Last night’s episode of The Newsroom, “Bullies,” was a showcase for more of Aaron Sorkin’s greatest hits — a main character whose life is being threatened who is unwillingly accompanied by a wise-cracking bodyguard á la CJ Cregg, a main character who reluctantly uncovers a latent trauma with the help of a therapist, á la Josh Lyman, and a character who is motivated to see a doctor because of a bout of insomnia, á la Jed Bartlet. These stories on The West Wing were moving; on The Newsroom, they are something else entirely.
The episode begins in the recent past, when Will McAvoy goes to see his psychiatrist, who he has paid but not seen for four years, hoping to get a sleeping pill prescription. The psychiatrist (played by David Krumholtz) invites him to sit down for a chat, and Will sets up flashbacks into the not-so-recent past. Apparently he can’t abide “News Night”‘s online commenting system, with its anonymity and silly names. Several weeks before the insomnia started, he decides that everyone who comments on the website needs to list their real name, age, occupation and education. In return, someone circumvents the identification requirements and posts a message threatening to kill Will that includes his home address. Boy, people who comment on news stories on the internet sure are crazy. This is happening concurrently with the fervor over the “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City, so we get a typical Newsroom dressing down of a dumb lady on air by Will McAvoy (to be fair, she is extremely dumb, and he also humiliates a black gay man by the end of the episode, so I guess this one is a draw).
The other real-life news story in this episode is the tsunami that lead to a near nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in 2011. In another typical Newsroom move, the person who just so happens to have a friend close to the action is Sloan Sabbith, who is fluent in Japanese and also has an old friend who is a spokesperson for TEPCO. She gets him to confess off the record that the situation is much more serious than his company is willing to admit. She’s also tapped to take over for Elliot at 10 o’clock, which she is terrified to do until Don tells her about the Gucci clothes she’ll get access to. Women be shopping! On air, however, her TEPCO rep friend’s “translator” is clearly also there for damage control, and Sloan, galvanized by a really rude pep talk from Will, gets frustrated and starts asking him questions directly in Japanese.
It’s a very Will McAvoy move, and would probably be seen as proof of his hard-headed brilliance had he done it, but it nearly gets Sloan fired. She insists that the spokesperson gave her different information in the pre-interview, but all that matters is what he told her on air, which hewed to the company’s party line. She finds out later that he is offering to resign over the controversy, and is devastated that she caused this hit to her friend’s honor. Charlie suspends her with pay, calling her “girl” for good measure, and she gives it to him right back. When she yells “Do not call me ‘girl,’ sir,” it’s a fist pump kind of moment. Olivia Munn is the surprise of the show for me. Then Don literally lifts her chin up for her, and we’re back to our regularly scheduled men being in charge of everything.
Will tells all of this to his psychiatrist, feeling guilty that he set the events in motion that led to Sloan’s suspension. Then a slip of the tongue leads to the discovery that he doesn’t just feel bad about Sloan — he feels even worse about a black, gay Temple professor who is working for Rick Santorum, whom Will humiliated on air to make a point about Santorum’s intolerance. The professor fights back, yelling “I am more than one thing” (he is also an anti-abortion zealot) but Will still looks like a bully for pushing him as far as he did. The psychiatrist points out that Will grew up protecting his mother and siblings from his abusive alcoholic father, and suggests delicately that Will’s bullying is an outgrowth of his upbringing. As a second example, he brings up the girl Will yelled at at Northwestern. “I scared her,” Will admits. Well, she probably just thought he was a huge jerk, but the point is well taken.
Also in this episode: Mac asks Maggie and Jim to do opposition research on Will, leading to the discovery that he was approached to host a late night show several years ago, which she takes to mean he had no intention of marrying her and storms into his office to give him a piece of her mind. But wait — he has a Tiffany ring in his desk drawer that he was planning to give her! Stunned, the wind totally taken out of her sails, Mac leaves. The flashback ends and Will tells his psychiatrist that he had someone go buy the ring that day, to…mess with her head? How did he know she would ask him about it on that particular day? That is the craziest thing I have ever heard. By the end of the episode Will and Charlie cook up an excuse to save Sloan’s job (naturally, it involves her claiming to get the Japanese words for “four” and “seven” mixed up and looking dumb in the process, but there was a man’s honor at stake so extreme measure were necessary) and he gets his sleeping pill prescription.
Miscellaneous: Will is an “accomplished guitarist who occasionally jams with Leonard Cohen.” Also in her time working at “News Night,” Maggie has up Georgia the state and Georgia the country and also wrote “LOL” in a condolence card thinking that it meant “Lots Of Love.” Maggie should be fired.
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