Cliche alert: The homicide rate among black screen characters is at epidemic proportions.
Poor Dennis Haysbert has seen his characters killed first in TWO ‘90s films.
5:51 p.m., Wednesday, August 7
Maybe it’s apt that Aaron Sorkin titled Sunday’s episode, “Unintended consequences,” since I don’t think he wanted me to come away with the conclusion that Maggie Jordan should have died.
Maggie is the skittish, sincere and positively annoying associate producer played by Alison Pill, an otherwise sparkling young actress who has killed it before and will again. (If you don’t believe me, watch her heartbreaking story arc as a teenage cancer patient on the second season of HBO’s forgotten therapy drama, In Treatment, or as a hilariously deadpan drummer in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: “We are Sex B-bomb! One, two, three, four!”) But before the season is done, I hope Pill is able to kill off a character she’s too good for.
Maggie has been a problem for this show since Day 1. Sorkin writes her as an ever-flustered, mostly incompetent character in a super shitty romantic comedy. Yet Sorkin’s The Newsroom is supposed to be a serious drama about our complex media age. See the dilemma? Because if you didn’t, this Maggie-centric episode pretty much hammered it home with all the subtlety of a dead African child. (No, really, it happened.)
Later—or before, I can’t remember—when “smug” News Night anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) confronts an Occupy Wall Street representative he attacked on air and admits, “I used you as a prop and I’m sorry,” it was a refreshing moment of blunt honesty.
Sorkin should follow his main protagonist’s lead and apologize for burnishing Maggie’s reputation as a relevant character on the back of a dead black kid with the bad luck of liking blonde hair. I personally don’t trust blondes. They get you shot by cattle-raiders.
Ironically, I think Sorkin can fix this mess by dropping one more body. A dead or departed (I’m not picky) Maggie would mean so much more to the show than she does right now. We won’t have to watch senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) moon over her, she won’t mess up any more fact-checking assignments and, best of all, Sorkin won’t have to gun down any more African orphans to make her seem important. That’s a win-win-win.
-I’m bummed the RomneyBus subplot is apparently over. It actually made Jim an interesting character and I was hoping Sorkin was going to have his itinerant embeds go full Matt Taibbi and interview the candidates dressed as gorillas. Sigh. What could have been.
-I used to have a boss like startup reporter Hallie Shea’s (Grace Gummer). No, he didn’t command his employees to “put on heels and fuck me for a half hour” over speaker phone, but he paid us in bad checks and smashed things when we asked about it. Same thing?
-Producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) has quickly become my second favorite, least important character behind news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). His brief involvement in the OWS apology bit was comic gold.
-While typing notes into my cellphone about Will defending Rick Perry from the “Niggarhead” controversy, my autocorrect changed the offending term to “big fathead.” Given Will’s apologist POV and the general lameness of this episode, I couldn’t wrap up this review any better.
11 p.m. Wednesday, August 7
Oh, The Newsroom. Just when I take up arms to defend you, you throw an episode like “Unintended Consequences” in our faces and make me look like a bigger idiot than I normally do.
Starting the second season with a teasing glimpse of an embattled future was a wise decision by the writing team. I found myself anticipating each new puzzle piece in an attempt to decipher what caused the multimillion dollar lawsuit facing Atlantic World Media. The tension drove my interest, and I found myself enjoying the separate plot lines more because they were tethered to this single mystery. Otherwise, watching The Newsroom can feel a bit like tuning into a sitcom or a soap opera. You can stop watching for a few weeks and return without feeling like you missed a whole lot.
Sorkin dropped the ball with how he wrapped up the second biggest mystery of his season-long story arc: just what happened to Maggie Jordan in Africa. Anchoring large chunks of this episode in a convoluted, present-day deposition with super-laywer Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) jarred me out of a storyline I had become invested in. Worst of all, they explained Maggie’s traumatic Ugandan adventure in a series of derivative flashbacks. The set was an empty hill in the greater Los Angeles area, with clipped green grass and absolutely zero resemblance to any African ecosystem. Instead, producers opted for what I call the “Africa filter,” simply tinting the film yellow. I’ve never been to Uganda, and I’m sure there is a great deal of yellow fauna, but unless the country is plagued by volatile phosphorous clouds, I think the director of photography just got lazy.
Maggie’s horrific expedition lasted approximately 24 hours—almost as painfully convenient as Neil Sanpat’s (Dev Patel) perfectly serendipitous tip from an Occupy Wall Street leader. (Sorry, representative. I forgot they don’t have leaders or, apparently, the clout to lobby for less patronizing screen portrayals.) Long story short, our wide-eyed doe ends up indirectly killing an African child, which proves the cinematic trope that a black male is always the first to die. (There’s even a Tumblr page dedicated to this unofficial “rule.” And it’s precisely the kind of casual racism that films like Get Him to the Greek parody: “Rolling Stone said my song was the most detrimental thing to African life next to war and famine.”)
My major gripe is that Sorkin squandered an opportunity to examine the real dangers of reporting in conflict areas, especially among female journalists. When Will angrily defended Maggie’s punk haircut back in episode 1 (“If what happened to her happened to you, you’d be laying on the floor crying.”), we were set up to expect that Maggie experienced some type of assault. After all, the foreshadowing shamelessly evoked 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan’s experience in Tahirir Square during the Egyptian revolution.
Maggie’s experience could have prompted an important discussion about the dangers reporters brave in the field. It could have spanned several episodes, building nuance and giving this show a much-needed sense of reality in the process. Instead, Sorkin’s script killed off an African boy and called it a day.
I’m not saying Maggie should have been sexually assaulted. But if the show is going to have a female reporter in a foreign country around 2011 suffer a tragic experience that results in psychological damage, and it ends up being a semi-racist cliché, it’s a blown opportunity to be relevant.
The only scene I did appreciate was a random but earnest exchange about reporters’ use of “the n-word.” I’d explain more, but just watch Louie C.K.'s rant on the topic and you’ll understand.
All in all, this episode was a hot mess. I’m so upset, I can’t really think of any other way to sum it up than: It was bad.
10:26 a.m. Thursday, August 8
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? I watched that! (Like, a year ago, even though it was released in 2010.)
Grade (for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World): B!
Grade (for The Newsroom 2.4): I
10:14 a.m. Friday, August 9
Remember when Maggie made up that word during that clever exchange with the lawyer? You might not have noticed, but she later used the word “murdalize” to describe Will’s on-air takedown of the young OWS woman. Was this in reference to her “abudiate” moment, or is she simply a fan of 3 Ninjas?
I think I’m with you on this one, Raheem. Sorkin needs to murdalize Maggie so that Pill can continue her promising career.
Raheem also noted earlier in the season that none of the black characters had names, as far as he could remember. Well, turns out the one dude’s name is Gary Cooper. That’s…great.
While we’re on the topic of race: Yes, I would’ve said “Niggarhead” on air if I were TV talent. No, I don’t know what that says about me. Yes, Adam, I also really enjoyed that exchange.
Honestly, guys, I don’t know what to think about the OWS plotline anymore. As with other “news” in the series, Sorkin utilizes old talking points to explore the media’s (our) treatment of the topic. But by the end of this episode, astoundingly, he gave OWS more of a voice than he has any other story subject. Then again, Sorkin’s OWS rep is a bit of a pushover, and her on-air points are essentially strawman arguments that few in the movement would’ve articulated. Put OWS reps like Jesse LaGreca or Priscilla Grim up there with a talking head like McAvoy, and that beatdown never would have happened—even during the movement’s nascent weeks.
Final thought: I fell asleep on two separate occasions trying to finish this episode.
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