Every one of Sorkin's previous shows have attempted a near-real-time, in-depth look at a featured character. Sometimes it works (The West Wing) and sometimes it really falls flat (the Matthew Perry drug awareness episode of Studio 60). Last night it was The Newsroom's turn, and for the most part, it succeeded admirably.
Despite the superheroic altruism we're supposed to love about Will, the clues have been placed throughout the last two years that he's profoundly broken. We've gotten hints of his youth in Nebraska, and his abusive father; what we didn't know is that his dad is still alive, and he learns at the top of the show that he's been hospitalized for a heart attack. He growls indifference, but Mac wants him to get in touch before it's too late.
Meanwhile, Neal proves he's the only team member who acknowledges the existence of the internet, and learns that a guest booked to discuss the case of Tyler Clementi (the Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate outed him) is planning on coming out to his parents on the air. Mac finds the guest and gives him an earful about cautionary tales of family and acceptance; it's an interesting parallel. Will's shown a marked, almost pathological need to be loved by his audience and his coworkers, even when his behavior doesn't warrant it. It's clearly a father issue side effect. We're meant to draw the thread between the guest and Will here, and it works.
And of course, that's what happens--Will calls his father back and learns he's died. He'll never get the approval he's craved. Will demands love from the audience because his dad never provided it. And we see Will lose his composure for perhaps the first time. He ends the episode bleary-eyed, and flubs his cue. Then he looks at the camera: "Well, I guess it's just us now." Is he talking about his siblings, now that their parents are gone? His team, now that the audience is not a concern? It's an incredibly sad and true moment about what happens when we're left alone and can't quite be ourselves, even then.
Other stuff at play this episode: Sloan gets naked pics of herself thrown online by an ex (this actually happened last year to Alison Pill, who plays Maggie, btw) and Reese loses it. Sloan goes off the air voluntarily, and this leads to a moment of conversational intimacy with Don. We know what's going to happen there.
Speaking of Don, he becomes embroiled in trying to clear a candidate's name from connections to a fictional Muslim group. A bottom-barrel website reports the connection, and when Don calls the editor to refute the claim, he refuses to remove the story. Mac has a moment with two prank callers who are pretending to be a man trapped in a building in Turkey and his wife in New York. All of this, of course, foreshadows what might happen with Genoa: fiction and the news are becoming intertwined, and it's only a matter of time before Jerry makes a false move and something terrible happens. Jerry's back in DC, and still chasing the story. Charlie gets a visit from a naval officer who provides yet more evidence; this is going to explode.
And then there's Jim and Maggie. Jim and Hallie are still hooking up and Maggie is clearly a mess after Uganda (PS--when, exactly, did the radical haircut happen? We're back to blonde this week). She's got the beginnings of an alcohol problem, and living with Lisa doesn't help. She mis-edits George Zimmerman's call to 911, and it's a sure sign that her life is taking its toll on her journalistic integrity. It's an interesting parallel to Will; I'm hoping that somehow, these two characters can find some strength in each other, which would provide character development and growth.
I know I've ragged on the show this season, but nights like this prove why Sorkin deserves the cred he's been given in the past; another few episodes like this, and my complaints might just be forgotten. What did you think?