With four episodes already aired, and Episode 5 called Amen looming, the HBO Series, The Newsroom made some news of its own this week. On July 19th , it was announced that Aaron Sorkin had made a number of changes to the writing staff. Though the exact number of staff writers being replaced wasn’t divulged, it was a sign of well, something … perhaps, a reaction to critical reviews which so far have been mixed. [EDIT: Jul 25th - The new hires are for The Newsroom's 2nd season, not this season]
Anyway, given the date of the announcement, it is unlikely that those changes would have an impact on Amen, aired on Sunday night, the 22nd. The preview promos for the episode showed that The Newsroom would be leading with the Egyptian citizens taking to the streets in Cairo to protest the non-resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. That would be the feature along with the breaking story of the reaction to the proposed budget cuts in Wisconsin. But before we get to it, is anyone with me that this Episode might have been called Rudy? Stay with us – more on that later.
It is February 10th, 2011 as the episode begins. Will McAvoy is talking with the ACN correspondent Elliot Hirsch (actually he’s the 10:00 PM News Anchor) who is set up in a Cairo hotel room. Civil unrest has taken to the streets of Cairo following Mubarak’s announcement that he would not be stepping down. Elliot hears shooting and ducks out to his balcony to see what was going on.
Racing out to get to the video editing room, Jim Harper arrives at the door just as Maggie Jordan was racing in. Long story short – Jim’s forehead is cut in the collision between his head and the glass door.
Maggie Jordan had gotten word of a huge breaking story. There’s a growing protest in the streets of Appleton Wisconsin, the home of the Fox Cities Center for Performing Arts where I once watched a performance of Rent and just down the street is Bazil’s Pub – where I’ve guzzled beers and shot pool, Governor Scott Walker is trapped in a newspaper office as the teachers rally. Why? Because of his drastic plans (the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill) to balance the state budget by slashing spending, ratcheting up the number of layoffs, busting state employee unions, especially the teachers union, thereby stripping away their collective bargaining rights. Anyway, the protest in Appleton began with 75 angry teachers, but in a few days that number would increase to 30,000 folks protesting in the streets in the Wisconsin state capital, Madison.
On this night, for these stories, Maggie (the teachers protesting – Hey hey, ho, ho – Governor Scott’s got to go!) and Jim Harper (Egyptians about to overthrow their government) had to work with one single video editor to cut the raws of these stories on the fly and then rush them up to the control room on thumb drives.
Wouldn’t you know it, after Maggie had just dropped off her thumb drive and was leaving the control room, once again, a glass door with Maggie operating it and Jim Harper’s head collided. Ouch! Just then Will closed by announcing that Governor Scott has called out the National Guard.
Mackenzie calls an impromptu staff meeting (okay, maybe it was an emergency staff meeting) for anyone with Producer in their job title. Sloan Sabbith is not a producer – she’s just a talking head so she is excused – but Mackenzie makes her promise to meet later. Before the meeting actually starts, Wade wanders in
Mackenzie: Honey, I’m sorry, I still need 20 minutes…
Wade: I see, is Egypt still a country?
Will and Herb the director enter at this point, (as Mack and Wade are kissing) and there’s some more bantering between Will and Mackenzie.
Will: Wait, wait, everyone watch this, Mackenzie needs to use her fingers to subtract…
Mackenzie: Will took tap dancing lessons when he was eleven...
[JMM: This of course is to show us that despite the public bickering, despite Will's dating, despite Mackenzie seeing Wade Campbell, their inner fires still burn brightly because they care for each other so deeply. I think. Must be. Has to be. At the meeting ...]
Mackenzie: Will cries when he watches the movie Rudy
Will: One scene, one moment, once in a while …
Gary: The jersey scene?
Gary: Everyone cries during the jersey scene…
Then between the Gary and Will, they run through this emotional scene for the people at the meeting. And for our benefit – as this scenario will come up again. Turns out that Jim didn’t see it – the film played in 1993 when Jim was likely around 12 years old.
Will: What were you doing when everyone else was living their lives…?
Jim: My homework…
Maggie: [mocking] My home work…
[JMM: Man, that went over like a lead balloon. Does every female on the show have to be so publicly inappropriate. First Mack, then Maggie. Mr. Sorkin, enough already!]
