The Newsroom Recap Episode 12: The Genoa Tip

Jeff Pfeiffer

On this week’s The Newsroom recap: Don (Thomas Sadoski), producer of Atlantis Cable News’s 10 o’clock hour, is getting a bit manic. Last episode he dumped Maggie (Alison Pill), insane producer of News Night, because, in spite of their cohabitation, he found out she was hung up on fellow producer Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) because they were both plucky socially-addled joy-allergic go-getters. Good riddance, right? Except Don’s humbling and heartache is seeing him morph from cynical de rigueur bad-TV-news-guy into a guy maybe in search of his soul, the energy of which he channeled into the heart-breaking case of Troy Davis.

Executed by the state of Georgia in September 2011, Davis became the catalyst of last night’s The Newsroom on HBO as one dot in the line of what’s becoming the season’s theme: politicized overreach by the state and its almost inevitable yield of injustice and impunity. This should be the perpetual target of any real news person because the news person’s job is to weigh the official story against stuff that actually happened. It’s what American broadcast journalism nearly institutionally doesn’t do anymore and what creator Aaron Sorkin set out to offer an idealistic tonic to with the News Night team, as led by born-again-tell-it-like-it-is-curmudgeon anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and executive producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer).

Don tries to front-burner the Davis case as his execution date approaches. He turns to the ex-prosecutor McAvoy for help, revealing he has been corresponding with the death-row inmate for nine years, and in that time, the prosecution’s conviction of Davis for the murder of a police officer has gone the way of so many convictions of African-Americans in the South, with witnesses recanting their testimony, defense counsel revealed as woefully inadequate and “law-and-order” governors not wanting to look soft on the wrongly convicted. The recently gloomy (see below) McAvoy shows his ostensibly conservative adherence to “law-and-order” and demurs at undertaking the lost cause. Don pushes the team to threaten one of the Georgia parole-board members with outing his ties to “law-and-order” lobby types, even if with no real hard evidence. They talk him down, but the change-up is telling.

Jim’s fill-in, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), continues digging into the excesses of the national security state, ramping up his and brainiac business anchor Sloan’s interest in the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes, most recently to kill an American national without due process, albeit one publicly committed to Islamist terror cell in Yemen. McAvoy is again less than empathetic.  Dantana’s potential career-maker also shapes up as they unearth the tip of of Operation Genoa, a U.S. mission in the Afghanistan where U.S. troops may have used sarin gas on civilians. This returns us to the framing device that began the season, suggesting that things will turn into a Big Story that will turn into a big boondoggle for News Night.

Neal (Dev Patel), meanwhile, is digging into the early fits of the great 2011 backlash against American economic injustice and corporate impunity, the Occupy movement, and finds himself cuffed as the NYPD does what the NYPD does, beats and kettles whomever it feels like in the name of “law-and-order.” McAvoy goes downtown and rescues Neal from custody himself, bringing the old prosecutor’s chops to bear on a desk sergeant, who finds himself in over his head as McAvoy upbraids calls the cops’ BS as they insist Neal didn’t ID himself as a media member. McAvoy reveals his is building frustration  at the impunity stacking up around him – even that which he has abided, Yemen, Troy Davis – and insists Neal is the one thing he can make right. Notwithstanding New York cops might’ve beat him down as well, it’s a smart scene that makes the non-superflous pieces of the episode all fit.

Still, Sorkin hasn’t figured out how to weave his many threads seamlessly, as per his putzing around with Maggie’s insanity and his dubious Great Man theory of history. Maggie attempts to get the YouTube video of the rant in which she confesses she like-likes Jim taken down, creepily tracks the poster laundromat, but the vidiot doesn’t take it down and Maggie’s old roommate and Jim’s supposed girlfriend, Lisa, sees it, tells Maggie correctly that she is an insane narcissist and emails the vid to Jim, self-exiled to cover the Romney campaign, as a  Dear John. None of this matters much other than to lay the pipe for Maggie to go more insane.

Per the Great Man thread, McAvoy, still in hot water for referring to the Tea Party wing of the Republican part as the “American Taliban,” has agreed with news chief Charlie (Sam Waterston) to bow out of 9/11 10th anniversary coverage with the feint that McAvoy will, for PR purposes, call in sick. Given the assignment in his stead, Sloan and 10 o’clock newscast anchor Elliot rally around the Great Man and insist he do it. Sorkin offers us some backstory as to why it it is meaningful to McAvoy: in spite of Season 1 establishing McAvoy as just another longtime anchorhack who rediscovers his passion, we discover he was but an untested legal correspondent for ACN on the 9/11/01 and took the anchor’s desk when no one else was available. We see old video of pre-hack McAvoy, obviously rattled, as he tells the audience, “We don’t know how many are dead, it’s gonna be a lot, it’s gonna be thousands. We don’t know who attacked us, we don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll make you this promise, I’ll be with you all night, I’m not going anywhere, I’ll be right here.”

Notwithstanding Sorkin may actually to have forgotten McAvoy went on to become a hack, there is something off-putting in the notion that I am supposed to get all tingly with the deep 9/11-y feelings of Will McAvoy. I say this because, in the self-same episode, Troy Davis died for a crime he pretty likely didn’t commit. You really don’t want me juxtaposing those two things.