It would be surprising to hear anyone argue that last night’s episode of The Newsroom wasn’t one of the most exciting hours of television drama in recent memory. From the very start, the episode, titled “The 112th Congress,” threw out the format the first two episodes followed which put the show in danger of becoming a weekly procedural. Instead of leading up to one major newscast, Aaron Sorkin and co-writer Gideon Yago (yes, former MTV VJ) start at the end of the events and jump back and forth in time leading up the newscast that puts Will’s future at ACN in jeopardy.
(Note: While it would be easy to compare the non-linear storytelling structure of “The 112th Congress” to Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script for The Social Network, this would be a misjudgment. Social Network re-arranged chronological order to affect a Rashomon-like sense of doubt over conflicting stories; “Congress” instead uses it simply as a mechanism to build suspense.)
The episode opens with Will delivering a heartfelt apology to his viewers and the American electorate for negating his duties as a newsman for so long. He admits that his choice of news was driven more by ratings than by the information voters needed to be aware of. He makes a promise to begin acting in a way befitting of the responsibility that has been bestowed upon him and assures his viewers that he will no longer cover the “fluff” pieces he made a staple of his program for so long.
While his staff is smitten by this speech, it becomes quickly apparent that Will’s 180 degree turn is not sitting well with the higher ups. The “present” in this episode is a very serious boardroom meeting between Charlie Skinner and Reese Lansing who we finally learn is not just a marketing suit but the president of Atlantis World Media, ACN’s parent company. Sitting in the shadows of the meeting, and mute throughout most of it, is Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), the CEO of AWM and Reese’s mother. (The theme of nepotism is not directly addressed, but will likely make an appearance as the series progresses.)
As Reese spouts off the numerous ramifications of Will’s newfound morality, we jump back to the newscasts and see Will begin hammering his guests with questions and not allowing any canned answers suffice. His biggest target is the Tea Party who he claims has co-opted the Republican party, of which he is a part. He views the Tea Party and their hyperbolic rhetoric as more detrimental than constructive when it comes to the national conversation.
We find out from Leona that two of the men Will has indicted are some of AWN’s biggest supporters. We also learn that many of the people Will has attacked leading up to the November 2, 2010 election (for the 112th Congress) are some of AWN’s most loyal “friends” in Washington. Leona tells Charlie that if Will doesn’t back off the GOP and the Tea Party, that his tenure at ACN may quickly come to an end.
The episode is extremely fast-paced and intricate. Viewers without a solid knowledge of voting trends and national politics will likely have a difficult time understanding why Will finds himself in such hot water. In almost an afterthought by Charlie Skinner, though, we find out about Will’s background which fleshes out his character and focuses him in a whole new light. We find out that he graduated college at 18. He graduated from law school at 21. He was a prosecutor for many years as well as a speechwriter before getting into broadcast journalism. Pretty much, he knows what he’s talking about.
We also get a continuation of the Will/Mackenzie and Jim/Maggie relationships that will likely always be a secondary plot to the main theme of politics. Will has started dating every woman in New York, from a professional cheerleader to a brain surgeon, and parading them in front of Mackenzie. Maggie and Don’s relationship continues to be incredibly dysfunctional, leaving Jim with a glimmer of hope for him and Maggie to connect. In fact, one of the most touching scenes is Jim helping Maggie through a panic attack on a rooftop patio.
Even though The Newsroom is becoming ridiculously one-sided politically, it continues to be an exciting and intelligent series.