This review contains spoilers.
2.2 The Genoa Tip
‘Do you ever think Will might just be a douchebag?’
This week’s quote is a pretty loaded question, and one that may have met with giggles from The Newsroom‘s less favourable critics. After opening the season on a foreboding note, the framing device of the deposition room gives way to a more sprawling narrative in this second episode.
Considering that we already know that the titular Genoa tip is going to play a big part in the season arc, it seems to play in the background of a very busy episode. But despite some very nice character development in this week’s instalment, we also find the show falling back into some bad habits.
At the top of the episode, we find that Will is still reeling from Charlie’s decision to take him off the 9/11 anniversary coverage, and even sinks so far as to vanity-search for his own hate sites. Sites titled “I Fucking Hate Will McADouche” don’t do anything to improve his mood, and he can’t get excited about the stories that play right into News Night’s remit of truthiness.
Troy Davis is about to be executed, despite considerable doubts about the witness testimony that led to his original sentencing. Terrorist leader and US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is targeted and assassinated in a drone strike. Operation Wall Street continues to make noises around New York City. Even if Will is having none of it, we find other members of the News Night team pursuing these different stories, each trailing their own baggage.
Having broken up with Maggie in last week’s season opener, Don has a hitherto unmentioned passion about Davis’ case. Maggie is dealing with things much, much worse than Don, but we’ll get to her. Mac and Charlie are lobbying for Will to cover the drone strike, to get him and the show back on track. And Neal, as the only team member who uses the internet, is still on the OWS beat.
Jim is utterly bored on the Mitt Romney campaign trail, despite having won his battle with a zealous aide called Cameron, and actually boarding the bus to do his job. And Neal is still on the case of Occupy Wall Street, even as the ever-professional Mac takes the piss out of his pitch in front of the entire team.
We’ll address each of these one at a time, starting with the story around which the episode mainly revolves. While it makes for some much-needed development for a post-Maggie Don, and Thomas Sadowski throws his all into his idealistic clashes with Will and Charlie, the treatment of the Troy Davis case errs a little close to last season’s Gabrielle Giffords debacle.
At the end of the episode, the question of whether or not Davis’ death was a miscarriage of justice is ultimately ranked as less important than the fictional Don’s attachment to the case – Sorkin’s habit of using real events to fuel character melodrama is something that we had hoped the show would outgrow before the second season.
Maggie’s sub-plot in this episode has more than its share of lowlights too. She’s the most consistently maligned character in the show, as one of Sorkin’s least capable female characters, in a show that manages to make a sexist slip-up or twelve each week. In short, Maggie’s moving back into her best friend’s apartment after Don broke up with her, but by the end, she’s ready for the ill-fated trip to Africa that was foreshadowed in last week’s episode. This development takes one truly awful scene, and one pretty excellent scene, in fairly short order.
The awful scene follows up on last week’s YouTube contrivance – there is an online video of Maggie declaring that she loves her best friend’s boyfriend, Jim. Don saw it and dumped her – the best friend, Lisa, hasn’t seen it yet. Using some social media detective work, Maggie tracks down the uploader to a laundrette, and goes to beg her to take it down, with Sloan acting as moral support.
This scene is cringe-inducing in its condescension, from Maggie’s undignified pleas, to the culprit herself – a blogger who writes Sex & The City fan fiction, and comes freshly microwaved from Sorkin’s ready-meal “stupid person” character type. It’s excruciating to watch, and if you weren’t put off by the YouTube sub-plot in last week’s episode, it’s truly buried by the end of this scene.
On the plus side, there’s also a pretty excellent scene. Maggie and Sloan’s stunt only prompted the blogger to write about the video, rather than take it down, and Lisa has seen it by the time Maggie arrives at her apartment.
Kelen Coleman was generally one of the more reliable supporting players in the first season, and Lisa spent more than enough time making sure that she wasn’t hurting Maggie’s feelings. She nails their righteous falling-out, curtly making it clear to Maggie that their friendship is over, before texting Jim with the video link for a clean, contact-less break-up. Sorkin’s dialogue is far better when it’s sharp and pointy, than when it’s speechifying, and this scene really stands out.
But one scene can’t make up for a fairly crappy episode for Maggie. She’s pitching to go to Africa for a story, even before this point, but can’t think of a pitch that’s good enough for Mac. She spends most of the time asking men for help to find something “relevant” about Africa, before finally (somehow) getting the green-light. We know that the path ahead won’t be happy for Maggie, but given how Sorkin has treated her character thus far, can it get much worse?
Elsewhere, Occupy Wall Street is the spur that finally gets Will out of his funk. Neal gets arrested while covering a protest, and Will finally decides to go and shout at someone – specifically, a desk cop – and uses said shouting powers (and his experience as a lawyer) to have Neal’s arrest declared void. This probably shouldn’t work, but Jeff Daniels rants far better than he wallows.
Because when he wallows, we’re treated to an inexplicable scene where two guys sit around in the control room watching back footage of Will’s first show as an anchor on ACN, just to show how damn good he can be. If it took you more than three guesses to get that he happened to sit in the anchor’s chair for the first time on September 11th 2001, you don’t know this show well enough.
Oh right, I almost forgot about Genoa. As this arc is developing, it looks like the news team is set to get itself in big trouble over their tendency to bring their own baggage to a story. But it’s stand-in producer Jerry who’s chasing Genoa, a black-op in which the US army used nerve gas on civilians during an extraction. We already know that this one is fictional both in real-life (in contrast to the real news stories in this episode) and in-universe, and it’s just a matter of watching that unfold.
As much as we complain about the slapstick comedy in this show, The Genoa Tip feels like a real slog without it, and instead plays like a reel of the first season’s even worse impulses. Will is wallowing, Maggie is barely a character at all, and real events are thrown after cloying sentimental moments, rather than affecting drama. There are a couple of memorable scenes, as usual, but with all of this stuff going on, how on Earth did this episode turn out so dull?
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