This review contains spoilers.
2.6 One Step Too Many
“We used sarin. […] Here’s how we used sarin.”
When we left Will McAvoy, he was reeling from hearing of the death of his father while his show was on the air. This episode picks up a little while later, and is notable for largely keeping Will apart from his usual support network at ACN.
They’re not blanking him, but as the team’s investigation into Operation Genoa picks up steam, it’s decided that Will should be the fresh eyes on the story before broadcast, if it gets that far. Producer Jerry Dantana returns to present the story so far to Don, Sloan and Jim, and scepticism abounds.
If you’ve just tuned in, Operation Genoa is the codename for the extraction of several US soldiers from Pakistan, in which the marines used sarin nerve gas on a small village. The existence of this highly classified operation has been highlighted by around one new source in every episode so far, including local tweets posted at the time of the attack, a crackpot military analyst and a dodgy mission manifest.
A new break comes with the discovery of General Stanislaus Stomtonovich, a Marine who knows the truth about Genoa. And that’s about it. In comparison to other episodes of this show, One Step Too Many isn’t nearly as busy with subplots and character development. The A-plot of the episode finally brings Genoa to the point of credibility.
In a comparatively low-key episode, the way is clear for guest star Stephen Root to make a big impression as Stomtonovich. He’s an unusual sort, sitting on his couch and chit-chatting about chemical warfare while watching a basketball game, and he’s one of the more enjoyable parts of the episode.
With Aaron Sorkin devoting less time to the complex relationship dynamics that have characterised the last few episodes, he uses the time to show us some character pairings that we haven’t often seen. Of these, the least successful is Jim and Neal’s double date, with Hallie and a mad Ron Paul supporter, respectively.
The dinner scenes, and the inclusion of Mitt Romney campaign spokesperson Taylor Warren from a couple of episodes ago, serve largely to tie off some loose ends from the campaign trail storyline, and for Neal to launch a contemporaneous rant about Paul’s candidacy that is at least a year-and-a-half past any sort of relevance.
More successful is the pairing of Don and Mac, which actually serves to develop the season’s most interesting burgeoning romance. After telling Sloan that he didn’t know why she had such low self-esteem in last week’s episode, we find out that Don’s guilty of comparing himself to some of Sloan’s dates too. Don and Sloan barely share any scenes this week, and it still feels like they’re moving forward impressively.
Speaking of Sloan, she’s the one who winds up stepping in to put Will back on track. She compares their relationship to that of a big brother and little sister, which bears out when she confronts him after a disastrous appearance on breakfast television. It’s better than any of the previous scenes between these two characters, which usually involve Will belittling Sloan in some way, and this chimes with the improvements in Sloan’s representation through the second season so far.
Back in the main plot, the crucial development finds Jerry, in a fit of frustration at the team’s tentative approach, editing the eventual interview footage of Gen. Stomtonovich. “If we used sarin, here’s how we used sarin” becomes “We used sarin […] Here’s how we used sarin.”
As with earlier episodes in the season, there isn’t a lot of tension in watching the team go after the Genoa story, when we already know that it all turns out to be fabricated- a point that’s reiterated in Charlie’s final line of the episode. We know that Jerry is way too invested in it, but we don’t really know him well enough to care.
Things are likely to start going awry in the next episode, but the weakness of One Step Too Many is down to that lack of tension and investment. Although Stephen Root gives an entertaining turn, there’s not a whole lot to latch onto, and that’s why this review is a little shorter than those from previous weeks.
By contrast, it’s nice to have fewer scenes between Will and other regular characters, after last week’s episode- it really underlines his pathological need to be popular with the audience. Granted, we’ve seen that before, but at least when it’s revisited this time around, it feels like the character’s learning something, even if it’s to say that breakfast television is the work of the devil.
In that much, there are some stakes to Genoa after all. We’ve heard subtle references to News Night’s declining audience numbers- from two million earlier in the series to a million and a half last week, and, in the deposition room, Charlie testifies that their Genoa show eventually got six million viewers. A new high for News Night 2.0, but how much lower can they fall, when such a big, loaded story turns out to be false? Our hero doesn’t even know about the story yet, but what will happen when it affects his precious relationship with the audience?
One Step Too Many is not the strongest episode of the run, but it’s far from the weakest, and as discussed, it does keep some interest in the ongoing season arc, and mines some nice scenes from a number of unexplored character pairings.
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