"Amen" is by leaps and bounds the most interesting, thoughtful, and exciting episode of The Newsroom that Aaron Sorkin and company have yet produced. It took two major 2011 news stories—the Egyptian revolution and the teacher protests in Wisconsin—and managed to shape them around the hustle and bustle of the titular newsroom in a way that felt neither preachy, nor overtly self-congratulatory. In effect, it was the closest this show has come to being the serious-yet-entertaining portrayal of news production that I thought it was going to be at the outset.
Which, yes, I realize goes against much of what I said last week, when I'd effectively resigned myself to 10 episodes of Sorkin using the power of hindsight to crusade against the evils of TV journalism. I'm admittedly having a hard time keeping up with exactly what this show wants to be, but if it wants to be more like "Amen" from here on out, I absolutely would not complain.
Of course, there was the usual slate of internal romantic drama, not to mention ample amounts of tabloid skulduggery. This week, however, the tabloid focus shifted to Mac, and her boyfriend Wade. It seemed that TMI had somehow picked up the story that Wade is planning a congressional run somewhere down the line, and may have been using his relationship with Mac to weasel his way into some talking-head air time on News Night. Mac didn't believe it, until she found out he'd been making more serious overtures toward his election push than he'd told her about.
Elsewhere, the Jim/Don/Maggie thing continued to play out about as obnoxiously as it has been, making no real forward progress while constantly reminding us that yes, Jim really likes Maggie, but Maggie is with Don, and Don, again, really isn't that bad of a guy. Because this week's episode fell on and around Valentine's Day, we found Maggie desperately trying to push Jim into a romantic Valentine's date with her roommate, who he had evidently been "casually" dating (read: sleeping with) on a semi-regular basis. Jim was deeply uncomfortable with this, which didn't necessarily say much regarding his intentions toward Maggie's roomie.
Don, meanwhile, had other things on his mind (thankfully). He was far more focused on his 10pm news anchor, who at the beginning of the episode was in Cairo trying to cover the protests against Hosseni Mubarak's regime, and mostly failing. He was trapped in his hotel room trying his damnedest to report what was happening, but due to the danger to foreign journalists outside, couldn't escape the confines of the hotel. This frustrated Don to no end, because he thought Elliot needed to get out there and brave the crowds to get the story. After a little pep-talking off camera, we found out that Elliot did indeed attempt to go out and get the story, and got the piss beaten out of him with a rock in the process.
Don was, of course, mortified, and left feeling extremely guilty about the situation. I haven't said much about Thomas Sadoski's work as Don on this show, because Sadoski's mostly been pushed to the background as Jim and Maggie do their flirtation dance. In "Amen," Sadoski got to break out a little bit and flex Don's muscles as a relevant character on the series. It was some of the best work he's done, and hell, it made me like Don a lot more.
With Elliot out, the team was forced to look for a new man on the ground in Cairo. Neal suggested an unaffiliated blogger who has been covering the story via social media under the alias "Amen." The team was wary, but after Skyping with the boy (who was no more than 18 or 19 years old), Neal convinced them the kid was the right man to get them the footage and coverage they needed. The catch, unfortunately, was that he couldn't continue to be anonymous. He would have to give his real name and remove the handkerchief he wore around his face in his video blogs. He reluctantly agreed, and for at least one show, News Night had some of the most in-depth, up-front coverage of the protests found anywhere on American television.
And as with all stories that feature such catches, everything went a bit haywire. After being asked to investigate a military station where records and documents from the Mubarak regime were reportedly being destroyed, Amen went missing. Neal spent days trying to locate him, even having the network track his GPS to try and locate him, which didn't work.
The only thing that really, truly bothered me this week was how this particular plotline eventually played out. Seeing Neal get a little bit of time to do something other than act like a ludicrous goofball was great, and his outburst over Rush Limbaugh's taunting over journalists being kidnapped in Egypt led to one of the only justifiable staff injuries of this week's episode (Elliot's being the other). But when we discovered that Amen had been taken hostage by a "fringe" group that wanted $250,000 (which the network wouldn't pay), Will did a crazily generous thing and paid the ransom. That's not my problem with what happened. My problem is that Sorkin felt it necessary to tie all that drama into a hokey, desperately unnecessary Rudy moment.
I knew early in the episode when Will began painstakingly explaining the plot and ending of the film Rudy to his staff that it was all going to come back around at some point. What I wasn't expecting was a cloying montage of staffers walking in and depositing their own checks to help cover Will's ransom payment, nor a standing ovation from his entire staff as he walked out into the adoring newsroom. It was one of those Sorkin-cute moments that maybe isn't unexpected, but still feels like a minor betrayal to the otherwise mostly measured and intriguing tone set by much of the rest of the episode.
Still, "Amen" was as engrossing an episode of The Newsroom as there's been yet. Save for a few eye-rolling moments, it kept its momentum going nearly from start to finish, managed to include one great moment of Sorkin-brand speechifying (Will taking Hope Davis's TMI reporter to task on what "real journalism" entails was pretty fantastic, I must admit), and delivered two important news stories in a way that felt reasonable, fascinating, and entertaining. This is an episode where News Night reported the facts without spending a lot of time talking about why it's so important that they report the facts. It lost the self-congratulatory bullshit, and just went about its business. If The Newsroom can keep that sort of thing up for the rest of the season, then I'll forgive all the silly romantic subplots and endless pratfalls taken by what may be the clumsiest news staff in human history. For once, I'm really excited for next week's episode.
And I swear, it's not just because Terry Crews debuts next week.
– I know I bitch about MacKenzie every week, but I largely enjoyed her presence throughout this week's episode. Emily Mortimer has done a lot of heavy lifting to try to make this character into something other than a manic tear factory, and she won me over this week, especially in her scenes with Olivia Munn (where Sloan tried to explain economics to her)—yes, even when she broke down sobbing. I don't know how I feel about her and Will having their big "hug it out" moment so soon, but whatever. I want to see where this goes.
– Did I call it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes? Or did I call it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes? I think I definitely called it on Mac's boyfriend being dumped after a couple of episodes.
– I really hope we get more of Hope Davis peppered throughout this series. She's reveling in the opportunity to play an opportunistic bitch, and she's doing it well. As long as she avoids devolving into cackling villainess territory...
– Sorkin's beef with the Koch brothers looks like it's going to be a recurring theme until either The Newsroom gets cancelled (which won't be for a while since it's been picked up for another season) or the Koch brothers die.
– When this season ends, I'm formally requesting a YouTube montage of every fall, slam, punch, hit, bonk, and other physical injury suffered by a character on this show. Someone needs to baby-proof that office, pronto.
– Now that Sorkin has fired his Newsroom writing staff—I know I'm not the only one shocked to learn he had a writing staff to begin with—I'm curious as to whether we'll see any kind of tonal shift in Season 2. Then again, considering that this show has jumped all over the place in tone from episode to episode, perhaps there's simply no way to tell.