The topic for the meeting was that ACN needed to have somebody on the ground, closer to the action in Tahrir Square for the Egypt coverage. Elliot Hirsch’s perspective from his hotel room distanced him so he couldn’t fully report on what was going down on the street in Tahrir Square.
Just then, Charlie Skinner arrives, agitated about something. He hand signals Will and MacKenzie to come out of the meeting. He’s got news about a new TMI feature story – about how ‘Mackenzie is using News Night to get her boy friend elected to Congress‘. Mackenzie says he’s only thinking about it. Charlie says – more than that – he’s speaking with the D Triple C about Anthony Weiner’s seat.
After the meeting Will and MacKenzie discuss Wade. Once the light bulb in Mackenzie’s brain fires – she tells Will, in a distinctly matter-of-fact way, that she thinks Wade has used her, taking advantage of her position to raise his own profile.
Neal has been following the work of the Egyptian videographer named Amen on YouTube and other internet news outlets. Neal explains that the Amen means ‘the hidden one’ in ancient Egyptian. Neal thinks that Amen would be excellent as the ACN’s network stringer in Cairo. Will objects mildly. He feels that using a stringer he doesn’t know might be problematic.
Neal: I know him. He’s just like me. He is me… Neal feels that Amen and he have startling similar stories about how each of them got into journalism. It seems that Neal was aboard a commuter train when the bombers in London struck, so he had a good knowledge of being in the eye of the storm as was Amen at this time. Neal lobbies that ACN hire Amen. And they do.
Just then, Don pops in to say Elliot had sustained severe injuries. He had gone down to the street to get a better feel of the demonstrations. What he got instead was a bad feeling after he was beaten with rocks. He suffered a few broken ribs, a broken arm, and cuts and bruises about the face. Charlie says that he will call Elliot’s wife. Don says, No I will. Charlie replies, No I will. Will cuts Charlie off – let Don do it.
Later MacKenzie asks Sloan for some help as she knows nothing about economics, and she’s scheduled for an appearance on a panel discussing economic issues. So Mackenzie and Sloan finally sit down for the economics chat. What took Sloan 15 years of college, grad school, doctorate, post doctorate, real world experience…cannot be taught to Mackenzie in a few days.
Mackenzie: I don’t need to know everything you know… Sloan: There’s no danger of that…
The next day, on the ACN morning show, Daybreak, one of the anchors begins a mini-tirade, (it’s not really a tirade as he is enjoying himself) about Wade’s appearances on News Night (the conflict of interest – you know – unbiased news reporting vs Mack’s involvement with Wade) , adding information about Will and MacKenzie’s being ex-lovers from Nina Howard’s gossip story in TMI. Charlie Skinner is watching horrified. He grabs his phone, connects with the morning show’s producer and says, Put me right in his fucking ear. Charlie threatens to fire the guy that instant if he doesn’t gracefully end the rant in 10 seconds.
Mackenzie pokes her head into Will’s office. She’s look almost distraught. Wade is in her head and she furious about it. Will: It’s all right…
Next is a long [JMM: and still boring] conversation which ran more than two minutes. Maggie wants Jim to spend Valentine’s Day with her roommate Lisa. Jim struggles with it conceptually as well as misunderstanding that Maggie is discussing a Valentine’s Day date with him. Jim doesn’t agree, as he and Lisa aren’t in a relationship. They are – but it is just sex for Jim. Maggie has come all prepared with a reservation, a gift of lingerie, and a Valentine’s card for Jim to give to Lisa. For February 14th. Jim doesn’t know what happens on the 14th. He gets a flash – Ooh, [my bad] it’s Valentines Day
[JMM: Aargh, this is a show about a network news show. Yes, everyone on the news show has a personal life. But for us - this is the fifth week of Maggie and Jim dancing around the obvious. Putting us through this every week is getting old, really old!]
Then we meet Amen via their computer cameras and video conferencing. Neal introduces Amen to MacKenzie. Amen is a bit nervous about doing his reporting from the streets of Cairo while showing his face and using his real name which is Kahlid Selim. Neal persuades him as credibility is an issue for viewers if an anonymous person, one who plainly has taken steps to conceal his identity is used. Neal says, This is history, and you’ll never forget tonight.
