The Newsroom "The Blackout Part II" Review: Two Legs at a Time

By Alex Navarro

Aug 20, 2012

The Newsroom S01E09: "The Blackout Part II: The Mock Debate"

Guys? Help me out here. All throughout this inaugural season of The Newsroom, I have attempted to look for the positive. In some cases, that came more easily than in others. There have been some very good episodes of this show, and there have also been some pretty heinous ones. But even in the more heinous circumstances, there were usually a couple things I could point to in order to say, "See? There's something worthwhile here."

In watching "The Blackout Part II: The Mock Debate," I was unable to find one of those things.

I tried. I really did. Initially, that debate demonstration we've been building toward seemed like it could have been this episode's great moment. I sat there, thinking about the merits of the new debate format the staff pitched to the RNC, the aching plead for more pointed questioning and scrutiny of presidential candidates that Will and Mackenzie and Charlie have been fighting for. I watched as Will tore the boilerplate answers of his impersonating staff to shreds in front of RNC reps. I knew, of course, that the reps would never go for it. No party in its right mind would ever put its candidates through these kinds of paces, because that would be suicidal—especially with the clown-shoes crop of candidates we've got this election cycle. What I didn't expect was to find myself agreeing with the smarmy, by-the-book RNC guy who we were all meant to hate.

It's not that I don't think there's merit in the idea of grilling our presidential candidates harder. There was no more savage moment this week than the brief clip of Michele Bachmann being tossed the softball question of "Elvis? Or Johnny Cash?" by John King. It's that the savagery with which Will went after his mock candidates demonstrated a greater self interest than simply improving discourse. He cross-examined them, obliterated them every time they tripped on their words. He murdered them, and in the end, the only one who could possibly have looked good by the end of it was Will McAvoy. And the smarmy RNC guy pointed that out. And he was right.

With the debate dead, all of News Night's pandering to the Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner rubberneckers was for naught. All that hard work, all that crawling around the muck, it meant pretty much nothing. And yet, I suppose it really couldn't have gone any other way. But there was still something kind of empty-feeling about the whole ordeal. Seeing the staff flip to the dark side, only to immediately flip back, felt so hollow. The principles these people supposedly believe in so much apparently can be flipped on and off like a light switch. They might not like the switch when it's dark, but they flip it anyway, because ratings, but also Journalism, and... wait, where are we again?

I stress that these unfortunate debate sections of "The Blackout Part II" were the best parts of "The Blackout Part II." The rest of the episode was a train wreck, a colossally miserable mash-up of all the things this show doesn't do well, scrunched together into a frenzied, generally execrable hour of television that overstuffed itself with too many things of little import. Unless, of course, you're one of the nine people who's super invested in Will/Mackenzie/Old Boyfriend situation, or Jim/Maggie/Don/Lisa's quadrangle of relationship nonsense. If that's you, then this was probably the best episode ever.

We've run this course so many times now that I had honestly begun to believe that maybe the Maggie/Jim thing was just over with. Don hadn't been made out to be a particularly bad guy, and Lisa, despite her occasional ditziness, arguably appears to be a far more sane and put-together woman than Maggie. So this week, of course all of that got messed up. We learned that Don had been sleeping with other women while broken up with Maggie, and that this revelation may finally put the kibosh on their coupling. We also watched Jim go from wanting Lisa, to Lisa forcing him back to Maggie, to Jim wanting Maggie again but suddenly finding himself with Lisa all over him once more. All of that in an hour.

And somehow, there was still room for Will and Mac to flit around their own issues as well. Mac knows Will's psychologically punishing her by having her ex hang around the office. Will knows he's doing this, but he doesn't know why. Eventually his therapist got around to telling him why, but still we were left dangling. All we learned this week is that both characters know what they're doing, they know it's idiotic, yet they continue to do it. Why am I supposed to root for these two again?

For all these actors' inherent likability, I couldn't bring myself to cheer on any of these clods as they continued down their spiral of endless shrieking and espousing of principals while pretending they don't want to screw each other. It's exhausting, unbearable stuff that completely distracts from the show's purported purpose of highlighting the news media's various failings. Even when I find Aaron Sorkin's methods preachy, I still find myself compelled to watch as he deconstructs where the media has failed us. He might be a smug armchair quarterback, but more often than not, he's right. Dammit.

This week featured none of that. Neal continued his ludicrous pursuit of "online troll sites" by continuing to demean Sloan on comment threads. She finally gave him her grudging permission for some reason, but mostly focused her attention on the subject of the debt-ceiling votes, which she proclaimed nobody was covering. That, by the way, isn't exactly true, since I distinctly recall hearing pretty much nothing but commentary on the debt ceiling when all that stuff broke. Sure, it wasn't on Nancy Grace, but that doesn't bother me because I don't watch Nancy Grace, on account of I am a sane human being who has an ounce of self-respect.

