Episode Title: “5/1”
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Director: Joshua Marston
Previously on “The Newsroom:”
The episode opens with Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) on the phone with an unnamed source who wants to be called “Deep Throat,” but ends up with the moniker “Late for Dinner.” He wants to establish his credibility by revealing that in an hour and a half, the news team will receive an important announcement about a breaking story of national importance.
So Charlie is understandably distracted by the one-year anniversary of “News Night 2.0” being held at Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniel’s) apartment, where Will has just consumed eight times too much medicinal marijuana and Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) has been caught on the phone with his girlfriend, Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), who says she loves him when he, clearly, doesn’t feel the same. Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) insists that he break up with her that night, but before Jim can complie, the team learns that the White House is making an urgent announcement.
Everyone rushes off to the office, including Will, who gets stuck in traffic with his bodyguard, Lonny Church (Terry Crews), who gets arrested when he chases after Will, who decides to run to ACN instead. Meanwhile, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Elliott Hirsch (David Harbour) and Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) are stuck on the runway at the airport, receiving breaking news, but powerless to do anything about it. Don repeatedly gets into an argument with the flight attendant, who insists he follow the airline safety rules even though the plane is parked.
At the office, everyone begins to speculate that Osama bin Laden has been killed, but Charlie refuses to air the news until they get two confirmations or the official go ahead from the White House. The Washington D.C. desk is handling the pre-show while Will rushes to the office, and Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) has to stop them from jumping the gun by reporting tweets and unconfirmed reports, going so far as to take the entire network off the air for several seconds.
Lisa and Neal Sampat’s (Dev Patel’s) girlfriend Kaylee (Natalie Morales) are on the sidelines waiting for official news to come in, and when Charlie finally announces to the office – but not on the air – that Osama bin Laden has been killed, Kaylee takes the news hard, since she lost her father on 9/11. Meanwhile, Lisa decides to break up with Jim because she knows she forced him to commit to loving her before he was ready. She also tries to force Jim and Maggie to admit they have feelings for each other, which they refuse. Impressed by her strength of character, Jim asks her out on a new first date.
Don tries to tell the increasingly panicked passengers that the news is not of a terrorist threat, but when the airline attendant calls in the pilots, he calms down and tells them that Osama bin Laden has been killed, and feels good about himself because he got to report the news after all. Finally, Will realizes that he received their second confirmation twenty minutes prior, personally from Joe Biden no less. Will announces that Osama bin Laden has been killed, and President Barack Obama gives his famous address over the credits.
“The Newsroom,” one of the most dramatically inconsistent dramas on television, has finally managed to eke out two solid episodes in a row. What’s more impressive is that it accomplished this feat in a storyline it seemed destined to screw up.
The announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by Navy SEALs on May 1, 2011 was a monumental occasion, maybe the most memorable news moment since the 9/11 attacks themselves. It was also an emotional powder keg that “The Newsroom” could have reduced to melodramatic pandering or sensationalism. Or worse, ignored in favor of the series’ oft-problematic relationship subplots. Instead we’re treated to a classy, tasteful and overall very entertaining episode of television. With relationship subplots that actually work, because they get the “sub-” part right.
The episode must have been a tricky one to conceive, since the suspense – about whether the president’s address will be good news or terrible news – is nonexistent to the audience, who know full well what really happened. But Aaron Sorkin deftly reminds us of the uncertainty that followed the first announcement (that there would be an announcement) and the actual address, handling the event in close to real time as the stress of the evening and gradual realization wash over the protagonists as they cope with speculation, excitement and, in the case of Neal’s girlfriend Kaylee, a sober understanding that the news, while appreciated, offers little comfort to Osama bin Laden’s victims. The fact that Will is high as a kite adds only a modicum of levity, and thank goodness, because one step in the other direction would insulted both the audience and the historical event itself.
Most satisfying of all was the storyline featuring Don, Elliott and Sloan, which began as diverting comic relief but climaxed with a clever and heartfelt moment that reemphasized the significance of the story itself, and the genuine virtue of relating current events to those who would appreciate the information most. Second-most satisfying was the enjoyable mystery involving Charlie Skinner's new source, which would seem to set the stage for a larger development in episodes ahead, when the fit seems likely to hit the shan for the News Night crew.
Those relationship subplots were muted this week, focusing mostly on the Maggie/Don/Jim/Lisa quadrangle, and finally giving Lisa a moment to prove that she’s a strong character with convictions of her own, driving a believable wedge between Jim and Maggie that will, obviously, be removed eventually but does at least stretch the subplot without unnecessary padding. Mac even gets a moment to prove her worth for a change, taking the entire ACN station off the air during one of the biggest news stories in history just to prove an ethical point.
All told, another solid hour of television from a show that just might be finding its foothold. The very ending of the show, which allows at least a significant portion of Barack Obama’s address to play out over the credits, is one of the most respectful depictions of current events thus far on the series, reminding us that behind this fiction is a real world full of greater importance.