"By 10:05 I knew we had a problem," Charlie says to Rebecca Halliday during his deposition. "None of it was true."
That was the best Newsroom ending to date. And how did we get there? Three words: Jerry-Peabody-Dantana. This episode, "One Step to Many," opens with Mac, Jerry and Maggie briefing Don, Jim and Sloan on Operation Genoa. In case we'd lost the plot threads, easy enough to do at this point in the season, this scene offers us a rundown of what we know. The original tip came from retired Air Force Capt. Cyrus West. Apparently, two Marines had been separated from their unit and captured by the Taliban. The fear was that they would be sold to Al Qaeda and beheaded. As a result, two units were sent in, and the second Black Hawk dropped sarin gas. Their sources so far include Cyrus West, Eric Sweeney and tweets from the area corroborating that there was some sort of chemical attack. Shelly Wexler's buddy had also provided a humanitarian report, and a Navy intel officer gave Charlie the list of the chemicals used on the mission. Despite Jerry's certainty, Don, Jim and Sloan remain highly skeptical.
But Jerry has fallen hard for what a journo friend calls the "agree with my premise story." In this approach, the reporter or editor comes up with a theory and tries to prove it to be true. The alternative – which is to say, the way Jim Harper would have done it – is to investigate the story, and then report it. But unlike Jim, Jerry is a classic striver, and that obviously clouds his journalistic judgment. Instead of objectivity, he seems to flip back and forth between his own earnest desire to protect innocent civilians caught in the crosshairs of questionable U.S. foreign policy, and a Woodward-Bernstein-esque drive to be the guy who brings the whole screwed-up enchilada crashing down for his own professional benefit. (Even Don points out that when the media exposes Americans for questionable decisions like flushing Korans down the toilet, terrorists freak out and people die.)
But Jerry, who will throw a fit if anyone disagrees with him, especially about Genoa, has managed to convince Mac and Charlie that sarin was dropped. But they want one more source, and so they travel to Gen. Stump's house in Silver Spring to ask whether the U.S. used sarin, and the general seems to confirm that they did. But to be fair, he is also a nut who speaks in sports metaphors and relates free-throw shooting to chemical weapons while March Madness plays in the background.
Meanwhile, because Will's dad died in the last episode, he hasn't yet been brought in for the Genoa Red Team meetings. Instead, he's out ordering focus groups of himself, snuggling with Nina Howard and throwing footballs to raise money for cancer research on the ACN morning show. He's sunk so low that he's now hanging out with the same two bozos anchors that made him look like a loser in Season One by calling out the fact that he and Mac used to date.
And if you were still having any trouble understanding what Will is all about, Sloan lays it out for us: either Mac or the audience fills the "hole in his heart." (I'm still dying to know how and why Mac and Will fell in love. At this point we only know that he was crazy about her, and how she screwed it up, but we still don't know why this guy with trust issues would have finally let her in.) Nina meanwhile stamps an expiration date on her own forehead by telling Will that he should care what the audience thinks of him. In a practical sense she's right. The more an audience likes an anchor, the more professional security he has. But Will is already really rich. He already has a great apartment with a lovely balcony where he can smoke pot and listen to Van Morrison. What he doesn't need is another conditional relationship that reminds him of his touch-and-go relationship with his father. Mac knows that. Nina doesn't. And that's why Will and Nina won't actually work.
Returning to the Genoa thread, Maggie and Jerry fly down to Silver Spring to interview Stump on the record. He again proves himself a crackpot when he shoos Maggie out of the room because he's only had Jerry investigated. Although he's said multiple times that sarin was used, when the camera begins to record, the general won't confirm that it was used. So Jerry runs to the edit bay to fudge the tape and change the general's story. Jerry assumes that this way he will have enough evidence to run it. But Charlie still hesitates. The team then gets a call from Lance Cpl. Herman Valenzuela who was otherwise thought to be dead. And as it turns out it was the wrong Herman Valenzuela, but they learn that too late.
So the question becomes, what is Maggie testifying to before Rebecca Halliday? In Maggie's deposition, Rebecca tells her that two key words to her testimony are "it happened." But is she confirming that the general said, "It happened?" If you watch closely, he says this as she's still in the room. Or is she saying that Jerry did in fact fudge the tape? And more importantly, if Maggie is already back from Africa, and already drinking heavily, when does she go Cabbage Patch Kid? And what pushes her over the edge? Is it when she realizes Hallie and Jim are really cute on Skype, looks really great in cocktail attire and has the best hair this side of Kramer vs. Kramer? Only three episodes to go.
Last week: Injustice in the World