The Newsroom is a lot of things. Preachy? Yeah. Smug? Sure. Infuriating? Obviously, that’s the entire premise of this recap. But boring? That’s the one thing I wasn’t expecting from TV’s most reliable hate-watch. Yet despite its gimmicky real-time pacing and a game changer for Will’s personal life, “News Night with Will McAvoy” felt oddly uneventful. Then again, almost anything would after spending half an episode in Africa.
The episode begins just before News Night goes live, when Will gets a foreboding call from his dad’s cell phone that he chooses to ignore. At the next commercial break, we learn that the call was actually from a Nebraskan paramedic, letting Will know his father had a mild heart attack that necessitated a trip to the emergency room. He’s also “fine,” which of course guarantees Mr. McAvoy isn’t long for this world, just as Will’s initially blasé reaction lets us know we’re in store for a classic repression/displacement/tearful show of emotion that handily compresses the grieving process into an hour of television.
In between, we’re also introduced to the episode’s B-plot, which involves Sloan’s ex of exactly one day leaking nude photos of her to a website called Revenge Porn. Don is also attempting damage control, although his problem, involving a smarmy British tabloid journalist and a made-up organization called the Righteous Daughters of Jihadi Excellence, is less a genuine issue than an excuse to get him in the same room with Sloan. The guy who recently walked out on his girlfriend over a YouTube video then proceeds to coach Sloan on how to get over a terrible ex.
As for the story this week’s News Night is actually covering: in what is literally an Onion article come to life, the show’s timeline has finally caught up with the Trayvon Martin shooting. Though it’s not as tasteless as it could be, the subplot’s still pretty bad, turning one of the most fraught legal sagas in recent public memory into a proxy for Maggie’s lingering Africa trauma and her issues with Jim. While waiting for George Zimmermann’s 911 call to download, the two bicker over Hallie’s failure to call out slut shaming and Maggie’s potential alcoholism. Maggie’s insistence that she’s fine is sad and unconvincing, but it’s still better than malaria medication-induced “mood swings.”
Back in the studio, Will doesn’t want to admit he’s actually worried about his abusive dad. Luckily, Neal rushes in with something he can pretend to be worried about instead: some woman on Twitter claims Will snubbed her in a restaurant. For some reason, this makes Mac furious at Neal, to the point where she jokingly-but-not-really tells him she hates him and wants him to fail. Maybe this is the real wrongful termination suit Lawyer Lady’s been grilling the News Night staff about and all that Genoa stuff is just a red herring?
Speaking of MacKenzie, Twitter also provides her with an unnecessary subplot that pushes this episode over the edge. Sloan and Will’s problems are convincing, and Maggie and Jim’s need screen time no matter how exasperating, but Mac’s run-in with the Rutgers GSA president doesn’t do much besides show how a fanatical pursuit of news over entertainment sometimes leaves a producer no choice but to browbeat a gay kid. Said gay kid ultimately validates Mac’s disgust at the idea of him coming out on air, of course, but their scenes together are a puzzling interlude in an episode that’s already verging on incoherent.
Charlie’s summit with a PR representative from the Navy also would have been tiresome if it weren’t so charming. After some cutesy banter about bases in Utah and the uselessness of philosophy majors, the two dive right into the messy business of making excuses for committing a war crime (PR guy) and staring aghast at someone who has actually convinced himself the Geneva Conventions are as outdated as fax machines (Charlie). PR guy does the exact opposite of what he’s come to New York to do and all but tells Charlie that SEALs used sarin gas, validating Jerry’s obsession and giving MacKenzie the go-ahead to pursue the story.
After Don and Sloan each get their catharsis — he by screaming at the British hack over the phone, she by punching her ex in the nuts — the episode’s two remaining plot lines tie together Mr. McAvoy’s death and the Trayvon Martin story into one giant heap of awful. Pressed for time, Maggie screws up her editing job, making it sound like Zimmermann brought up Martin’s race on his own rather than at the 911 responder’s request. This both allows Jim to demonstrate to Maggie that he knows her mental state better than she does and gives Will a correction to issue on-air just as he’s had an emotional conversation with Mac about losing his father. With a simple “Well, I guess it’s just us now,” the credits roll, leaving the audience sufficiently uncomfortable and ready to bust out of real time.