With the second half of a two-part series, titled “The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate,” Aaron Sorkin manages to, again, alternate between strong storytelling and soapbox oration denouncing the evils of the GOP and all things Republican. Actually, “Mock Debate” is one of the less exciting episodes of The Newsroom thus far, the only real thrills coming in the closing few minutes. Sadly, the typically snappy Sorkin dialogue is slightly lacking as well, though there are several interactions between Neal and Sloan that are laugh out loud funny and if there are two characters best suited for one another, it’s these two.
That brings me to an important point: Neal Sampat, played very well by Dev Patel. Neal is an interesting bird, having started off as simply Will’s blogger (Will not even knowing he had a blog) and turning into the go-to tech geek. His story lines this season have been peripheral at best, but he adds a lot to the show. His obsession with Bigfoot is hilarious and his tenacity for uncovering the truth takes an approach typically different from the other characters. It may be the way the character is written or Patel’s wonderful delivery, but Neal is a component without which the show would lack a certain amount of fervor.
In “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn,” Neal pitched a story to MacKenzie about the online hackers who call themselves “trolls,” their sole mission being to get into online discussions and stir up trouble. Neal decides to go undercover as a troll in order to expose some of their tricks. He does this by attacking Sloan on an economics blog, hoping that will give him some street cred. When that’s not enough, he claims he is the one who posted a death threat aimed at Will on ACN’s website. Turns out, though, the troll with whom he is chatting claims to be the person who actually made the threat.
Aside from that moment that comes at the close of the episode, very little happens in “Mock Debate.” The title of the show obviously references the “News Night” team’s hopes of being awarded the RNC debate with the new format they’ve devised, but even that falls flat. The “new” format Will has been so excited to unleash would be fantastic if, in real life, a network had the guts to try it. Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen, so instead we get to watch Sorkin, er, Will attack the Republican candidates one after another (each candidate being played by a “News Night” staffer). One can only imagine that if The Newsroom was set during a period of time when there were Democratic candidates, that the new bullying format would never have crossed Sorkin’s mind. How could it? The Democrats have never done anything wrong.
Another plot line in which Sorkin belabors his political ranting is the bombshell that Lisa, Maggie’s roommate and Jim’s kind of girlfriend, went to high school with Casey Anthony. In an effort to boost the ratings even more, Jim and Maggie beg Lisa to come on the show. When she obliges, Sorkin, er, Lisa uses it to accuse the media of only covering missing children cases that feature either 1) a white child, or 2) an attractive mother. Sorkin, excuse me, Lisa then points out that since abortion is still so taboo to many people, if Casey Anthony would have had a choice, maybe her daughter wouldn’t have been born and this whole mess could have been avoided. In essence, the problem is that abortion is considered wrong by a dwindling population of our country, not that a mother is crazy and killed her child. Got it.
There are only a few episodes of The Newsroom left this season and I’m going to stick with it, but it will be tough. Hopefully, the season ends with something more exciting than “Mock Debate” which feels very much like the first quarter of an episode stretched out over 55 minutes.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”