The actual news this week is centered on Troy Davis and the 9/11 coverage. Don’s personal connection to the Davis case feels a bit contrived, but it’s an occasion for one of the show’s rare arguments where both sides have their own merits. As a former prosecutor, Will wants to respect the rule of law despite an obvious miscarriage of justice; Don wants to intervene and give Davis’s appeal heavy coverage despite his obvious personal bias. Both men are bringing their personal hang-ups into the conversation: Don’s torn up about his breakup, and Will’s conflicted over not being able to cover 9/11. Each plot line has the emotional subtlety of a jackhammer — Don literally replaces a picture of Maggie with an image of a Davis riot, and an awful scene where two randos just happen to watch Will’s original 9/11 coverage while he’s in the room screams plot device — but it still makes their shouting match far more compelling than any face-off between Charlie and Reese.
Will pretends to be all right with a lot of things are not very News Night 2.0 this episode: not covering Troy Davis, stepping off 9/11 without a fight, even arguing in favor of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki’s “targeted killing” by drone strike. Not to worry — all this is an extension of Will’s sudden realization of what it means to not be the Jay Leno of primetime news anymore. Being controversial doesn’t just mean having web sites like IHateWillMcAvoy.com created in your honor; it also means that Will’s simply not capable of being a unifying figure anymore, the way he was on 9/11, his very first time in the chair. Eye-roll all you want at Will’s first bonding moment with Charlie Skinner (I sure did), but the conflict it inspires in our hero is one of his more interesting to date.
Everything comes to a head when Neal gets arrested at Occupy. Will barrels downtown to bail him out himself — the show is trying way too hard to show us what a Great Guy he is this week — and promptly loses his shit at a paper-pushing police officer. Will doesn’t respond well to moral gray areas, so why not channel his frustration into blackmailing the NYPD with Neal’s footage?
Finally, the show’s long-term story lines take their baby steps. After getting chewed out by Lisa, Maggie deals with her personal life in the most mature way possible: packing off to Africa with Gary, who’s finally getting something to do on this show besides disagree with Kendra. Her “I want to be the go-to person on something” speech to MacKenzie makes sense, but it’s undermined by The Newsroom’s need to make practically all of its characters’ major life decisions be personally motivated (also, there is no way Mac regularly works out — she’s a subsist-on-Cheetos-and-coffee type of gal, not a gym rat). Just like that, Maggie’s off to Kampala, never mind the rioting. And Genoa? It’s an extraction operation where soldiers used sarin gas on Pakistani civilians. A sergeant who took part in it says so. Heavy stuff.