Before this recap’s fully under way, can we take a moment to appreciate how much better this season’s title sequence is? No doe-eyed nostalgia, music that sounds less like a D-list take on Chariots of Fire and more like an actual theme song. I’ve never gone into an episode of this show less irritated. Which might explain why “Genoa Tip” felt like a solid episode, albeit one with Sorkin’s signature smugness and hero worship all over it. Then again, The Newsroom has those flaws built into its DNA, so I’ll take a rare moment of Will McAvoy doubting himself when I can get it.
We kick off in New Hampshire, where Jim is still doing campaign grunt work, the Romney aide is still an asshole, and oh yeah, there’s a hot Lady Reporter! Her name is Hallie, and she’s competitive and bitchy and everything Maggie’s not. While the idea of introducing a love interest for Jim right when Maggie’s single again just to drag this plot line on for another season made me groan, I like that Hallie seems to be the only woman in Jim’s life who’s not constantly one screw-up away from a meltdown. (Come to think of it, she’s the only female character on the show under the age of 50 who’s not in nonstop hysteria mode.) There’s also a few cute scenes riffing on how over-informed a room full of journalists is, which is probably a transcript of Aaron Sorkin’s fantasy Christmas party but comes off as insufferable. Still, except for Lisa’s pissy email linking to Maggie’s moment of YouTube stardom, Jim’s in a pretty good place right now.
Maggie, however, is clearly on the losing end of this not-really-breakup. She literally sleeps in the office after Don unceremoniously dumps her, only to be woken up by her ex’s soon-to-be rebound, Sloan. It’s a pretty damn perfect character detail that Sloan drops by the office at 6 a.m. before she even hits the gym; less convincing is her claim that she actually has experience getting sent straight to voicemail. People don’t hang up on hyper-gorgeous double PhDs after two rings. Anyway, Maggie somehow uses YouTube to get to Foursquare to find the mystery blogger at a laundromat in Astoria. The fact that this is how Sorkin thinks social media works is hilarious. The fact that the mystery blogger turns out to be the screenwriter’s literal nightmare of an uninformed, Sex and the City-loving “Internet girl” come to life is not. Polly deserves so much better than this — she just had a baby on her other show!
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.