"The Newsroom" Recap: The 112th Congress
In this week’s opening scene, Will McAvoy soapboxes that journalists must work because “nothing is more important to a democracy than a well informed electorate.” Aside from this political statement, The Newsroom informs its viewers of a few other things.
This latest episode is an ode to structural complexity in storytelling. Classical dramatists strove to pen neat, tidy narratives that wrapped up within the course of 24 hours; Aaron Sorkin and staff have outdone themselves to exhibit their abilities in other ways.
“The 112th Congress” bounces between two story arcs, one taking place over six months leading up to 2010’s Congressional election, the other set in a boardroom the morning after all votes are in.
Most of the episode is devoted to the former. McAvoy kicks off the episode with a pledge to shape his act up. Claiming to side with hardworking reporters who are “getting creamed,” the anchor rolls up his sleeves and tries to tackle the issues.
Cut to Charlie Skinner, bewildered and under fire in the boardroom of network head Leona Lansing, played by Jane Fonda. Drawn out over the entirety of the episode, their conversation essentially illustrates that McAvoy has been ruffling feathers among those who keep his program in the black.
The coverage that has gathered Lansing’s attention then plays out. Flashing back six months, News Night’s coverage of the bomb threat in Times Square comes together with help from Maggie Jordan. She asserts herself with an attitude less maniacal than that which characterized Jordan in last week’s episode, but still sturdier than the demure phone jockey that made her introduction in the pilot.
Acting on one of Skinner’s whims, McAvoy is led to focus on the activities of Tea Party with unadulterated devotion. Believing the spontaneously congealed movement to have been co-opted by economic juggernauts including the Koch brothers, he chews out scores of Tea Party candidates, trying to steer voters away from newbie candidates in favor of established GOP officeholders.
As the months before the election dwindle, personal issues throughout the office crop up. Topical repartees between Jim Harper and Neal Sampat are spat out a handful of times. Don Keefer continues to lash out at Jim Harper with no personal provocation.
Meanwhile, Harper offers a steady voice to Jordan, caught in the middle of a panic attack. It’s an interaction as stilted and out of place as any of Sorkin’s worst (always have a Xanax on you, cautions Harper), but it peters out uncannily well. The result is a moment of emotion, outstanding on a backdrop of tacky TV character developments.
McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale continue to muck around in each other’s love lives without ever drawing blood, at least until her new boyfriend pokes his head into the office. But by that point, there’s nothing much to be done besides conclude with this episode’s climactic broadcast of election night.
Keefer breaks a sweat in a gruff chat with his show’s anchor. Sloan Sabbith pipes up with concern for an impending debt-ceiling crisis, no doubt foreshadowing the subject matter of episodes yet to come.
This plotline tapped, the focus shifts back to the boardroom. Skinner has been abusively regaling Martin Stallworth, defensive in the face of allegations that McAvoy is being led astray. After dipping into a bottle of bourbon, Skinner and Lansing finally start to talk.
Speaking repeatedly of Senator Joe McCarthy, they discuss what it means to run a news program in a symbolic and economic sense. With no historical irony lost, Fonda’s character suggests that ordained American political figures must be allowed to reign. The news sector of her media empire draws little revenue, and that’s the bottom line. McAvoy’s continued presence as a TV personality is merely a trifle.
“What happened to human interest stories?” Lansing ponders in the scene’s final moments. She was talking about having News Night cover obesity and iPhone updates more often, but the sentiment is appropriate when thinking about The Newsroom in a broader sense.
All the switched-up narrative slickness of the show (episode three ends with Skinner being called up to meet with Lansing, finally tying the two sequences together) hardly matters if there’s nothing for viewers to sink their teeth into. Despite the consistent proselytizing of journalism’s political import, this newsroom feels like just another setting in which Sorkin can stage personal exchanges. It’ll take more moments like Jordan’s panic attack to keep this format interesting to humans.