Although Alison Pill was barely in this episode, I feel compelled to begin this review with her, largely because of the vitriol I directed at her character last week. I am currently breathing a sigh of relief. It only took them thirteen episodes, but the writers of The Newsroom finally figured out how to use Maggie, a character who has dragged down both the show and her life with a series of inane, unfathomably poor life choices. How did they rectify this mistake? By making her the Kramer of The Newsroom, an annoying, amusing sidekick who shows up to exasperate the other characters then disappears into scenery. We like spending a scene with the Kramers, but we don’t necessarily want to follow them home.
I’m not sure that Maggie as the annoying neighbor is going to last – most likely, we’ll see even less of her when she’s shipped off to Africa to be traumatized – but it just goes to show you what a little less of her can do. I’m not saying that this was the best episode of The Newsroom – for my money, it would be either the pilot or “The 112th Congress” – but it is perhaps the most encouraging because it succeeds in a way that other episodes haven’t, not from the fleeting catharsis of seeing our political views validated by a cast of Sorkin surrogates, but instead as a rich character piece that also happens to be very funny.
As usual, there is a lot going on in this episode, but what makes “Willie Pete” so satisfying is that most of its characters were winning this week. Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) appeared for once to be a strong and competent leader; she even passed for the former war correspondent she has always claimed to be. Her familiarity with military jargon in the diner scene with Jerry and his source showed an expertise her character has always lacked. Meanwhile, Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) continued to fight the good fight with the Romney campaign, bringing the spirit of News Night and its “mission to civilize” to a complacent, underfed press corps. Lastly, Will (Jeff Daniels) tried to civilize gossip columnist Nina Howard (Hope Davis) by asking her very nicely not to run a damaging story about him. To Will’s amazement, she complied, and then she complied with him a little more later.
Only Don (Thomas Sadoski) drew the short stick of incompetence this week, although his storyline – in which he tries and fails to fix his office chair as a way of dealing with his break-up with Maggie – had pretty low stakes. I would never have suspected Sadoski to be a master of the pratfall, but he continues to show his range.
I understand there is some hypocrisy here. I lamented the ongoing love triangle between the youngsters, yet I have no problem with Sorkin throwing Nina Howard back into the Will-MacKenzie stew. I don’t know what to tell you – except that romantic dysfunction is more interesting in middle-aged people. As for Maggie and Jim, there was little mention of their off-again/off-again romance this week, as the two remain several states apart, and Maggie actually seems to have moved on. Hopefully, by next week, there will be an ocean between them, and the gulf between how good The Newsroom could be and what it has sadly been will draw ever smaller.