“The Newsroom” – Episode 7: “5/1”

Tonight’s episode was, by “Newsroom” standards, rather slight. There were no big surprises in it, and there was no real conflict either. The news team spent very little time debating how to cover the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and thus Sorkin did not spend too much time criticizing how the Bin Laden story was covered in the real-world media. And rightly so – there were no journalistic controversies over the Bin Laden story, so for most of tonight’s episdode, Sorkin and his cast loosen up and have a little fun.

And no one is having more fun than Will. As the show starts, everyone is enjoying a party at Will’s apartment, but the host ups the ante by ingesting a little more medicinal marijuana than he planned on, so he spends the night of the most important news story since 9/11 stoned out of his gord. Although we haven’t seen it much yet in this series, Daniels can be a very silly actor, and he gets a lot of laughs out of this one, even though Sorkin’s writing doesn’t exactly crackle. It was pretty easy to spot the Obama/Osama mix-up coming.

Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston

While everyone else is busy trying to confirm the news of the Bin Laden killing, Jim and Maggie are still stuck in their high school non-romance. Because Maggie tells him to, Jim prepares to break up with Lisa, who promptly breaks up with him first. Like everything else about the Jim/Maggie/Don/Lisa love quadrangle, the break-up is way too perfect, and there is not a hurt feeling between them. Let me recap for a second: for the first seven episodes, we have watched two people that we don’t care much about but that we know are going to end up together contrive ways to avoid being with each other. Uh-huh. Sorkin is clearly going for a Ross/Rachel (or Sam/Diane to you older folks) thing here, but the subplot is at this point no less than a major misstep and shows no signs of improving. The best he can do is continue to shove them to the background to make room for more interesting characters.

In this episode, such characters could be found on the tarmac at LaGuardia. While the rest of the news team is bustling around the office, Don, Sloan, and Eliot can’t even leave their seats until their plane finds its way to the gate due to FAA regulations. As they try to put together the story from tweets and emails, Don engages in a strategic endeavor with the flight attendant. All he wants is to get Sloan to sit next to him so the three of them can strategize without alarming the other passengers, but the no-nonsense flight attendant is, predictably, having none of his nonsense. This is an expertly written storyline in which Thomas Sadoski gives a Josh Lyman-esque performance, which is to say that he acts like an arrogant jerk who we kind of like, and he takes his comeuppance in the most honorable way possible.

Which brings us to the episode’s final scenes and its unvarnished reverence for the death of Bin Laden. Being one of the small minority of American citizens who had mixed feelings about the patriotism that rose up around the death of Bin Laden,  I did not completely agree with Sorkin’s perspective on the news in this episode, and that is the first time I could say that in this entire season. I understand that the killing of Bin Laden was an emotional release for our grieving citizens who have been tense, angry, sad, and confused ever since 9/11, but I am disturbed by all displays of untempered patriotism, mostly because I cannot ignore in it the echoes of the horrible deeds that have been done in its name throughout history.

Sorkin takes the mainstream position on this story and offers no voice of dissent. There are only two character reactions of anything other than pure reverence – Neal’s girlfriend has a very minor emotional breakdown, as we learn that her father perished in the towers, and Don realizes that he is being an ass to people who have been much more deeply affected by 9/11 than him – but neither of them offers any substantive criticism of or even contrast to the patriotism that is portrayed in this episode.

But now I know what it feels like to watch a Sorkin show when you don’t agree with Sorkin’s perspective. And you know what? It was still pretty good because I don’t mind when people disagree with me. Although this episode felt a bit lightweight in its treatment of an important news story, I can’t fault Sorkin too much. He was accurately representing the views of probably 99% of Americans on that day. And to his credit, his news team got it exactly right. In the final moment of the episode, as Will announced the death of Bin Laden while the President was striding to the podium on the screen behind him, I found myself thinking (in Sam Waterston’s voice), “That’s a helluva broadcast.”

2 thoughts on ““The Newsroom” – Episode 7: “5/1”

  1. I disagree that Sorkin portrays the reaction to Bin Laden’s killing as patriotic. I think he actually goes far out of his way to make sure that that is not what’s conveyed. Nothing about the characters’ reaction has to do with America. Instead, Sorkin focuses on a handful of very personal reaction–Neal’s girlfriend’s, the pilot’s and co-pilot’s, Will’s bodyguard. I think Sorkin is trying to take the mass media-informs-America bent out of the story of Bin Laden’s killing and make the reaction to his death a personal one (rather than a national one).

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree that he is doing what you described, but he also portrays the group mentality. I don’t think you can dismiss the scene in which Charlie tells the staff, “You are going to remember where you were tonight” – or something to that effect – and the entire staff cheers when he tells them the news. You may be right that “patriotic” is not the right word for the tone of the show. “Reverent” might be better, and that is what Sorkin does best. I guess my point is that I did not feel reverent when Bin Laden was killed. I felt angry that violence had begot violence, and I wish that perspective had been voiced.

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