“The Newsroom”: S2E4 Review

The title of the latest episode of The Newsroom is "Unintended Consequences", and the show is chock full of them.  While this show hit many of the story lines (and even linked a couple of them together), this was Maggie's show.  

As with all the episodes this season so far, the events are framed around a person being interviewed at a conference table by an ACN lawyer, Rebecca Holliday, in the wrongful termination suit of Jerry Dantana.  This time, Maggie, with short cropped red hair, is telling her story of what happened "one year ago".

Maggie and Gary Cooper were sent to pursue a story about the U.S. combat troops searching for warlord Joseph Kony. During that time, they shoot video of U.S. soldiers helping out at an orphanage. During their stay at the orphanage, Maggie spends some time with a painfully shy 6 year old African orphan boy, Daniel, and gets him to warm up to her.  She reads the same book seven times to Daniel, while he plays with her hair (he had never seen blonde hair before).

One night, after hearing gunshots, the reporters woke up to find that there were armed men outside.  These men, it is assumed, are cattle rustlers who have mistaken the orphanage for a cattle ranch.  And it seems to be that way, but what the cattle rustlers really have come for is the TV camera that Gary Cooper has been using to shoot video.

As shots are fired, the kids in the orphanage are loaded onto a bus.  Maggie tries to find Daniel, whi was hiding under a bed. She helps get Daniel on the school bus to evacuate, has him on her back, but his spine catches one of the raiders' bullets that would have otherwise hit her.  He dies instantly.  

We learn that Maggie and Gary were flown home from Africa, and Maggie was scarred by the traumatic incident.  Maggie figures it this way: had it not been for the fact that they were shooting video, there would have been no cattle rustlers looking for a video camera.  And Daniel would be alive.

Once back in New York, she recalls being prescribed a psychotropic drug by a psychiatrist she was seeing.  Overtaken by guilt, she later cuts her hair and dyes it red, in part because Daniel had been drawn to her blonde hair.

ACN's lawyer asks Maggie to explain what happened because she is a key part to the Genoa story — which viewers already know turned out badly but don't know why.  Specifically, she is asked if a retired general said “it happened” in reference to a interview regarding whether US soldiers used banned sarin gas in Afghanistan (the Project Genoa incident). She denies the person said those two words.

Kudos to Alison Pill for this episode.  We get to see her character "one year ago" and her character "today" and it is a remarkable contrast.  In Season One, Maggie was disturbed and flighty in a way which Aaron Sorkin thought was probably humorous.  This year, she is disturbed in a dramatic and serious way, and (unlike last year) you are a little concerned.  If Sorkin intended to revamp her character and allow her to have more gravitas, he (and Pill) pulled off the transition nicely.

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There was an indication that Jim will be speaking with ACN's lawyer in an upcoming episode, and one of the things he saked about is Maggie's state of mind, post-Africa.  This must be awkward — having Jim talk to lawyer's about Maggie's state of mind.

But Maggie aside, there was more to this week's episode.  We got to see Will interview Shelly, Neal’s contact from Occupy Wall Street.  In typical Will McAvoy style, he eviscerated both her and the OWS movement.  For example, he asked what their demands are.  Shelly rattles off 6 or 7 things.  And then Will interjects: "So, basically, you're not for any one thing specifically."

Shelly is humiliated.  But in a very unlikely plot twist of almost unbelieveable timing, it turns out that Shelly knows a guy with evidence of chemical warfare used against civilians in Afghanistan.  Yes, a lead in the Project Genoa story!  But will she arrange a meeting between Neal and her contact??  No, especially not after Neal had set her up for that humiliating interview with McAvoy.

What follows are several scenes of smugness versus smugness.  To get Shelly to allow Neal to meet with "her guy", Will has to apologize for the way he beat her up on the air.  He refuses.  So Sloane, who doesn't even know about the Project Genoa story, but knows that Shelly's contact is important, meets Shelly and attempts to apologize.  But Shelly's indignance meets with Sloane's smugness, and Shelly become more entrenched.

Another meeting is arranged with Don and Shelly, and it goes just as badly.

Will eventually shows up at the college where Shelly teaches.  She has calmed down, and agrees to allow Neal to talk to her contact.  Even though he doesn't have to, Will apologizes anyway.  "I was showing off and being smug", he admits.  

Shelly says, "The mission of Occupy Wall Street is to point out problems in our economic and political system.  Why can't you point at what we're pointing at, instead of pointing at us?"  Will agrees that OWS isn't the story, and he should focus on the bigger issues.  Then he asks Shelly if he can audit the rest of the class she is teaching; she smiles and says yes.

Meanwhile, Jim is on the road in New Hampshire, but has been kicked off the Romney bus with rival reporter Hallie Shay.  This doesn't work out well for either of them — they no longer have any access to Romney news, and theirs are the only news outlets that have nothing to report on Romney.  Mackenzie is getting annoyed with Jim about this. 

Jim still manages to be a thorn in the side of the Romney campaign though.  He makes progress on Romney’s press lead, driving her so crazy that she tells Jim, "for the record", to "fuck off". This on the record remark lets Jim barter for half-hour interview with Romney.  But rather than take it, he passes the interview onto Hallie, his fellow press protestor. Mackenzie learns (from Romney's pess lead) that Jim has done this, and pulls him off the campaign.

On the eve of having to leave the Romney campaign because he gave up an interview, Jim and Hallie talk in an honest moment by the hotel pool in Concord, NH.   And then, out of the blue, Jim gets the kiss he’s been longing for.  We've come a long way from the Don-Jim-Maggie triad.

Strangest moment of the show: Charlie Skinner intentionally running into the glass walls and smooshing himself there like a bug.  For laughs.

What do you think?