“The Newsroom” Episode 6 recap: “Bullies”

OK, I was wrong last week. Not wrong about the creeping patriarchal self-image Aaron Sorkin is constructing in HBO’s The Newsroom, so patriarchal that last week’s homage to the movie Rudy suggests a Sorkin remake would better be titled The Awesome Coach Who Let Rudy Play. But wrong about Olivia Munn going back to the bench with the other guys who are not as important as the show’s Four Very White People Who Might Have Sex At Some Point.

Munn’s Sloan, a hot brainiac economist for some reason working at a cable news channel, moved to this week’s A-story, but not without due veneration of the Great Man who gives her wings license to soar and/or crash. Sorkin Archetype No. 5, D-Baggish Pro Who Has Your Back When The Chips Are Down, drafts Sloan to be a last-minute guest-anchor on the network’s 10pm hour. As she regularly does an afternoon biznews wrap, she fears she might not be ready for primetime, but SA5 assures her the job is mostly throwing-to-tape and, oh yeah, an interview with an executive at a compromised Japanese nuke plant at Fukushima whom she happens to know from brainiac-formative days. She accedes to the fill-in when SA5 dangles the lure of a selection of Gucci clothes for her to wear on the air.

Sloan seeks counsel from colleague Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), curmudgeonly once-inert anchorman who has found a new voice by teaming up with the ex-who-cheated-on-him, producer Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), to recreate the news as a beacon of Truth in a Fox News-toxified hellscape. Turns out McAvoy recommended Sloan for the fill-in spot, yay, and, when she asks for some advice on how to get the nuke guy to spill on the full extent of the looming disaster, it affords him/Sorkin the opportunity to deliver a tidy breakdown of nearly all TV journalism.

“I watch your show at 4 o’clock and you’re brilliant,” he says, “but you let guests say things that I know you know aren’t true and then you just move on. Ask the damn follow-up and then demonstrate with facts how the guest is lying. You can’t just … be a facilitator for whatever bulls–t the guest wants to feed your viewers. They’re not coming on to plug a movie … You knowingly, passively allow someone to lie on your air, and maybe you’re not a drug dealer, but you’re sure as hell the guy who drives the dealer around in your car. So maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t. Show me something.”

Spanked yet awed and saucer-eyed, Sloan exits with her game-face on.

In the interview, Sloan, who speaks Japanese, discerns that the corporate translator is not faithfully conveying her source/friend’s responses. Following Daddy’s McAvoy’s advice and ignoring SA5’s direction, she resorts to conducting a contentious interview in Japanese and eventually reveals herself what he had told her off the record in the pre-interview, the possibility of level 7 radiation at Fukishima, basically calling the official story a lie.

This gives network chief Sam Waterston the opening to be hilarious, bellowing across the Newsroom, “What in the name of holy f— were you thinking about?” Sloan is rattled and lost as he suggests that, in the wake of her burning a source, her past work will have to be vetted while she is suspended.

When the Newsroom discovers Sloan’s now-dishonored Japanese friend is offering to resign, Sloan appeals, saucer-eyed, to McAvoy for “wisdom.” McHale offers her wisdom, which Sloan turns down, saying McHale’s best efforts tend to blow up — which we, like McHale, are to take as funny and not a cavalier throat-punch to a seasoned journalist.

The episode was helped by a dearth of screentime for cloying Sorkin Archetypes 3 and 4, consigned as they are to an “opposition research” project — digging up available dirt on McAvoy in efforts to pre-empt imminent shots in the feud with their anti-news parent-company mogul boss Jane Fonda. They discover McAvoy nearly took a job with Fox in Los Angeles around the time he and McHale were serious. McHale, who last week mourned losing “the perfect guy,” confronts him, suggesting this till-now-concealed move hints he was never going to marry her and expressing indignation about all the time she has spent self-flagellant about cheating on him, particularly since he has held said cheating over her head like the Sword of Self-esteem Damocles.

McAvoy disarms her by pulling out a Tiffany’s box with a pretty engagement ring in it. He bought it for her back then. It is nice and just the kind of ring with which he should propose to some girl sometime, she says, rattled, backing out.

It is soon revealed — but only to McAvoy’s framing-device shrink — that McAvoy had his agent buy the ring upon learning of the “opposition research” project, specifically to show to McHale and keep the sword dangling.

Waterston comes up with a diplomatic solution to make Sloan not pout so much, even though her call on the level 7 radiation turns out to have been correct — retroactive prescience, FTW, sort of! — but it will require her submissive walkback and admission of a mistranslation. McAvoy nods his assent to the scheme so she does it.

Look, I get McAvoy is on an arc, battling his own internal bully while challenging bigger ones. What I’m uneasily vague on is whether Sorkin understands where amusing character/plot quirks end and paternalist condescension begins.

Other stuff happened, yeah, but two takeaways seem to overshadow them: No matter how professionally killer-awesome-multitalented-brainiac of a woman you are, if you are a woman, your legs will become soft pasta at the thought of designer clothing or the sight of a fancy wedding ring that will complete you; and the perfect guy, even for 21st century “career gals,” is no less perfect hatching an elaborate feint to keep you feeling awful about yourself and thus docile.

Cheers, ladies. Maybe mix Aaron Sorkin another highball.


Photos: Melissa Moseley/HBO


  1. So…am I free of the Grimm clutches, or is the Grimm reality that you’re finally (grudgingly) acknowledging the quality of this show? Huh, Grimm? I grant you that The Newsroom started to lose me…and I grant you that Emily Mortimer is still portraying The Dumbest Smart Character on TV™, but this week’s episode was pretty good all around, I thought: David Krumholz was pretty great as the shrink, and the framing device was – eegads! – actually kind of interesting. Anyway, you didn’t slam it all nearly hard enough, which makes me think Sorkin’s wearing you down, a bit. (Also, Sam Waterston was indeed pretty damned hysterical. He seems almost recovered from his 4,354 seasons of L&O, doesn’t he?)

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