Even when Sloan finally got her wish, we got to see none of it. Instead, more time was dedicated to Casey Anthony, and the revelatory realization that Lisa used to go to high school with "Tot Mom." Lisa didn't really know Tot Mom, of course, but that didn't matter. Will needed a guest no one else had, and she had to be it. So Maggie and Jim had to walk on down to the expensive dress shop where Tot Mom works, and engage in absurd behavior to eventually get her to agree to appear. She did, albeit with a big card full of prepared statements written by the News Night staff. Suddenly, she had become a squawk box for the staff, railing against their own coverage in a way that Will and Mackenzie couldn't. But then she went off script, delivering a scathing pro-choice statement that apparently someone didn't take too kindly to.

Everything that was wrong with "The Blackout Part II" could pretty much be found in the scenes that followed. Because of her courage to say what she felt, Lisa was rewarded with a visit to her place of work by a vandal, who painted the words "BABY KILLER" on the front of the store. How did the vandal find her place of work? It was on her Facebook page, which Jim hilariously instructed her to "take down." And then in walked Will, out of the smoky nighttime distance, to comfort poor Lisa and rescue her by talking to her boss. Why was Will there? Nobody bothered to ask. But the deftness with which he handled the situation was like something out of old Hollywood.

And then there was a scene where Will fell over in the middle of the newsroom with his pants around his ankles.

So, to tally up this week's damage, Will morphed into both a white knight and a clumsy boob, Mackenzie returned to her screaming hysterics phase, there was no real forward progress with the big honking conspiracy against AWM, and the news was basically ignored altogether in favor of spending far too many precious minutes on the relationship stuff that even the show's most ardent fans have a hard time defending. Did I miss anything?


– I really wanted to see the big, inspirational, outdoor newscast Mackenzie had cooked up right before the power came back on. For the first time all season, then Mackenzie began screaming her skull off, I actually felt her pain.

– In Neal's trolling expl toits, he accidentally discovered the online home of the guy who threatened Will's life. Suddenly the possibility of Neal dying by season's end seems more realistic. Not that I'm rooting for that, or anything. Of course not.

– Nice to see Adam Arkin as the more friendly, less partisan RNC staffer. Him and Will chatting made up the best moments of this week's episode. There weren't nearly enough of them.

– How is "The Blackout Part II: The Mock Debate" not the name of somebody's rap album?

– To answer a question from last week's comments as well as clarify a point about this week's episode, I absolutely believe that real-world debates should be more mindful of the statements politicians have made in the past, and more pointed in their questioning. It's the way the questions are being delivered by the staff (and, by proxy, Sorkin), with maximum gotcha-ness, that I can't quite deal with. Nobody wants to be cross-examined, which is exactly why nobody gets cross-examined unless they have to. There's intelligent discourse, and then there's self-aggrandized preaching. That's what Will's method is.

– Only one more episode left in this season, and it's sure to be heavy on the conspiracy stuff. I'm just wondering exactly how much the show is going to tie up this season. If the bit in the preview we saw with Jane Fonda pulling a Vince McMahon on Will is the last line of a cliffhanger finale, I'm quitting this series altogether.

  • Comments (75)
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  • bicelis Aug 23, 2012

    The review was too harsh.

    The debate form was too harsh - Alex is right

    The episode was quite bad

    Actually, the best part for me was Neal and Sloan's story. Olivia Munn - still kicking ass.

  • RyanWilkins Aug 22, 2012


    Please hand off the reviewing of this show in it's inevitable second season to somebody else. Anybody else will do, really. Alex Navarro has made it clear he is not up to the task.

    Thank you.

  • Westwinger Aug 22, 2012

    Is there anyone who dislikes Neal as much as I do?

  • tnetennba Aug 22, 2012

    Probably not. I don't like that they've made him believe in bigfoot and stuff, but other than that he's fine. He was good this week.

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 22, 2012

    The episode was... okay? I guess? Like a lot of the episodes of The Newsroom that I kind of disliked, it still entertained me in some way. That seems to be Sorkin's strength for me... even if I dislike most of the things that actually went on in the episode, he still somehow makes it watchable.

    I agree with this article about not much caring for the Maggie-Jim-Don-Lisa thingy mostly because they KEEP going back and forth and back and forth. Will-they-or-wont-they is usually bad enough, but The Newsroom basically goes a little further and does they-do-they-don't-they-do-they-don't again and again. I do, however, kind of care about the Will-Mac relationship... the ex-boyfriend doesn't really factor in. It's a bummer that the debate didn't work out, but I also kind of expected it because even if it was accepted and allowed, The Newsroom wouldn't be able to show it anyway. They'd just have to show all the reactions and re-hash it through character conversations the day after.

  • terminaltrip421 Aug 22, 2012

    i quit reading after the first paragraph. i have little to no interest in reading opinion pieces when they vary so drastically from my own, especially when it's not a one-off situation.

    find a show you like and review it.

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 22, 2012

    What's the fun in reading opinion pieces if you don't care about their opinion? It's a pretty simple truth that opinions differ. If you just want to read something that keeps agreeing with you, write your own review and read that to yourself.

