“The Newsroom” – Episode 8: “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn”

The two-part episode is a television staple. Growing up, I remember watching two-parters for all of my favorite shows, and I always got that feeling that was a mixture of disappointment and excitement when I realized that a show was not going to be able to wrap up it’s plot in time. There is a reason that two-part episodes are such television staples: it is an easy way to get an audiences to tune in again the following week, and it also gives the show’s writers a chance to tell a story with a little more scope. The two that jump out at me from my adolescence are “Who Shot Mr. Burns” from season 6 of “The Simpsons” and “The Boyfriend,” the famous Keith Hernandez episodes of “Seinfeld”.  Those shows were perfect for the two-parter because they had very little continuity from one episode to the next, making the two-part episode something special indeed – a major event in the life of the series. But most television dramas these days – and even many comedies – are serials, and a two-part episode in such a format is redundant. In essence, each episode is part of every episode that came before or follows it.

“The Newsroom” would certainly be considered a serial, and Sorkin has already proved himself capable of providing scope, so the use of the two-part episode is wholly unnecessary. In “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn,” Sorkin tries to jam in way too many storylines into a single hour of television. There is the journalist (Paul Schneider) who Will has hired to write a story on “News Night 2.0”. The source from the NSA whom Charlie meets with in person for the first time. The Casey Anthony story, which Will and the team begrudgingly agree to cover so they can get their ratings up and score the presidential debate they have been craving. Preparation for a mock debate that they plan to put on (next week) for the RNC. There is also Anthony Weiner’s groin and the debt ceiling vote. Oh, and that reporter I mentioned? He is the guy with whom MacKenzie cheated on Will.

Paul Schneider

Yes, Sorkin gave us a full plate tonight, but it felt more like a collection of side dishes. I am sure that many of these storylines will pay off in part two, but tonight just felt disjointed. We never stayed with a single subplot long enough for me to care. I found myself getting involved in one of the many storylines just in time to get whisked off to another. But despite the clunky plotting, there were some things be pleased about.

Once again, they found the right role for Maggie: bit player. Early on in this season, Sorkin seemed to think she was an appropriate audience surrogate, but he seems to have wisely reconsidered. Recently, she has been relegated to just another member of the team, and her scenes tonight – particularly when she passionately attacked Michele Bachmann’s supposed relationship with God – were effective. What I noticed about that scene – as well as her other big moment in which she was forced to push her conscience aside in order to pre-interview Anthony Wiener’s Twitter girlfriend – is that it had nothing to with the character that Allison Pill and Sorkin have built over the season. Her panic attacks? Gone. The in-over-her-head new associate producer persona? Nowhere to be seen. The unending saga of Maggie and Don? Mercifully absent. I’m all for character continuity, but Maggie’s lack of charisma (and I don’t blame Pill for this completely; Maggie is annoying as written) was beginning to drag the show down, and it is heartening to see that Sorkin has found a way to use her effectively. I hope it lasts.

Despite the welcome paucity of Maggie, tonight marked the show’s weakest episode since its second week, and it was bound to happen. I keep thinking about something Will says tonight’s episode to justify his decision to cave to corporate pressure and cover the Casey Anthony trial. He said that it was okay to not ask the audience to “eat their vegetables for a few weeks.” “The Newsroom” has been a feel-good show for me for most of this first season. Sorkin has been able to craft an example of good journalism to show to a nation of TV news viewers who have forgotten what that looks like. And it has been fun in a very satisfying, at time cathartic, way. But in tonight’s episode, we had to eat our vegetables, too. We had to see what it looks like what the heroes behave less than heroically and cave to the realities of the marketplace. I imagine it will be good for the show in the long run – for our heroes to succeed, they must at first fail – but tonight the vegetables were a bit too sour for my taste.

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3 thoughts on ““The Newsroom” – Episode 8: “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn”

  1. Well, the two part episode has certainly worked on me! I am totally in suspense as to what is going to happen on the next installment. Sorkin left just the perfect amount of subtle hints to make me question where the last two episodes of the season will take us. Will McAvoy get fired or will his upper management get exposed for the phone-hacking scam? My guess is that McAvoy is going to get canned. His behavior wouldn’t fly in my office at Dish, and I doubt it will in the News Night studio either. But it could go either way! I’m excited to find out. Luckily, I have the Hopper DVR, which lets me watch or record up to six things at once, so The Newsroom won’t get in the way of any football games now that preseason is underway. What is your prediction for the rest of the season?

    • I’m not much one for predictions (which is why I always lose at fantasy football), but if I had to guess, I don’t think Will will end up getting fired – if he does, I think he’ll quickly earn his job back. You’re right that Will is certainly making his bosses angry, but he also has leverage. I would guess that Charlie, Mac, and Will cut some kind of deal with Leona in which they don’t cover the phone-hacking scam at TMI in exchange for some kind of editorial freedom or protection for Will’s job. That would be a good, ambiguous ending. What do you think?

  2. Leona has been portrayed as a cliche so far, very little to be interested in or learn anything new about from her, other than it is Jane Fonda, and I could seeif she had an unexpected reaction to the info, when it leaks, that her son is spearheading hacking for the company’s tabloid publication, that might move the whole story forward, maintaining the basic optimism in the writing.I’d like to see her acknowledge some conflict and not just play the corporate mouthpiece.

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