It’s only midway through the season, but Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) has already emerged as the MVP of The Newsroom’s sophomore year. Since he was introduced in the season premiere, the hyper-curious, ever-persistent, chronically underestimated Jerry often feels like the only journalist in the room. (Neal shares these qualities too, but he’s so robot-like that he doesn’t have the social awareness to draw stories – or sources – from people on the street. Remember when he wore his ACN ID badge to a no-journalists Occupy meeting? Yeah.)
In a show that’s so much more often about packaging the news rather than discovering or gathering it, Jerry is the necessary outsider, and his presence brings a serious and focused energy that the show’s artificial suspense and screwball mania can’t compete with.
The other strength of the second season is the way that the show’s made Will less of a mouthpiece for Aaron Sorkin, or at least a much more flawed one. This was especially apparent in the episode’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street. Sure, Will gets in some jabs about the lack of OWS’s concrete demands, its unwillingness to play political ball to get laws passed and elect new politicos in office, and the ineffectiveness of leaderless movements. Notice, too, how the script stacks the deck against OWS non-leader leader Shelly (Aya Cash) by not allowing her to provide examples of movements derailed by the flaws of its leaders or successful leaderless movements.
But the show also makes clear that Will doesn’t get OWS: he’s too caught up in his smarmy self-regard and his class privilege to do so. Neither does MacKenzie, she of the $1200 shoes. Her brief spat with Jim makes it clear that ACN’s leaders are so buffered from Occupy’s concerns that they don’t just not get it – they can’t help making fun of it. Out of left field, Will also admits to Shelly during his apology that he bullied her on air because he’s still mad at MacKenzie. (Not to be a Nina Howard about this, but is this Sorkin’s way of admitting that he made Sex and the City the first season’s punching bag as a way of getting back at his ex Kristin Davis, AKA Charlotte?)
Meanwhile, Maggie’s sojourn to Africa – the first step of her transformation into a budding Africa specialist, a character development that would have given the character some much-needed gravitas – ends in a literal whimper. It was nice to see The Newsroom take a jeep ride with HBO’s considerable resources to stretch its legs and indulge in some lush cinematography, especially since the show has about as many sets as a three-camera sitcom. It was also a nice break from the endlessly silly Jim/Maggie/Don/Sloan love quadrangle – a pale imitation of MacKenzie and Will’s perpetually delayed yet compelling romance.
But ultimately, Africa was Oz; Maggie didn’t get the brains she came for and so desperately needs. Instead of intellect, the show gave her trauma by killing a child with a bullet possibly intended for her and slapping her with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Whatever it takes to make her a remotely believable journo, I guess.
Even with the Hampshire fiasco – is it Jim’s turn to be Don Quixote, and Hallie the derisive, undeserving Dulcinea? It was a pretty good episode, especially by The Newsroom standards. Still, Sorkin’s script was especially lazy this week. “Unintended Consequences” features some pretty egregious convenient plot points, like Shelly just happening to know about a top secret U.S. military war crime.
Sorkin also has Hallie rhetorically ask, “That was a predictable plot twist, don’t you think?” and Jerry say, “Something’s gotta fall into our lap. Something’s got to fall out of the sky and right into our lap. A preposterous stroke of luck has to occur” as a self-aware wink to the audience, a confession of how lame his plotting is. Like a cherry on top, he then lets us know that he knows that his 18-month-old Gary Cooper joke is lame – but he’s going to repeat it several more times anyway.
Someone should tell him what Will told MacKenzie in the last episode: “Sometimes you’re not as cute as you think you are.”