Aaron Sorkin, we knew you had it in you. With this week’s episode, The Newsroom hit its sweet spot. We got to see a truly important moment in history from the inside. We watched as relationships changed in believable ways. And we got through an entire hour without someone making a hard-to-believe gaffe that then became the focal point of the narrative.
This ep’s breaking news aided the interpersonal drama instead of standing apart from it, and everything gelled as a result. So cue up the Teleprompter, and let’s review what took place in “5/1.”
PARTY’S OVER | The series’ tightest episode so far opens in Will’s posh bachelor pad, in the middle of a party to celebrate the first year (and a week) of the rebooted News Night. While Will makes a small speech and kiddingnotreally tells everyone they can leave early, Charlie’s on the balcony, fielding a call from an unnamed source who tells him the White House press secretary will contact him later that evening. Charlie’s not sure he buys it, and keeps the call to himself. In the meantime, highlights of the party: Jim and Will’s acoustic duet of “Sunshine (Go Away Today),” Neal’s girlfriend Kaylee kicking Jim’s butt – blindfolded! – at Guitar Hero, Will’s overindulgence in some marijuana-laced baked goods after taking a Vicodin and Maggie catching Jim kind of telling Lisa that he loves her. He admits that Maggie’s sexy roommate had declared her love for him the night before, and even though he doesn’t feel the same way, he said he loved her, too. “Anything else seemed rude,” he mumbles. Maggie demands that he break up with Lisa; if two people are in different places, she reasons, it’s not going to work. Jim asks where Don is, and she replies he’s on a plane headed back to New York. “Was that a dig wrapped in a metaphor?” she asks pointedly. The scene is really strong, both because of its funny back-and-forth and because when Maggie is running on anger rather than nerves or poorly hidden attraction, Allison Pill shines. Fortunately for Jim, everyone’s Blackberry starts to blow up with the news that President Obama is going to give an address regarding national security later that evening. As the date of the episode appears on the screen, we realize it’s May 1, 2011, and the gang is going to cover the death of Osama bin Laden. Faster than Bruce Wayne down the Batpole, everyone – including Kaylee, Lisa and Will’s bodyguard Lonny – are on their way to ACN… and Will is as baked as my nana’s apricot crumb squares the night before a church picnic.
PLANE ANNOYING | On a flight about to land at La Guardia, Elliot and Sloan are sitting in coach and ribbing Don for his sustained kvetching about Maggie and Jim. (Side note: I doubt most national news networks’ primetime talent would put up with anything less than business class, but because most of this episode was awesome, I’ll concede the point.) The plane touches down, they pull out their phones to check their email – great line reading on “A fan,” Olivia Munn – and quickly realize that something big is going down. Of course, the plane’s early arrival means they don’t have a gate, so the ACN delegation (and everyone else) are stuck on the taxiway with a by-the-book flight attendant who refuses to let Olivia and Don’s horndog seatmate switch places. Don eventually stands just as the plane moves a few inches, and his flailing tumble into the aisle is nearly as satisfying as his failed door smash a few weeks ago. Just as quickly, though, the plane stops again: They now have a gate, but it’s a tow-in dealie, meaning more waiting. At least Sloan has somehow secured a confirmation from U.S. Central Command that the president is going to announce Bin Laden’s demise. (Side note: Sloan is still a financial reporter, right? How likely is it that she’d have this source on speed-dial? You know what? I don’t even care. Between the Olympics and this episode, I’m primed to accept any evidence of American exceptionalism. U-S-A! U-S-A!)
NEVER FORGET | Everyone’s in the newsroom, working leads in their party attire. Though some people think the news may have to do with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and Neal (predictably) suggests aliens may be involved, everyone’s pretty sure that POTUS is going to announce the death of the Sept. 11 mastermind. But Charlie won’t let anyone break the news before the White House announces it. “This isn’t Watergate. They’re not the enemy,” he says firmly. That’s convenient, because the hold-off gives Will a little time to inch down from his high – dude can’t even tie his own tie, but he’s a whole lot more fun than usual – and allows Maggie, Jim and Lisa an opportunity to work out their love triangle. Mags, whose party hair updo still looks quite lovely, demands that Jim end things with her roomie. But Lisa, who’s a lot smarter than Maggie gives her credit for, beats him to it. Oddly enough, this wakes Jim up; after admitting that he wasn’t so into their pairing the first time around, he asks her out on a proper first date. Um, kids? Breaking news situation? Save the googly eyes for the Sunday morning political shows. Thank goodness Charlie and his eyebrows are there to remind everyone of what a momentous occasion they’re witnessing. After Will realizes he’s been sitting on an email confirmation from his old softball pal Joe Biden for 20 minutes, Charlie gives the green light for Will to report bin Laden’s death. “You’re going to remember this night for the rest of your lives,” he tells the staffers, and everyone looks happy except Kaylee. We later learn her dad was a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald who died in the World Trade Center attacks. But that quiet moment is quickly subsumed by Will taking the anchor chair, pulling his stuff together and prepping the nation for the president’s remarks.
SHAKY LANDING | Don and Co.’s final moments on the plane are, I think, the episode’s only major misstep. Frustrated by missing out on being a part of history, Don throws a fit that causes the plane’s pilot and co-pilot to come out of the cockpit. But when he realizes that he’s flying United – airline of the ill-fated Flight 93 – he immediately becomes Grateful Citizen Don and says he wants to be the first to tell the crew that bin Laden is no longer alive. The airline employees hug and Don (unnecessarily) intones, “We reported the news.” It’s a little too much in an episode that was otherwise incredibly well balanced.
RISE ABOVE | Another episode with only one musical theater reference: Maggie tells Jim he has to rehearse breaking up with Lisa, because otherwise, his speech will be as problem-plagued as the Broadway production of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. As always, if I’ve missed any mentions, sing them out in the comments.
Now it’s your turn. What were your impressions of the episode? Did it change your mind about the series? Do you remember what you were doing on the night the episode takes place – and do you remember what news you were watching? And are you intrigued by what Charlie’s source had to say about AWM’s illegal electronic surveillance practices? Tell us what you think in the comments!Follow @kimroots