  • lsbloom Aug 22, 2012

    What's the point of going to each and every comment and saying the exact same thing? We get it you think he should write whatever he wants. Great. Lots of people don't like his opinion or his manner of stating it. And, at least for me, I come back to see if his bosses have had a talk with him or maybe shown him one of Price's articles to see if he can maybe win over his readers who he is currently alienating and annoying. I'm continuing to comment because as much as he has the right to his opinion, his readers have the right to theirs. And if you can't see that the "if you don't like it don't read it" argument is the exact same as the "if you don't like it stop berating me with your hate every week" argument than I think you've missed something major. The final reason I'm back here being annoyed in the comments is the hope that Mr. Navarro doesn't get asked to review this show next season or anything else once the Newsroom ends.

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 22, 2012

    First, way to go with the exaggerations. I replied to maybe, 5 or 6 comments out of the 60 at the time... and they weren't all saying the exact same thing (although they were certainly similar).

    Second, if my replying to a handful of comments in one specific article bothers you, I don't see how that's any worse than going to each and every article week after week and complaining about the exact same thing. See what I did there?

    Anyway, I can understand why my comment may have come across this way, but I wasn't really saying that "if you don't like it, don't read it." I was specifically pointing to the fact that, while it's in a readers' right to complain, I'm not sure as to the validity of some of these complaints.

    It's not unreasonable to complain about reviews... you're certainly allowed and in your right to do so. But it's what you complain about. A lot of the comments here aren't complaining that the review is poorly written but rather that it doesn't adhere to their own views and opinions, like this comment from terminaltrip421. Complaining about bad writing is more than fine... complaining that his views aren't the same as yours? I find that unreasonable.

  • Kerkesh Aug 22, 2012

    Okay,I think I figured out who the would be shooter is.It has someone we have seen or else it's pointless.I think it's the shrink. He is smart and has access to Will in a secluded place, in "his" office. Has anyone checked whether Will's now deceased psychiatrist had a son in the same line of work and whether this shrink actually has client list.He told Will that " his father" bequeathed him a very large file on Will, which means he has intimate knowledge if he were to plan on harming or killing Will.Finally, to be aware and know enough computing to be part of the Troll community, he has to be young.And btw, we don't how the original shrink died.

    I will be glad if you have other candidates.

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 22, 2012

    I love the irony of people who keep coming here and complaining about Alex's reviews being negative.

    Some of these comments insist that because he often dislikes the episodes that he has to stop watching them. Why, then, do you keep reading his articles if you often dislike them? For every complaint he makes about the show, you're making just as many complains about his reviews.

    So why do you keep reading? I expect it's because you WANT to see if there's something good in it. That's fine, but then I guess that's why Alex can keep watching The Newsroom. He doesn't know he's going to dislike it before watching it. If he knew that, I'm sure he'd stop (unless he's being forced to watch it by his boss[es]).

  • FringeFanatic Aug 22, 2012

    I've read reviews when Tim, Price and Lily have absolutely hated the episode of the show they were reviewing (Terra Nova/The Event, Dexter, True Blood), but weren't any where near as condescendingly annoying to read. They made it fun to come on here and write about what we liked and disliked about the show. And their negative opinion didn't dictate the entire tone of the review.

    Alex desperately needs to learn some tact.

  • DavidJackson8 Aug 22, 2012

    That's fine with me. I wasn't complaining about ALL the sorts of complaints people have about the reviews. Generally speaking, I think the one valid complaint people can have with reviews is that they're poorly written. Unfortunately, a lot of the complaints I see when reading these reviews and comments (much like those of Tim's Falling Skies reviews) isn't necessarily that the review is poorly written, but that the review is bad just because his opinion isn't the same as theirs. What many of these complaints amount to is "I liked it, you hated it... therefore, you suck." I don't see the validity in those complaints.

  • lsbloom Aug 22, 2012

    He's watching it because he's paid to. And everyone of his "reviews" has had an overwhelming tone of an employee asked to clean the bathroom.

  • tnetennba Aug 22, 2012

    I forgot to complain about the thing that actually annoyed me this episode:

    The psychiatrist claimed that you will catch a cold if you're outside in the rain, and Will didn't tear him a new asshole about it. In fact, he didn't even seem to understand that the psychiatrist was wrong.

  • Dodoman66 Aug 22, 2012

    The author of this article did not even touch on the bigger topic stemming from News Night covering the Anthony/Anthony fodder. Jane Fonda's character has laid on the table that the declining ratings may lead to heads rolling. Am I right? That subject has not changed? There was something about her using the company's "TMZ"-like entity to ruin Will, but the ratings thing was still there, right?

  • Kerkesh Aug 22, 2012

    Just for future reference, Alex, never concede that you have an once of self respect because this literally means you have an once of self respect. Remain vague, hint it can be ten onces or maybe a little more and keep people on their toes on this subject. If you don't you'll invariably have someone ask you how much is an once of self respect these days and then you'll be really stuck.

    Aside from that, forget the naysayers, I'm with you all the way.

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