firm confirmation that Will never stopped loving Mac. Duh. Also, he asks Nina out. We'll get to that in a second.
The episode's title comes from a code for "White Phosphorus," a gas that was supposed to be used in a strike on a target in Pakistan that somehow got mixed up with sarin instead. This is meant to be a big shock, but we've seen this story coming based on the construction of the season as a flashback; the big shock is Will wining, dining, and asking Nina out. And the less-big shock is that Nina is totally into it, despite the fact that Will insults her integrity, her worth as a journalist, and has professed his love for another woman. Sorkin seems to think women are creatures bereft of any form of self-actualization.
I'm pretty sure this will all explode by Mac finding out Will's in love with her, and finding out about Nina, maybe in that order. And there will probably be alcohol or drugs, because no one in this show tells the truth unless they think there's no consequences or they're under the influence. And then we'll get a drunken hookup or something. I mean, it's a pretty straightforward dramatic cliche, and this show, thus far this season, has no allergy towards those.
I think the biggest irony here is that Nina is somehow the closest thing this show has to a real journalist. She doesn't care about being popular or well-liked, she follows a story, she makes sure her sources are backed up, and she's all about public accountability--albeit for celebrities instead of politicians. And then Will tosses her a mimosa and she turns into a doe-eyed girl who just wants to date our show's star.
But the biggest affront to women comes in the form of Maggie, whose sole plotline this week concerns vaccinations and medications for her trip to Uganda, which may cause her to freak out and act like a flighty little girl. I want us all to close our eyes, and swap the genders of some of our characters, and think long and hard if these plotlines would fly under such circumstances.
I'm still in for the rest of this season; there's enough wit and good acting to keep me going. But it's hard to not point out some of the glaring flaws we've been asked to ignore.