Despite the possible noise that could be coming from Leona, Will and Charlie discuss a story involving the Koch brothers, Citizens United, and the connection to what’s going on in Wisconsin. Charlie: This is the kind of story that Leona doesn’t want us to chase. Will: Then lets chase it as hard as we can.
During the next broadcast Gary tells Will that people have given TMI hush money to keep their name out of the tabloid. It is just like paying protection money to the mob.
Kahlid Selim gives the team some suggests about the next step he’d like his reporting to take. It involves government actions and seems more dangerous. He’s headed for the Ministry of the Interior, a secret and dangerous place where insurgents are held.
Sloan starts to explain the financial crisis to MacKenzie over drinks. She begins with the Glass-Steagall Act. But soon enough the conversation drifts over to Will. Sloan asks MacKenzie about her relationship with Will.
Neal starts to get a bad vibe. Amen/Kahlid hasn’t been heard from since he told them he was heading over to the Ministry of the Interior which is the Egyptian equivalent of Lubyanka in Moscow. Many enter – few leave. Just then, Elliot arrives. He’s back from Egypt. His arm is in a sling, his ribs were broken, and he looks hideous from the beating he absorbed. He receives an ovation from the newsroom staff.
But the joy of having Elliot back is dissipated because there’s still no word on Amen. Don offers that they can can use the service provider to track the GPS signal emanating from Amen’s phone.
Don and Charlie discuss whether Elliot should go on the air. Don is in favor of it because he thinks it’ll will cast a better light on the reputations of journalists and because he feels guilty as he was the one who sent Elliot out of the safety of the hotel room. Charlie is against it. The argument lasts all of a minute. Finally Don to Elliot: You’re benched.
Will’s told by Gary that another takedown piece will soon be forthcoming from the poisoned pen of Nina Howard. Will says, I don’t care if it is about me. Gary says, Its not about you, it is about MacKenzie, something about her getting her guys killed in Pakistan. Now that get’s Will attention. He asks for, and gets Nina’s phone number from Gary.
The team has discovered some intel about the Koch brothers wheeling and dealing along with their political donations. More precisely, this involved the rightist Citizens United, a conservative non-profit organization , the Cato Foundation, another body dedicated to arguing for unfettered speech (which really meant that political contributions by corporations not be limited and that transparency shouldn’t be required). Jim Harper presented that Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas had been frequent guests of the Kochs, and that Mrs. Virginia Thomas had received nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation, which was funded by the Kochs. What’s more – Justice Thomas failed to disclose this on his Supreme Court Justices Disclosure forms. The evidence is that it would be in their (Citizen United, Cato, and Heritage) best interest to get rid of unions. Neal rushes in, Excuse me, Kahlid’s gone.
The News Night team begins reaching out . Rush Limbaugh is on the air commenting on foreign journalists being grabbed in Egypt. It seems that Mr. Limbaugh is not sympathetic to the plight of the journalists. Moreover it sounds like he could not care less. Neal is infuriated to the extent that he smashed his fist into a monitor and breaks a couple of his fingers.
Charlie has gotten the word from Corporate. Legal thinks that if the network helps Amed/Kahlid there would be liability. In short, they feared that Kahlid could turn around and sue them. Don, Will, and Mackenzie head upstairs (to the 44th floor) to confront Reese. Don hurts his shoulder trying to break down Reese’s door. Reese is not in.
As Don is confessing to Will that he feels guilty about sending Elliot out onto the street (Will says, You didn’t order him, you gave him permission) Elliot, who has been working his contacts, finds out the military has Amen. They denied it until they realized that someone with money was looking for him. They want a quarter million dollars US wired to a “charity” . Will, you are the only one who can make Corporate do this wire transfer.
Will’s next show begins with the Wisconsin story. What started with 75 teachers in Appleton, has now become 30,000 strong in Madison. Meanwhile, Wade shows up at the studio during the next show looking for Mackenzie. Mackenzie tells Jim to have Wade to wait on the terrace. Jim: It’s 10 degree outside. Mackenzie shrugs it off. She knows what she has to do, and that would be to confront Wade about him running for office. [JMM: looks like a major shootout is about to happen].
