The Newsroom season 2 episode 8 review: Election Night Part 1

The penultimate episode of The Newsroom's second season is fast-paced and surprisingly funny. Can next week's finale match it?

This review contains spoilers.

2.8 Election Night Part 1

“If you make a mistake, run out of the building as fast as you can, and keep running, ’til you hit water. Then swim.”

Though it’s hardly a clean mid-season break, The Newsroom comes back from its one-week Labor Day hiatus with all the momentum of the seventh episode. ACN’s News Night team have royally fucked up by accusing the US government of committing war crimes, and even Jane Fonda, their most unlikely supporter, is rallying them for battle.

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We arrive back on election night 2012. As you’ll know if you tuned in last week, or if you’ve enjoyed living on planet Earth for the last year or so, President Obama is set to be re-elected. Far be it from me to suggest that the news team’s minds are not on this most important event in the American political calendar, but they don’t seem to be giving it their best.

As Charlie and Mac continue to express angst over the mistakes made on the Operation Genoa story, grouchy old Will appoints himself as director of morale, a sign which everyone agrees is bad. Elsewhere, Sloan is trying to chase down a charity donation, Don is in hot water over a dodgy job reference, and on the night that Charlie decrees that nobody can make a mistake, Jim makes a mistake.

The stacking of simultaneous action has some of the same enjoyability of this season’s fifth episode, News Night With Will McAvoy. As much as it’d be good to see this as the standard for the series, one can easily imagine it becoming exhausting to create and perform. In the wake of the last episode’s cataclysmic mis-reportage, however, this episode is lighter on massive character developments than its forebear in the season.

Perhaps it’s a testament to the team’s news reporting superpowers that the election coverage largely seems to go off without a hitch. Their multi-tasking capabilities are truly beyond compare – you can almost understand Charlie going to beg that his resignation be accepted in order to save everyone else’s jobs, while the broadcast is running, but a running gag about Mac wanting to correct her Wikipedia page doesn’t always land as it should.

Mac is a rather sorry figure in this episode, sleep-deprived and grasping desperately for control. Again, not great for The Newsroom’s record of female representation, but Emily Mortimer elicits buckets of sympathy with her deflated performance, and really shines in scenes opposite Jeff Daniels.

(Do we have a collective term for Newsroom fans yet, by the way, in the vein of Whovian or Browncoat? I’m going to go with McAvoyeurs for now.) As McAvoyeurs will remember from the top of the first season, Mac was hired as an executive producer at ACN with the unorthodox proviso that only Will is allowed to fire her. That puts the power of putting Mac out of her misery in Will’s hands, and he’s understandably reluctant.

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She hasn’t been guilty of any more misconduct than any of the other unprofessional mavericks that populate the newsroom, but Jerry Dantana’s lawsuit, a manifest of executive oversights that were made in the Genoa story, is set to be published the day after the election. Wait, back up a second…

Are we now to assume that ACN’s failure was so massive that such a publication, in the aftermath of a presidential election, would still make big news and embarrass the team? Granted, once it’s out there, it’s out there, but the thing that doesn’t ring true about the Genoa plot is the assumption that the viewers are up to the same ideal as receivers of News Night’s mission to civilise, as its proponents and architects profess themselves to be.

If that’s not the assumption, then we don’t have enough information to show otherwise and there’s still no context of the audience reaction to ACN’s story, beyond the sweeping statement that the team has lost the public’s trust. It starts to feel a little melodramatic.

The best of the subplots this week is distilled into one scene between Don and lawyer Rebecca Halliday. Jerry is asking for another $20 million because Don called him a sociopath in a job reference. As Rebecca points out, he was probably only listed as a reference in the hope that something like this would happen, but you side with the increasingly excellent Thomas Sadoski, in his righteous frustration. It’ll be interesting to see how this potentially very expensive development plays out for Don.

Even if Sloan’s plot is considerably less substantial this week, she’s the other standout throughout the show, whether bickering with her co-anchor over a senatorial race that already sounds like it could be turned into an amazing, if implausible film, or full-on charging the elephant in the room by pointing out that Genoa counts as Will attacking a Democratic president, and not just the Republican opposition. She’s been fantastic this season too, so it would be nice to have had more Don and Sloan this week.

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Back in Jim-and-Maggie land, there’s still nothing to really report except for some bickering and then a union in abject fear when they call the electoral results in Michigan early, instead of Mississippi. In one brilliantly timed scene, Charlie merrily strides right past their turmoil, handing out application forms for the sanitation department for anyone who fucks up.

Oh, and Maggie’s blonde hair is now finally gone in the prime timeline, with heavy foreshadowing about the real reason she opted for the haircut. Don’t get too excited, faithful McAvoyeurs, (seriously, somebody please come up with something better than that.)

Election Night Part 1 really ramps up to its two-part status in the closing moments, when Don gets an early scoop on a breaking story; General David Petraeus will resign after the election, due to infidelity. Just to accompany his earlier threatening tour of the office, Charlie loses his shit in a brilliant explosion of incredulity and exasperation.

This first part is fast-paced and unusually funny episode of The Newsroom, finally getting out of the gate after the long-running Genoa arc to race head-long into next week’s finale. President Obama may have the election in the bag, but are there more surprises to come?

Read Mark’s review of the previous episode, Red Team III, here.