‘The Newsroom’ Season 2 Rage-cap: “Willie Pete”

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Lord help us all: Will McAvoy’s “mission to civilize” is back. Like Neal’s quest to cover Occupy Wall Street or Jim’s oh-so-courageous resolution to do some real reporting on the campaign trail, it just won’t die. Never mind the fact that it’s never a good idea to have a middle-aged white dude utter the words “mission to civilize” outside of Fox News: Nina Howard has been Saved, and a full-blown Nina-Will-Mac love triangle is off and running!

There’s actually not too much in the way of actual news this week, beyond Will’s declaration that the entire GOP presidential field is a bunch of “witless bullies and hapless punks” for standing by silently while their debate audience booed a gay soldier. News Night’s blatant editorializing continues to new heights that would make even the most radical MSNBC executive raise her eyebrows, but Charlie’s totally on board — he doesn’t even think Will went far enough. Three cheers for Team Righteous Newsmen! There’s just one problem: somehow Nina Howard’s gotten word that Will missed out on the 9/11 coverage because he was pulled off by a higher-up, not the flu.

Will somehow gets it in his head that a face-to-face meeting is more moral than simply refusing to engage her. Cue a semi-awkward, semi-charming rendezvous in the AWM executive dining room, where Nina agrees not to print the series out of the goodness of her heart, and because she liked Will’s courageously coming clean and fessing up on the record. I’m not sure I buy it, but before we have too long to think about whether this really makes sense coming from someone who hacked people’s phones, Nina comes clean herself and tells Will that the voicemail she deleted was actually a confession of his undying love for MacKenzie. She’s listened to the voicemail “hundreds of times,” because of course Will’s repeated insults of her and her entire profession have rendered her as schoolgirl-obsessed as Mac. Which is how Nina ends up in Will’s apartment by the end of the episode. Narcissistic blowhards: they’re irresistible!

That non-date successfully renews Will’s faith in humanity, but this episode needed a B-plot, so he launches a witch hunt for the leaker. Sloan thinks she did it by telling Nina Howard’s book agent she couldn’t go with him to a wedding some awful human beings were having on 9/11’s tenth anniversary. But then Charlie realizes Nina could only have known Will was telling the truth about getting pulled off 9/11 if she’d heard it from a higher-up, and thus follows a very funny scene where Charlie and Will are incompetent at technology and Reese Lansing laughs in their faces. Because he is this show’s Face of Evil, he couldn’t give a damn about some phone-hacking scandal even if Will had successfully recorded his confession — money, money, ratings, and so on. But Sloan and Don do have a few great scenes that make me not totally hate their relationship, so there’s that.

Off in New Hampshire, Jim continues to have a grand old time in his self-contained subplot that has nothing to do with the rest of this show. Predictably, he’s become the campaign trail’s very own mini-Will, hurling tough questions at a press aide in a ritual that Hallie points out makes him feel good but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Unfortunately, Hallie’s role as Jim’s whip-smart reality check is torpedoed by her back story: she started her own blog to ask tough questions about “women’s issues,” but then The Man got her down, leaving it to another Man to show her what’s what. The only thing more condescending than the term “women’s issues” here is the fact that Jim needs to rescue her from softball questions and cynicism like some journalistic damsel in distress. Jim’s drunken last stand against House of Cards’s Janine then gets both of them and their comic relief third wheel kicked off the bus.

A few quick D-plots pop up before the team gets to deal with Genoa. Maggie uses some medication as an excuse to act even more unprofessional than usual, but MacKenzie redeems the mini-arc with a cute mentorship moment in which she gives Maggie a $100 bill and tells her to either bring it back from Africa or tell her the story of where it went. Doesn’t make me any more excited for the inevitably cringe-worthy Africa scenes coming up, but it’s a cute moment that I just realized passes the Bechdel test. Yay! Then MacKenzie finally agrees to give OWS some air time, admitting she’s been refusing to cover it because she thinks it’s a failure, which is exactly the kind of biased editorializing journalists are not supposed to do. But it looks like Shelley the NYU Student is all set to butt heads with Will the Republican. This’ll be fun!

Finally, Jerry and Mac interview the soldier and get the go-ahead from Charlie to follow up, albeit with extreme skepticism. They can’t get any other sources, but they do get a translated tweet at the 11th hour that mentions white phosphorus. Twitter leading the News Night team astray seems like an opportunity for Sorkin to lecture us about the dangers of the Internet if I’ve ever seen one, but I’ll keep my hopes up. Just kidding — this is The Newsroom, home of the pajama people! See you next week for our next lesson in why social media is evil.