‘The Newsroom’ Recap (Season 1, Episode 5): “Amen”
Anti-Mubarak riots, Scott Walker protests, the Glass-Steagall act, and Rudy. The Newsroom tied them all together this week into a pretty good epsiode!
After last week’s Coldplay debacle, The Newsroom is finally back on it’s feet with one of the better episodes of the season so far. The credits say that Aaron Sorkin was the only writer for “Amen,” but let’s just hope whichever staff writers were behind this one weren’t culled for season 2. The problems that have been plaguing the show so far — the irredeemable preachiness, mishandling of the news stories, kind of unfunny jokes — were super minimized this week, except for treatment of the female characters which was…problematic, as usual. But anyways — I’ve got 600 words left so let’s do this!
The episode opened with affable 10 o’clock anchor Elliot holed up in a hotel room in Egypt, reporting live on the anti-Mubarak riots. Coverage in Egypt is at a standstill for all the major cable networks since mid-revolution Cairo is not the best place to be for foreign journalists, so obviously that means Terrible Don is bullying Elliot into going out to report from the streets. This comes back later in the episode, when it turns out Elliot did go out into the riots and it did turn out pretty badly for him when the mob turned on him (“With a rock,” Don nonchalantly tells the horrified staff). This does, however, lead to the first time we see Terrible Don doing something that is not, well, absolutely terrible. His genuine remorse and later apology to Elliot are both pretty touching and well-done. And well-written. What’s going on here???
With Elliot out of commission, Mackenzie still needs someone on the ground in Egypt and that’s when Neal comes up with a solution. He knows of an Egyptian journalist going by the name of ‘Amen’ who’s been covering the riots, and convinces Mackenzie and Will to hire Amen to report for them. In doing so, we — for the first time — get to see some backstory and character development for Neal that’s actually pretty well-written and handled until ruined by a totally inappropriate (and worse, unfunny) Rudy joke from Will. There is a time and a place for Rudy jokes and it’s definitely not when someone has just told you they were a survivor of the London Underground bombings.
Amen does report for ACN live from the riots, and does eventually end up getting captured by the military — never in all of human history has anyone ever went to a political riot, had a great time, and made it home in time for supper, especially not on a dramatic cable television series. The newsroom staff then has to figure out how to save Amen when the network administration refuses to negotiate with the Egyptian military because of liability concerns. Terrible Don tries to break down a door to get to the executives they need (he fails terribly), Neal punches a computer playing a Rush Limbaugh video (yessssss), and Will eventually ends up paying $25,000 to the Egyptian military’s Paypal account to save Amen. It’s all engaging and well-written. What?????
Meanwhile, throughout all of this, storylines about the Wisconsin unions-vs.-Scott-Walker protests, the repeal and effects of the Glass-Steagle Act, and the Citizens United ruling were all woven in with the interpersonal drama. I literally thought I was in an alternate reality while watching this episode because everything made sense and was pretty well-written. Will and Mackenzie’s chemistry was much more believable this week, and Jim and Maggie were doing pretty good for like the first quarter of the episode (hahaha, the glass doors) until eventually derailed by Maggie’s deranged, improbable, and totally inappropriate considering he’s her boss (???) anger towards Jim. But Dev Patel finally had something to do this week, Will only had one speech this episode and it wasn’t a speech so much as an impressive warning to gossip columnist Nina Howard to stay away from his staff, Don was actually a three-dimensional character for once, Sam Waterston basically did the Taken monologue in a morning show host’s earpiece, and Mackenzie dumped her boyfriend (I forgot his name, but everyone knows it’s Fritz from The Closer, so it’s fine) in a very very cool moment (“In this order: leave, lose the election, go to hell.”). I literally do not know what’s going on with this show, but for once I mean it in a good way!
Other things this episode (and most of them are good, am I in the Twilight Zone):
-This episode was….actually written? Like somebody clearly sat down and thought of how to weave this episode together with little character moments instead of trying to fit in as many monologues as possible. For instance, Mackenzie’s inability to not count on her fingers tied together with her economics lessons with Sloan, the entire ongoing Rudy thing, etc.
-It feels kind of awkward that for an episode dealing with basically on the ground coverage by independent journalists covering the Arab Spring, nobody mentioned Al Jazeera.
-Aaron Sorkin, even if you weave in an economics lesson into Sloan and Mackenzie’s conversations about Will it does not make this episode pass the Bechdel test.
-I had a lot of Don feelings this episode, and they mostly went from “hahaha, Don” to “ohhhhhhhhh, Don”
-The early scene of Maggie and Jim in the editing bay putting a segment together was really interesting–it’d be cool to see how news shows are actually put together. Do they just put the people in the camera???
-That cute ending scene of Neal Skype-ing with Amen while surrounded by Valentine’s Day balloons and also a line of people re-enacting the jersey scene from Rudy, can we talk about that for a minute? Evokes every moment of Skype etiquette/horror when you see something totally bizarre going on behind the other person’s shoulder but you’re not sure if it’s okay to bring up.
-Ahhhh, Chris Matthews’ son! There he is! He keeps popping up in places that only like, experienced bird-watchers will be able to find him in.
-Okay, I liked Elliot’s little “you couldn’t have KEPT me from the story!” moment of journalistic integrity, but let’s be real, we all saw him during the Tea Party episode, he couldn’t even form words during his election coverage, let alone independent thought. But it was still a really sweet moment, and the bro-nod he shared with Don made it better.
-Did you know This Old House is about more than one house?
So straight up, I don’t know if I just hallucinated an entire episode tonight, but The Newsroom had a good episode this week with great news stories woven in alongside some pretty toned down (which is what this show needed) interpersonal drama. This recap isn’t even close to vitriolic! I don’t even know who I am anymore.
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