Will McAvoy is something of a cracked man. We’ve known this for a while, but tonight we learned why. Titled “News Night with Will McAvoy,” the episode takes place during a single broadcast. At the opening, Will is about to go on the air when he gets a call from his father’s phone. He ignores it, angry that the man would be bothering him at 8 p.m. When Will returns the call, he finds out that his father has been hospitalized for a heart attack. During a commercial break, Mac, who usually knows best, wants Will to at least leave a message for his father, but he drags his feet until it’s too late.
We knew Will’s father was an abusive drunk and that as a kid Will was forced to protect his mother and sisters from his father’s rage. We didn’t know, however, that his father was still alive, living in Nebraska. Throughout this season and last, we’ve seen Will struggling with a persistent need for the audience to love him, and this tension has affected everything from his emotional stability to the content of his newscasts.
Neal – still apparently the only guy who can use the Internet on the News Night squad – discovers that a guest is planning to come out to his parents on the show. (The guest is coming on to discuss the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who committed suicide after his roommate Dharun Ravi used a web cam to film Tyler kissing another man.) Mac finds the guest in the makeup room, cuts his segment, and gives him a bit of advice, picked up after years of watching Will. “Having a relationship with an audience is cool, I get it. As long as it doesn’t get serious. As long as it’s hooking up and home before sunrise, then everything’s fine. They don’t feel about you the way you want them to.”
When Will eventually calls back to speak with his father, he learns that his dad has died. In shock, he rambles incoherently to Mac: “Living with that much injustice from the person who was supposed to represent . . . he’s the one that tells you what the world is going to think of you and if he tells you that you’re bad . . . that forever . . .” Will needs the audience to love him because his father never did.
The anchor closes the episode red-eyed and missing his cue. He pauses for several seconds before looking into the camera and saying, “Well I guess it’s just us now.” The power of the shot comes from the fact he could be talking to his sisters, to Mac, or – most likely – to the audience.
Another theme at play is the moment when reporters become the news. Will has been fodder for Page Six since the beginning of the series, but the rest of the cast is now joining him in the limelight. One of Sloan’s ex-boyfriends posts naked pictures of her online and the images go viral. ACN president Reese Lansing is pissed; Sloan takes herself off the air and worries what her parents will think. She talks out her humiliation in the dark with Don, a nice setting for their budding romance. (His line: “You’re really impressive.”)
Don runs into a similar problem with notoriety when, joking, he asks another reporter if a candidate has any ties to a fictional radical Muslim group, and a b-list website reports that the candidate has a connection to this group. When Don calls the website’s editor (who sounds a lot like the Daily Show’s John Oliver), the editor refuses to take the story down, despite the fact that it’s fiction. In a related turn, Mac later discovers the “Bonnie and Clyde of prank callers,” a man pretending to be trapped in a building in Damascus and his wife, pretending to be calling form the W in New York. In both of these instances, the news has become news, because someone just happened to press send.
These plot points foreshadow Jerry Dantana’s future, in which he will most likely help to fudge the Genoa scandal. Charlie gets a visit from a Naval Intelligence Officer who wants to know why Jerry, now back in DC, has been sniffing around the story. The officer gives Charlie a piece of paper with the chemical order list for Genoa and one chemical that’s made up, and Charlie becomes convinced that the U.S. used Saran gas.
It would also appear that Jim is still hooking up with Hallie. Not only is this a kick in the gut for Maggie, but it can hardly help her budding alcohol problem. She’s still blaming herself for the little boy who got shot in Uganda and torturing herself by living with Lisa. She’s also reading Jim’s girlfriend’s blog posts. When Maggie screws up an edit of George Zimmerman’s 9-11 tape, it’s the first indication that her new party-girl lifestyle is impacting her at work – and yet another sign that next week, we’ll continue to see her, and Will, unravel.
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