"The Newsroom" Recap: Bullies
The Newsroom plowed ahead this week, offering only a few jarring breaks from realism.
At the outset of “Bullies,” Will McAvoy volleyed repartees with Mackenzie McHale in his typically gruff manner. McHale questioned his mental competency with the aid of an oversized eye exam.
Mr. McAvoy then ascended the stoop of a brownstone, accompanied by a yet-unnamed bulky black man. They’ve gone there for McAvoy to attend therapy with the psychologist Dr. Habib — he’s paid for weekly sessions going on four years without attending once. But his shrink is two years dead; the practice is now run by Jacob Habib, his son.
McAvoy tries to brush him off, saying he’s simply popping in for a prescription to combat long standing insomnia. But Habib — acted smartly by David Krumholtz, whose turn in Harold and Kumar may yet be forgettable — refuses to let him off that easy.
He asks, “What about the death threat?”
Thus begins a kaleidoscope of flashbacks, which might be confusing if every character’s interactions weren’t so patently straightforward.
Aaron Sorkin again attempts to wring drama from comically dull elements of news production: McAvoy turns his ire towards the vociferous void that is online commenting. Frustrated with the hate that anonymity brings, he demands that those who comment on News Night’s website confirm their identity via a third party.
Despite the change, a problematic comment pops up. One viewer is angered by McAvoy’s take on an Islamic community center at ground zero and threatens to deliver a bullet to his home address.
A subplot involving Sloan Sabbith bubbles to the surface: she’s employed as a translator for a conference call to Japan, discussing the status of a nuclear reactor in crisis. Speaking off the record, the Japanese spokesman confides that the situation is even worse than it appears.
The identity of McAvoy’s burly bald-headed acquaintance is revealed to be Lonny Church. He’ll be McAvoy’s bodyguard until the acute threat has been defused, one way or another.
Sabbith steps into McAvoy’s office for some mentoring, pausing first to feel up Church’s pectorals. In a pointedly cliché moment of characterization, even by Sorkin-women standards, she’s been talked into anchoring her own broadcast that evening by the promise of Gucci duds.
The story flips back to Habib’s couch for a bit of foreshadowing. McAvoy says he regrets speaking the way he did, grouchily demanding that Sabbith not coddle interviewees.
The fallout comes after a traditional inter-office interlude: Jim Harper and Maggie Andrews engage in chippy banter while researching McAvoy’s past (he jams occasionally with Leonard Cohen), alongside Neal Sampat. McHale looks on spazzily, until she learns McAvoy nearly cut a deal with Fox that would have moved him to Los Angeles and disrupted their relationship. When she confronts McAvoy, he deflects the charge by presenting a diamond ring. He said was meant for their engagement, before their romance went awry. But on the therapist’s couch, the claim is revealed to be a sham: McAvoy had an intern run to Tiffany’s and buy the ring that afternoon.
Sabbith’s plot line builds to a resolve, starting when she’s seated behind a desk for her live anchor debut. When her spokesman in Japan starts to feed her false information, claiming the nuclear reactor meltdown is not maximally dangerous when it is, she smells blood. With Don Keefer screaming, “Don’t go rogue on me!” she spews the boldfaced truth to the cameras, partially in japanese. Her comeuppance comes from Charlie Skinner, who harangues her with the claim that no source will ever trust her again.
Back at Habib’s, the dark nights in McAvoy’s past are brought to light. In fifth grade, he found himself beating back his irate drunk of a father for the sake of his siblings and mother. The implication is that this trauma lies behind his entire malevolent Don Quixote shtick, including a blistering face-off on his show with a homosexual, African-American Rick Santorum advisor.
Finally satisfied, his therapist prescribes a mild sedative and suggests he lay off pork before bedtime.
Before “Bullies” wraps up, there’s a morsel of tough love left for Sabbith. Skinner has found her a loophole: she can get out of her ethical finagle, and save the honor of her source, if she feigns ignorance of the Japanese language in an on-air apology. Blowing off McHale’s attempt to provide guidance, she looks to her stalwart anchor.
He tells her to stretch the truth. And he keeps the diamond ring.
Characters on The Newsroom are obvious: the boss-man is stressed out, the cute girl likes designer clothes, the indian guy runs the website. Viewers that have been irked by the employment of stereotypes, especially with regards to Sorkin’s flimsy women, are unlikely to be sated anytime in the near future.
The flipside is that new viewers can grasp what’s going on with ease. Using clichés to differentiate good guys from the villains was step one for generations of classic comics artists and filmmakers. Sorkin may be doing the same thing, patently developing his players to facilitate the broadest understanding among his audience.
The show packs a real punch in the few moments when these one-dimensional faces are caught demonstrating complexity, but that’s not The Newsroom’s bread and butter. “Bullies” moved along at a steady clip, serving up hanging questions without ever being befuddling. That’s not news for this show, but it’s almost certainly watchable.