So much happened in this episode that there was very little time to focus on the personal lives of the characters, which was a blessing. Never fear though — what little time was devoted to the interpersonal relationships on the show made sure to make basically everyone look dumb and petty. When that wasn’t happening, it actually wasn’t that bad!
It’s February 2011 and the story that the “News Night” team is reporting on are the protests in Egypt. ACN has sent Elliott (of eleven o’clock hour fame) to cover the protests on the ground, but conditions are so unstable that he’s been relegated to reporting from his hotel room. Rather than find someone else to talk to, Will interviews Elliott about what he’s able to see from his room, which isn’t much. Elliott gets up to investigate gunfire outside of the hotel room and eventually decides that he wants to go outside. He gets beaten with a rock for his trouble. Everyone admires his commitment to getting the story and feels terrible about his injuries. I feel like I should mention that there’s no mention in this episode of Lara Logan and her commitment to covering the protests, which led to her sexual assault on February 11th, even though the episode ends on February 14th. There’s only room for one brave, intrepid reporter, and it’s a fictional dude!
While this is going on, teachers are gathering in protest outside the capitol building in Wisconsin, and Maggie is on it. She puts together a clip package with an editor, yelling instructions at her all the while. Shut up, Maggie. She runs the footage back to the control room, crows “I didn’t trip over anything on the way over!” and shuts the glass door in Jim’s face. As usual, Maggie is not the only flailing, incompetent female employee at “News Night” — apparently the tabloids are appalled that Mackenzie has been letting her boyfriend Wade appear on the show repeatedly, given that he happens to be considering a run for Congress. I think we’re supposed to believe that she didn’t think it was unethical at the time, and since we learn later that he’s using her to raise his own profile, that it somehow absolves her of blame, but it is terribly unethical and unprofessional, and she absolutely should be taken to task for it. Maybe not by the tabloids, though, since I can’t remember the last time that a cable news show’s executive producer got nailed by Page Six for anything at all.
Speaking of Mackenzie — much like CJ Cregg before her, she doesn’t understand a key issue and has been pretending that she does for weeks, because that makes more sense than asking for clarification. Unlike CJ, it’s not the census that she doesn’t get. It’s the economy. Which part? All of it. I’m not complaining, though, because she gets to have some scenes with Sloan, and I will give Sorkin credit here because he has really made me like Olivia Munn, something that I thought wasn’t possible. Sloan explains the Glass-Steagall act to Mac, and they manage to shoehorn in an analogy about America cheating on Glass-Steagall with the investment bankers just like Mac cheated on Will with her loser ex-boyfriend, and it’s all veeery dumb.
In the meantime, the Mackenzie/Wade story is blowing up, and shots are being taken at “News Night” by ACN’s equivalent of “The Today Show.” It’s completely bizarre that in her quest to get rid of Will, Leona Lansing would allow one of ACN’s anchors to publicly smear another anchor on the same network, but the smug anchor does just that, despite efforts from his bubbly, Bieber-fever-having female co-anchor to change the subject. Charlie intervenes, gets patched directly into the anchor’s ear, and threatens to fire him. It is straight anarchy at ACN — I’m on Leona’s side at this point.
The “News Night” team decides that they need a reporter on the ground in Egypt, in a meeting that is also derailed by a long discussion of “the jersey scene” in Rudy, and Neal finds one — his Egyptian doppelganger, a young man who has managed to stay connected to the internet during the protests, and who is eventually convinced to report under his full name with his face unobscured. In return, he gets kidnapped and held for a quarter-million-dollar ransom. This is more than Neal can handle, and he punches out a television that’s playing a clip from Rush Limbaugh’s show in which he expresses his delight over the kidnapping of journalists in Egypt. Don runs upstairs to Reese’s office to try to convince corporate to wire the ransom money, but runs into a locked door, literally, when he tries to get in touch with him. All this manly aggression is supplemented by Maggie inserting herself into Jim and Lisa’s relationship, buying Jim gifts to give to her and arranging a Valentine’s Day date for them so that Lisa doesn’t bogart Maggie’s own date with Don. Could Maggie be any more awful? I’m honestly asking.
One thing that Maggie doesn’t get horribly wrong is a link between the Koch brothers and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, a link that also implicates Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Although Citizens United paved the way for corporations to make unlimited campaign contributions, unions can as well under the decision — so it follows that dismantling unions might be in those corporations’ interests, hence the events in Wisconsin. Interesting connection — I assume that it will be raised again in later episodes, because that is as far as the “News Night” crew takes it this week.
Gary Cooper (remember, “the black guy who isn’t afraid to criticize Obama”) used to work at TMI, and he tells Will that it wasn’t unheard of for people to pay to keep their names out of the gossip pages. Will is aghast, but schedules a meeting anyway with Nina Howard to protect Mac. He’s all set to put $50,000 into some restaurant venture of Howard’s, when she makes the mistake of referring to them both as “journalists” and so she gets a lecture and no money instead. Will threatens to go after her on the show, and she basically tells him to bring it. Will still gets to throw around some dollars, though, arranging to pay the ransom for the kidnapped Egyptian reporter himself.
A stripper dressed as Hosni Mubarak, I think, (she struts in asking “Did somebody order a fascist thug?”) waltzes in to give the recently returned Elliott a lap dance, and is ignored because apparently there was also another stripper who already came and left. I assume that one was dressed as Hitler. Seriously, what kind of work environment is this? Mackenzie makes Wade meet her on a snowy terrace and dumps him. Lisa shows up and yells at Jim for standing him up for over an hour at a restaurant. She is treated as silly and irrational, because Valentine’s Day is something that girls like and is therefore frivolous and stupid, and the rules of normal human courtesy are suspended because apparently Jim couldn’t be bothered to send her an email, text or carrier pigeon telling her he’d be late.
Neal comes into Will’s office and drops off a check for him to help pay for the reporter’s ransom. Will doesn’t want to take it but Neal insists. Maggie comes in and drops off a check. Will sees that “Coach” is written in the memo line. One by one, staffers come in and drop off checks, a callback to the jersey scene in “Rudy.” I get goosebumps because I’m easily manipulated. Well played, Sorkin. It must be because I’m a girl!
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