This episode, "Willie Pete," is chock full of film and television allusions – including a wonderful shout-out to M*A*S*H’s Corporal Klinger – but the hands-down highlight is Jim’s Jerry Maguire-style freak-out-meltdown because his fellow reporters aren’t being hard enough on the Romney campaign. But Jim's speech doesn't go over well with Team Romney, who have already had enough of him, and he gets kicked off the press bus for the second time. Who is going with him to the side of the road? Hallie (Grace Gummer), Stillman, the shlubby guy who looks like a young Cheech Marin (Cameron Gharaee) and some turkey sandwiches.
Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, this episode is still working with the tough question of why is cable news lame, and why journalism falls down on the job. Last night’s answer was that reporters lack the guts to be annoying. Of course this isn’t really true; It’s also about money, and the death of the local American newspaper – see the Times-Picayune – but Sorkin continues to ignore that thread. Instead, Neal, Will, Jim, Jerry and Sloan are struggling with the dueling job requirements of being a nag and being popular.
Neal is pressing MacKenzie to cover Occupy Wall Street, and MacKenzie is dismissing the story because it isn’t easily packaged into talking points. (Of course, the episode opens with Will railing against the Republican candidates' adherence to talking points, and their hesitancy to speak up on behalf of a gay soldier.) Neal points out Mac’s one-percenter hypocrisy and $1,200 Louboutins. But to Mac’s credit, I imagine we’ll see OWS’ Shelly Wexler take on Will in the next episode.
Meanwhile, Sloan is annoying her EP by disclosing a stock’s money trail, Will is back on Reese Lansing’s hit list with no recourse, Jerry is pushing the Genoa tip, Jim still wants thirty minutes with Romney and Mac still wants to know what Will said on the voicemail he left the night the U.S. got Osama. (Nina Howard confirms, as we might have guessed, that said he’s never stopped loving MacKenzie.)
According to a tweet sent from a witness to the alleged chemical warfare attack in Pakistan, the U.S. used White Phosphorus, a.k.a. Willie Pete, on a foreign target. I guess this should feel like a big deal, but I’m not as surprised by the idea that the U.S. committed war crimes as the News Night brass seems to be. Drones fly with the regularity of 747s, and Guantanamo is open under a Democratic president, for goodness sake. I am, however, surprised that Will is hooking up with Nina Howard. Or rather that Nina Howard is hooking up with Will, considering that he regularly insults her, thinks her profession is worthless, and is love with another woman. But Sorkin’s women are not typically models of strength and self-esteem.
By that token, I assume Mac will find out about Nina Howard, continue to throw herself at Will’s feet, and by the end of the season, they’ll make out at the techno-Cheers bar. I’m personally pulling for drunken make-out because a) it’s the only way these things actually work and b) they’ve already used up inebriated confession and romantic-realization-sprint. The only thing left is ill-advised boozy hookup in close proximity to co-workers.
But back to Nina. Although she might be the most lambasted reporter on the show, in The Newsroom’s Fantasy Journalism League, she’s also the top pick. Unlike the News Night staff, she’s divorced from the desire to have her sources like her. Instead, she’s a shark that plows through publicists, works inside sources, and navigates the backdoors. Sure her copy probably runs in a visually offensive font under sensationalist headlines, but like Will, she’s forcing public figures to remain accountable. And while the Will/Osama/Drug Night fell into her lap, if you are getting tips from the president of a television network, you’re real police. This is true, of course, until Will plies her with a mimosa, and asserts that everyone else must be accountable to the truth except for himself. Nina’s crush on Will is probably the real reason she decided not to run the tip that Will was taken off the 9/11 episode. And in the Sorkian ethos of "just doing the news," she should have. The fact that a network can be big-footed by the Tea Party into taking their anchor off the air because he says what he thinks is news in the same way a Muslim community center opening at the World Trade Center is news. Will’s distinction between his "important" news and Nina’s "trashy" news is irrelevant.
While we’ve got the draft going, Jim is my second round pick, if only measured on the willingness-to-be-annoying scale. But bonus points are allotted for Jim’s tousled locks, scrappy perseverance, and All the President’s Men-inspired ambition. I’m leaving Will for the third round because his potential is yet to translate on the field. Next week, I imagine we’ll be schooled in how a campaign should be reported, why getting too close to sources is a bad idea, and if we’re lucky, find out why those reporters are actually on the Romney bus. Hint: Rental cars and turkey sandwiches aren’t cheap.
Last Week: Always on My Mind