So I had no idea what ‘Willie Pete’ meant other than being the title of Episode 13 of HBO’s The Newsroom. I don’t think that going in that many of us knew what Willie Pete would turn out to mean, with the exception being those of you who have been deployed, in the military sense, as well as in the war zone sense. Or those of you who have prepared weapon packages for H-1 helos.
The episode was rapid fire and above all entertaining. It required one to pay strict attention. And to clear up some of my questions, and/or to create some new questions for you to consider, I’m going to discuss the episode with Noah Gittell of reelchange.net
Noah’s blog is about movies, tv, and politics, and is filled with good reads. So I think this will be a good talk. Constance Zimmer, who played a senior Romney press secretary called Taylor Warren and her assistant called Cameron, briefed the press with planned and printed talking points memos. We will not have what they call ‘talking points’. We will make it up as we go.
JMM: Noah, I was impressed by the episode’s beginning and end, but less impressed by the middle. I knew Aaron Sorkin had to give the newbies like Hallie, Taylor, and Jerry a lot to do to get their characters up and running, but I thought that there was far too many repetitions like 4 references to Will’s voice mail, 4 Q & A’s between Jim Harper and Taylor, at least 2 scenes with the campaign embeds speaking into hand-held microphones, and at least 7 or 8 faxes. I’m saying that to make the points, Sorkin hit us over the head with the points far too often.
NOAH: First of all, thanks for having me here to discuss the show. I have such mixed feelings about it that I’m afraid I won’t be able to make too many definitive statements about it, but I’ll try. First of all, I loved the title of the episode. Sorkin does this well. He gives an ambiguous, mysterious title, and at some point in the show, he reveals its importance. I thought Willie Pete would be the name of a second witness to Operation Genoa or something like that, but the reveal of its true meaning was a nice moment.
Regarding your point about repetition, I agree it’s a huge problem, but I see where Sorkin is coming from. With the Q & A’s between Jim and Taylor, as well as the scenes with the reporters televising their spots, he’s trying to build the audience up to a point of frustration and then offering them a release when Jim has his own little “mission to civilize” moment on the free press bus. I thought that moment worked well, and I’m not sure if the repetition didn’t help build to that moment. Having said that, I agree with you 100% about the references to Will’s voice-mail. I can tolerate the subplot about Will and Mac’s romance because they’re both great actors, but let’s move past the voice-mail, shall we?
Jim: Can I get 30 minutes with the candidate?
JMM: Thanks and welcome Noah. Back to Jim for a moment – I liked him as a newsman last year, but so far this year he seems — simply annoying.
NOAH: I’m not sure I agree. Well, I’m mixed about it. I did like him as a newsman last year, but I absolutely hated the Maggie-Jim romance, and the further he gets away from her, the more I like him. In between seasons, Sorkin said that he listened to his critics and made some changes for season two. I wonder if putting an ocean between Jim and Maggie was his way of doing that. Either way, it’s looking like a welcome development. I hope he doesn’t get Jim together with that blonde, feminist reporter – I don’t like her either, which just points to how poorly Sorkin is writing women these days.
The bottom line, unfortunately, is that Jim doesn’t have much of a character in these episodes. He’s only there so that Sorkin can point out how lame the Romney campaign was. The incident with Maggie – which caused him to go to New Hampshire in the first place – didn’t seem to factor into his character at all this week. Does this bother you, too? I thought this episode, in general, worked well because it actually let the characters breathe a little, but too much of the time they seem like vehicles for Sorkin’s political views, and this leads to inconsistencies that make it hard to embrace them.
JMM: I agree about the problems stemming from the Jim-Maggie romance which is why I didn’t mention it above. And clearly he’s in NH and she’s about to be in Uganda is an ocean between them… but Maggie is still with him (in his head) on the bus and the bars and drinking establishments they frequent per Hallie (the blond).
Sorry, but the romance between these two seems inevitable.
But about Hallie – why don’t you like her. She’s seems competent to me as well as attractive.