Episode Title: “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate”
Writer: Aaron Sorkin
Director: Alan Poul
Previously on “The Newsroom:”
The episode begins where last week’s “Tragedy Porn” left off, with the sudden blackout threatening to ruin tonight’s episode of “News Night.” Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) tries to rally the troops with a makeshift plan to film the episode outside, renegade style, and declares that the blackout could be the best thing that ever happened to them. Then the power comes back on, and the episode goes on as planned, tragedy porn and all.
Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) finally convinces Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) to allow him to troll about her on the internet. Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) hides flowers that Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) received from a girlfriend he acquired while on a break from his relationship with Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill). Maggie is tasked with enlisting her roommate, Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), on the show because she was Casey Anthony’s college roommate. She doesn’t want to go on the show because she’s disgusted by the treatment of the story, but finally acquiesces to help Maggie. Jim makes another attempt to ask Lisa out on a proper first date, but is stonewalled again.
Will talks to his therapist (David Krumholtz) and acknowledges that he should be able to forgive Mac for cheating on him, but realizes he can’t because he has issues with betrayal. Lisa goes on the show with a tacit understanding that she’ll be softballed, but winds up going off-script by bringing up abortion issues that result in her place of business being vandalized.
The RNC representatives show up to see the mock debate, but although Will’s old friend agrees with the value of the hardball format, the other representative is disgusted by the serious questions and turns them down flat. Will, fed up, decides to throw out the whole Casey Anthony thing and return to “News Night 2.0” as usual.
Jim reveals that “Late For Dinner” is not a solid source, having had troubling psychological reports, a stalking charge from his ex-wife and an arrest for solicitation in the 1970s. Despite a successful troll defaming Sloan, Neal can’t get in good with the secret troller website. Sloan accidentally gives him the idea to claim he issued the death threat to Will.
Jim, spurred by Mac, arrives at Maggie’s apartment but Don assumes he’s there for Lisa, who takes him back, even though he was probably there to woo Maggie. The episode ends with Neal claiming to have issued Will’s death threat, only for another member of the trolling site to claim it was them all along.
You know what, “The Newsroom"? I don’t like being right all the time. I’m asking you to surprise me, to impress me, to whip out an excellent television series when I’m not expecting it. That didn’t happen this week. “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate” fell prey to exactly the storytelling issues I predicted last week. The very concept of the show took down your attempt at a big two-part episode, making both it and the very series seem extra pointless as a result.
To recap, for the umpteenth time (it’s bound to sink in eventually), “The Newsroom” shot itself in the foot and the head when it decided to take place in the past. Yes, it gives Aaron Sorkin the freedom to “Monday Morning Quarterback” the news, telling everyone how to do their jobs with years of hindsight compared to the hours (if not mere minutes) that the actual news cycle had to cover these stories at the time. But in exchange for cathartic nay saying he gave up his ability to build actual drama. The plot of his series is centered on a long-term goal to save the 24-hour news cycle from itself, and we know – living, as we do, in the series’ future – that they failed.
A two-part episode in which the consequences centered on changing the Republican Primary doesn’t work within the framework of this conceit. The plot is a foregone conclusion. Same for the overhyped whistleblower plotline. Sorkin invented the scandal, so we know it never comes to fruition. The best we can hope for is that the whistleblower’s secondary function, discrediting “News Night’s” antagonists, will come together in the end. It pretty much has to, or the first season is going to be a total wash.
Sorkin turns last week’s cliffhanger into a goofy little joke this week, setting us up for a big, rousing episode before – gotcha! – doing the same thing they always do. The bulk of “The Blackout Part 2” fails to make any kind of impression as a result. The status quo is re-established by the end of the episode, the only forward progression is with the last minute return to the death threat subplot and the predictable fate of the Jim/Maggie/Don/Lisa quadrangle, which was obvious from the first episode. The manufactured obstacles keeping the young lovers apart were tacked on mid-season to keep the subplot from concluding too early, although it was a pleasant surprise that Kelen Coleman turned out to be such a welcome addition to the cast.
So we come to the conclusion of “The Newsroom’s” first season next week. Either Will’s getting fired and the next season will be all about Aaron Sorkin teaching the internet how to do a podcast right, or everything will turn out okay. It’s easy to predict the latter, but come on, “The Newsroom.” Surprise us.