This review contains spoilers.
2.4 Unintended Consequences
“We are going to dispel, or dismiss, or expunge the notion that I am damaged.”
Marcia Gay Harden returns as ACN lawyer Rebecca Halliday in this fourth episode of The Newsroom‘s second season, as we go back to the deposition room flash-forward seen in the season premiere. It’s Maggie’s turn to testify, and with her newly cropped hair, we’re about to find out what happened to her in Africa.
Flashing back to the newsroom, as well as Maggie’s ordeal of the previous year, Neal’s Occupy Wall Street comes to a head, when the promised coverage of the movement turns into our lead anchor and all-around good egg Will McAvoy verbally demolishing Neal’s mate Shelly, to her face, live on television.
Unfortunately for substitute producer Jerry Dantana and the other Genoa reporters, Shelly has a crucial lead on that case that she’s now unwilling to give up, unless Will can muster an on-air apology. This feels like something of a contrivance, which inevitably culminates in Will explaining why Shelly is wrong, (down a shot when a man patronises a woman, and another shot because Will is the culprit.)
It’s not like Shelly doesn’t divulge enough for most experienced news-people to connect the dots. In a moment that’s lamp-shaded in its miraculous convenience, she mentions that one of the OWS members wrote a report about the US government using nerve gas for a non-governmental organisation, which was subsequently disbanded.
Do they then look into this NGO? Does Jerry contact any of his other sources, in pursuit of this hot new lead on Operation Genoa? Nope, it’s all conditional on Shelly deciding that she likes the news team again. It seemed like Shelly might be set up as a love interest for Neal, earlier in the season, but now her role is to be insulted by our heroes in quick succession- first Will, then both Sloan and Don, as they scramble to try and make up for their slight against her cause.
The Occupy storyline started out as a pulpit for Sorkin’s criticisms of the movement, and how it could have been better run if it had been run at all, and has continued to increase in volume. At least Will’s reason for his on-air drubbing of the cause, to consolidate his conservative position in the face of heavy criticism from the far-right press, is better than Mac’s quarrel about her shoes (down a shot for silly gender disparities).
So then, to Maggie, who steals the show this time around. As she tells Halliday, she pitched a story about Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, (quite a while before that viral YouTube video in March 2012; finish your drink for news-foresight) so she and office regular Gary head out to Africa, stopping off at an orphanage before heading off on their assignment.
There’s pathos aplenty to these scenes, most immediately when a class of schoolchildren run screaming for cover when Gary brings in his camera- they mistake it for a gun, and it turns out that attacks on the poor are not uncommon.
When the orphanage comes under attack by cattle-raiders with AK-47s, Maggie only just barely escapes, trying to carry a young boy named Daniel to safety on her back. Instead, he’s shot in the spine by a bullet that almost certainly would have killed Maggie, and he dies instantly – the other unintended consequence of the title.
The earlier scenes in which Maggie and Daniel bond over a storybook are Sorkin’s best for Maggie so far. That’s not saying a lot – Maggie has been reduced to less than a caricature in the previous three episodes – but it redoubles the effectiveness of her scenes in the deposition room, in which Halliday interrogates her to ensure that she won’t break down while recounting her story to a prosecutor.
As we find out exactly what happened to her in Uganda, the steely resolve with which Alison Pill plays it is far more effective than the trite visual indicator of her cropped hair, and the disappointingly simplistic explanation behind it – a tongue-in-cheek line from Daniel’s teacher about how blondes are trouble.
On the whole, the other great thing about this episode is that while we still don’t get any answers on Genoa, we do get some new questions on the subject. According to Halliday, the legal trouble that ACN has gotten into is “a multi-million-dollar wrongful termination lawsuit”- we’re told this in passing at the top of the episode, but Sorkin’s script is loaded with what seems like subtle foreshadowing. Who’s going to get fired as a result of this mess?
Probably not Will or Maggie, whose testimony we’ve already seen. Maybe Mac, who is on the receiving end from some jokes about Charlie about placing a job for her own ad when she can’t chase up Shelly? Maybe Charlie himself? He’ll ultimately have the responsibility of green-lighting the Genoa story.
It could even be Jim, whose departure has already been blamed for setting off the chain of events that led News Night to the Genoa tip- not to mention his behaviour on the Romney trail. This week, he’s forced to fend for himself after getting himself and two other bloggers kicked off the bus. He wilfully gives a thirty-minute interview with the candidate away to rival newswoman, Hallie, before rebounding from Maggie onto her in the closing moments of the episode. Genoa is not the only thing that might put his job on the line.
These are the kinds of questions that the Genoa storyline has failed to provoke so far. Up until now, it has seemed pretty clear-cut that things will turn out badly, but by finally getting the audience wondering about just how things go wrong, there’s that much more reason to tune in next week. This is the kind of thing that gets people watching the news.
This, combined with the uneven, but much improved development of Maggie, and the occasionally enjoyable drinking game, makes Unintended Consequences the best episode of the run so far. The script is better and the reliable cast’s performances are bolstered accordingly – hopefully, it all indicates an upward climb for the season from here on out.
Read Mark’s review of the previous episode, Willie Pete, here.
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