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"The Newsroom" Recap: Amen

Graham Clark |
July 24, 2012 | 12:03 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Emily Mortimer and Dev Patel on The Newsroom. (via HBO)
Emily Mortimer and Dev Patel on The Newsroom. (via HBO)
Television shows meld two inclinations. Ongoing plot arcs are necessary to generate deep seated interest, but yet there is short-term satisfaction of episodic conclusions. This week’s episode of The Newsroom favored the latter, but not exclusively.

News of a revolution in Egypt broke at the outset of “Amen.” Will McAvoy calmly sweats out an on-air slip-up from their reporter in Cairo, who’s taken by surprise at violent protesters’ intensity.

Maggie Jordan quickly turns around a piece about teachers starting to protest in Wisconsin, in a sequence that brazenly attempts to use a video’s rendering time as a device for ratcheting up intensity. An editor is introduced to the ensemble cast, for now simply manning the Final Cut interface like a few other one-dimensional members of the staff.

Mackenzie McHale deals with the ethics of dating a political figure when she finds out her boyfriend is gunning for a congressional seat more seriously than she realized. Upon hearing the news, she flips out at Charlie Skinner, hollering with frustration over the fact she was duped into handing her beau free airtime.

Their reporter on the ground in Egypt, meanwhile, has been taken out of comission by abuse from rowdy dissenters. The search for a correspondent worthy of the story leads to Neal Sampat fervently nominating Amen, a young twitter-savvy videojournalist who shares Sampat’s devout compulsion for reporting.

From this point on McHale and Sloan meet one-on-one for a series of discussions on economic principles. Avowing complete ignorance, McHale gets started on a primer that’s similar in tone to "This American Life’s" breakdown of the recession. The Glass-Steagall act, and the difference between commercial and investment banks are on the curriculum before their conversation swerves to thoughts of McHale’s storied past with McAvoy.

McAvoy currently faces a crop of troubles surrounding his sex life. Gossip hounds are still out for his scent, including a daytime TV host on his own network. He’s frozen in his tracks when Skinner discretely calls him a lout on live television.

Then Amen, freshly briefed and broadcast by the news team, goes missing. Sampat grows frantic searching for the disappeared young egyptian journalist. The GPS on his network-provided satellite phone is dead, meaning he’s almost certainly been taken against his will. In a wildly unprecedented fit of rage, the usually cool-as-mango-lassi Sampat punches out a screen displaying an unsympathetic Rush Limbaugh.

Later, News Night’s anchor meets up with the “takedown artist” that’s been stalking him since New Year’s. In the smoky backroom of a bar, he nearly hands over a handsome check in exchange for a clean slate in the woman’s gossip column. However, his hard-headed sense of journalistic integrity and addiction to voicing acerbic criticism lead him to tear up the check and walk out.

The money instead goes to free Amen, who has been discovered as a captive of the Egyptian military. One quarter of a million dollars buys his freedom, much to the delight of a bandaged Sampat. This week’s big catharsis comes when the entire News Night staff brings McAvoy a token of appreciation.

“It’s not much, but...” Jordan says, laying on his desk a check with the memo bearing: “Coach.”

Each episode of The Newsroom has been spackled with a potpourri of resolutions. The deeper narratives — the rocky relationships of McKenzie McHale and Will McAvoy, Maggie and Jim Harper — are so built into the characters that their development basically goes without saying. McHale and McAvoy always muck around in each other's personal lives, Jim and Maggie always perform bizarre romantic gymnastics, Kirk is always Captain of the Enterprise. They exist as facts of the show like the water under a reflection, livelier dynamics playing out on the surface.

Many characters have been consistent only in appearance. Last week saw Neal Sampat treated like a plumb fool, preaching Sasquatch’s existence. This time around his life story is strip-mined for emotional significance. First he was comic relief, then a tear-jerker, and finally a loose cannon. The same can be said for Jim Harper, whose slapstick gags pepper an episode otherwise rife with weird manipulation.

Maggie Jordan’s story falls in the same category. Given the character’s anxiety-attack prone nature, some distinct highs and lows could be construed as realistic. But this week, the character’s tendency to lash out with acidic vitriol once more contrasted strikingly with the demure desk-jockey introduced in the series’ pilot. Her impossibly bristled involvement pushed the plot forward, advancing her relationship with Don Keefer as well as that of Jim and Lisa. But any remaining semblance of her character’s realistic consistency suffered like a thoroughly-beaten dead horse.

Perhaps this is Aaron Sorkin and staff’s attempt to stave off the specter of static characterization, and keep viewers guessing. But that only works if we care about these people, love them or hate them, at each turn. Otherwise, visions of individuals merely flicker by without registering any rooted recognition. Perhaps Sorkin’s players hearken to our own fluid personalities, like so much dust in the wind. The dude certainly believes in shaking things up.

How long The Newsroom can keep that up, and to what end, remains to be revealed.

Contact Graham Clark here, follow him  @hello_thankyou



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