Monday, August 26, 2013

The Newsroom Review: "Red Team III" - Sorkin Stumbles Hitting His Stride

Leona lets everybody off the hook on "The Newsroom"

The Genoa Investigation wraps up in an episode that is ninety percent awesome, five percent troublesome, and five percent infuriating.  As I wrote in my season one review (and have probably written several times since), The Newsroom is an amazing show when I can shut my brain off, and “Red Team III” is no different.  The episode moves along at a fantastic clip and has this constant sense of dread as we watch the Genoa broadcast play out while waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Everything in the first half of the episode was great and even the Benghazi stuff (which helps to explain why Genoa isn’t going to be a story for much longer) works well, with one glaring exception I’ll get to later. 

If The Newsroom had this ratio of great:iffy:bad every week, I’d have no problem loving it.  But the fact that there are usually so many issues always makes me want to focus on the show’s problems, and this episode had two big ones.  The biggest issue is that the episode spends so much time explaining how this wasn’t just Jerry’s fault, but was instead an institutional failure and yet, in the end, Jerry is the only one who gets fired.  This is the crux of Jerry’s wrongful termination lawsuit against ACN and it’s easy to see his point.  Jerry alone didn’t miss the fact that Eric Sweeney lied about his second Purple Heart and covered up his Traumatic Brain Injury.   Jerry didn’t feed leading questions to the third witness, Herman Valenzuela, Mac did.  It wasn’t Jerry’s source who forged the mission manifest, it was Charlie’s (and also Will’s, though nobody knew they shared a source).  Sorkin spends so much time walking back the idea that Jerry was the villain of this whole fiasco that Leona’s ultimate decision not to fire anybody is just ludicrous. 

I can buy that, in the year or so since last season’s finale, Leona has come around on Will, Mac, and Charlie and can embrace the program they’re doing, especially since his ratings seem to be up (and skyrocketed for the Genoa program).  And her closing line of “Get it back!” in response to Will’s cry that “We don’t have the trust of the public anymore” makes for a phenomenal smash cut to black.  The scene, as a scene, worked, not least because Jane Fonda does amazing work with Sorkin’s dialogue.  But seriously, if you’re going to spend 55 minutes explaining how this all fell apart and how it wasn’t all Jerry’s fault, then somebody else has to get fired.  Whether it’s all three or just Will or just Mac ultimately doesn’t matter.  But if you’re not going to have any consequences to the drama, then what’s the point?  Actions require consequences and if the show and characters end up in the same place at the end of this season as they were at the beginning then there’s been a pretty massive failure.

My other issue with this episode is less a problem than a missed opportunity.  Will ultimately explains the litany of things that went wrong and what actually happened on the Genoa mission (with the exception of Stomotonvich’s “it happened”).  This was a mistake.  I would have found it much more interesting (and Leona’s response much more believable) if they hadn’t so effectively torn apart the story but had, instead, left the ultimate answer hanging.  Sure, Sweeney suffered a TBI.  Sure, Jerry manufactured the Stomtonovich recording.  Sure, Mac led Valenzuela during questioning.  These problems are clearly enough to force a retraction of the story.  But to have Charlie’s source turn out to be crazy and vindictive was unnecessary and even a bit overkill.  And given that the incident that he believes ultimately resulted in his son’s death (being fired from ACN) happened during the timeline of this series, that’s something that might have been nice to have seen before.  As it is, we have no context for this betrayal and it all just comes completely out of left field.  Had Sorkin not gone so far with the source’s villainy and had he not given a 10-second explanation of what really happened on the Genoa mission, he could have forced the “News Night” team to retract the story, but still kept its veracity in question, making the fallout seem more understandable. 

All in all, this was still a pretty fantastic episode.  That it seems like only Jerry is going to take the fall for this colossal snafu is infuriating, but the whole story’s execution and its epic collapse made for great television.

A couple of spare thoughts –

I’m not going to rehash my comments on Maggie’s hair from last week, but we’re now a year out from her trip to Uganda and she just now has cut it, after the Genoa fallout.  Presumably we’re not going to get any explanation on what exactly is going on there, but that whole storyline just feels like a misfire.

I figured it would be the basketball game that proved that Jerry edited the Stomtonovich tape, but I didn’t think it would be the shot clock.  It seems like that was a little too obvious and that somebody should have caught it prior to airing.  They also don’t give any indication that Stomtonovich wanted the game on specifically to prevent the raw footage from being edited.  Given his level of paranoia, it seems like something he would have thought of and done, but it’s left unsaid in an episode where no detail is left unexplained. 

Benghazi gets rushed through, but we have yet another anonymous “source at State” telling our intrepid reporters that Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack.  I like the fact that they ran with the standard story because they didn’t trust their sources now, but it leaves a gaping hole in the story.  If, in fact, there was an email circulating in the government that Benghazi had nothing to do with Terry Jones’s anti-Muslim film, then why did Susan Rice go on Meet the Press five days later and say “What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video”?  This seems like Sorkin wanting his cake and eating it too.  He needs his characters to be the smartest people in the room, but he ends up essentially implying that the US ambassador to the UN blatantly lied on national television. 


No episode next week because of the holiday weekend, which is good since I’ll be at the lake anyway.  See you in two weeks.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV

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