But it is short and not at all sweet. Wade wants to take the high road. But Mackenzie isn’t buying into it. Wade: Were you ever going to tell me about you and Will? We were never going to work. Mackenzie: In this order -
- Lose the election
- Go to hell…
Will has arranged a meeting with Nina Howard. They dance around the subject which is the take-down piece on Mackenzie. Will finally says, How does this work? Nina goes for it . She says, I’m thinking about investing in a restaurant, and I’m looking for silent partners at $50,000 a share. Will says, For $50,000 I’m a silent partner? Nina: Yes. Will And you’re a silent partner? Nina: I’m as silent as a mouse. Will: For good? Nina: You can have your own table at the restaurant for life. Will reaches for his checkbook. But he’s not going to pay Nina’s bribe money without giving her a lecture about what journalism really is and how it really works. Nina bristles about this and thinks she too is a journalist. Will: Come after me all you want Nina, come after me everyday. Go through my garbage, invent things out of thin air. That’s what you’re paid for. But if you touch my staff, you’ll be walking into a world of hurt. I have an hour of prime time every night, and I will re-dedicate my life to ruining yours.
Will concludes by telling Nina that if he gets wind of Leona running all this from behind the curtains, he would come after the two of them and make a meal of them, and not stop until he’s done. With that, Will decides to not pay Nina. Tough-assed speech, says Nina, but you’re not going to win. But Will is no longer worried about Nina. As he leaves, he tells her to wait 20 minutes before leaving the bar. And that he’ll pay for the drinks.
Serious stuff wouldn’t you say? Okay, now Mr. Sorkin decides to cue in some silliness. Lisa, Maggie’s roommate) comes to the newsroom screaming for Jim as he has forgotten about Valentine’s Day and has inadvertently stood Lisa up. Jim hasn’t much of a plan so he starts by hiding under Mackenzie’s desk. Maggie gets Jim back up on his feet so he goes out to apologize. It doesn’t go well. Lisa is boiling mad. Maggie tries to defend Jim but isn’t doing a good job of it. So she changes tack and then goes off on Valentines Day, the holiday. Valentines Day is the bully of holidays. I’m boycotting Valentines Day from now on! Who’s with me?
Poor Don walks in at that precise moment with a bouquet of Rose for Maggie.
[JMM: Please! When will it end? Where's the great Sorkin finish? Where are the usual final moments of the show that leave you breathless? It's coming up right about now, and it is wearing (metaphorically) Rudy's Notre Dame football jersey.]
MacKenzie and Will are chatting. Mackenzie is showing off her recent gains in knowledge of economics.
Mackenzie: Do you know it was Bill Clinton who repealed the Glass-Steagall Act? Will: Everyone knows that. Mackenzie [shrugging that off] Now, everyone knows it.
Mackenzie has the lowdown on Will. Maggie: Corporate didn’t wire anything [to save Amen/Kahlid], you did. Will (shrugging that off] It was one of our guys.
Yes, Will was the one who sent the wire transfer of the money to free Kahlid. As the show ends, just like in the film Rudy, there’s a string of staffers, in a long line, they’re not turning in football jerseys, instead, all have chipped in money to offset Will’s expense. It isn’t much they say, and the memo line of their checks read ‘Coach”. So ‘Rudy’ has come full circle for Episode 5. Will gets up and goes into the newsroom where he gets a standing ovation as the line into his office, of the check bearing staff , snakes it’s way in. And who organized this?
Will: You did this?
You betcha – it was Mackenzie
Maggie: Happy Valentine’s Day!
Summary: This was a rather well done episode. Just enough Maggie/Don/Jim/Lisa to be aggravating. Gorgeous Olivia Munn, as Sloan Sabbith, once more rattled off every one of her lines far too rapidly. Charlie Skinner was in short supply. And Reese and Leona had the week off.
More importantly, Will McAvoy was cloaked as the hero this week. In the prior weeks he glowed as a newsman, spouting the Sermons by Sorkin, and when not doing so, he seemed to be a self-centered jerk. Mackenzie McHale started this week on the wrong foot by going public with some of Will’s boyhood secrets, but by the end of the show – she had regained her footing as not only a solid newswoman, but also has a strong female character with much to be admired.
Nina Howard got her comeuppance as she was revealed as a petty, money grubbing magazine whore who was for sale. Wade Campbell also got his comeuppance as Mackenzie dumped him. I’m not going to bet on this, but I’m not sure that we have seen the last of either Nina and/or Wade. But if we don’t see them again, they won’t be missed. What do you think?