"The Newsroom" Recap: The Blackout Part II: Mock Debate
What makes this week's episode interesting is that it explores 'selling out' with greater complexity. As was the case last week, the merits of providing commercially popular content are weighed against the need to cover politically relevant issues. But this time around, Will McAvoy's personal motivations for telling a particular kind of news are considered, adding a little value to the otherwise black-and-white discussion.
"The Blackout, Part II" opens with MacKenzie McHale still lost in the dark. The chance to hit a blunt note is not missed, as she then explicates her understanding of the blackout as a miracle. She insults one of that night's special guests before staking a claim that the power outage will save News Night. Citing a programming schedule rife with fluff, she summons her staff to come together and put on the night's broadcast guerrilla style, from the street via generator.
That's when the power comes back on.
In the wake of her guffaw, the staff puts up a lackluster show. Will McAvoy takes a smoke break during airtime, while the rest of his staff distract themselves. Neal Sampat slings a pitch to Sloan Sabbith, asking to trash her reputation in return for a shot at breaking his first story. Elsewhere in the office, McHale squares off with Brian Brenner to talk about McAvoy's crippling need for viewers' attention. The first results from their vetting of NSA tech-wizard-turned-informant are hazy at best: the possible lead has shown signs of psychological distress and legal indiscretion.
Following that, the whole gang is shifting gears in preparation to lead the Republican party's first official presidential debate. If the event isn't pulled off smoothly, McHale warns, "We've been doing Casey Anthony and Anthony Wiener coverage for nothing."
While the staff scourges the earth for unturned evidence in the Anthony trial, Maggie Jordan reveals that Lisa Lambert (who's been knocking boots with Jim Harper, as if you could forget) attended high school with the alleged infanticider. Harper and Jordan trudge off to visit Lambert at work, where she's wrapped up in selling a pricy dress on commission.
Lambert decries the relevance of the piece, saying that the News Night staffers should do just the same. Harper plays the part of the defendant, arguing that a statement from Lisa will be key in buoying up the otherwise responsible program. With a squeeze for Jordan, she gives in and agrees to an appearance.
McAvoy's back in focus for awhile, discussing the thin line between healthy oats sowing and womanizing with Don Keefer. Then McAvoy visits his psychiatrist to be reminded of his deep-seated daddy issues, and they toss around sentiments relating to his breakup with McHale.
Sampat's sexuality is still portrayed in something of an overt way, as he attempts to win over Sabbith by honestly stating his appreciation for her breasts.
When Lisa appears on the show, she drops a bombshell. Instead of sticking to a provided script, she takes off on a tangent to discuss unfit mothers' right to abortions. Her recompense takes the form of a brick through the window and the tag "Baby Killer" spattered across her workplace door.
Representatives from the RNC show up in the newsroom, thinking they'll be checking off a box and getting back on the road. However, they get a surprise in the form of a fully orchestrated mock debate, complete with ceremonial sweatshirts. The staff play acts as the year's republican candidates while McAvoy pesters them with rapid-fire questioning. The effort fizzles out when the youngest RNC rep balks at the new debate format.
When offered to host the debate instead of McAvoy, Keefer responds with a stringent "Eat me," and Sabbith unloads the first f-bomb of the episode.
The episode winds down from here on out, knocking off a few remaining notes of personal interaction before the credits roll. Harper receives a brief romantic pep-talk from his producer, and shows up knocking at Jordan's door in an attempt to clear the air and woo the woman. But he's cut off by Keefer, and before he can get a word in edgewise Lisa plants her lips on his. They stroll off into the night, leaving Keefer and Jordan to face their relationship. Upon reflection, he realizes it's time to clue her in on a few of his indiscretions. Then once more, the show fades out with a breathy montage.
The show must be paced slowly enough so there's enough non-fiction news content and snappy characterization to last at least one more season. But if things are ground totally to a halt, there's nothing worth watching, nothing pitting characters against each other. This is currently Sorkin's burden. Surely some conclusions must be reached, especially with regards to the NSA phone-tapping story. What developments are left to play out in the season's final episode will soon come to light.