Last season, The Newsroom made a point of showing us you erasing Will’s high-as-a-kite voicemail of love to MacKenzie (which you obtained illegally via wiretap). That development made it seem like you’d put aside your sleazy, tabloid sensibilities – which bummed me out a bit – and become a foot soldier in McAvoy’s Mission to Civilize. Sure, you were going to stay on as the head honcho at the gossip rag TMI, but you were going to feel really bad about it. (Cue tiny violin of conflicted character sympathy.) Score one for Will, score zzzzzz for me.
But you resurface this week and, in one short scene at the end of the hour, prove you’ve still got little compunction about lying to get what you want. Plus, you answer a question that has lingered for nearly a year: What in the heck did Will say to MacKenzie in the rest of that phone message?!
Of course, other stuff happens, too: Jim attempts to start a revolution, Jerry gets a big break, and Don falls over. A couple of times. It’s funny. Read on as we review what happened in “Willie Pete.”
DON’T ASK, GO TO HELL | We first see Will mid-broadcast on Sept. 23, 2011, as he’s railing against the booing of a gay soldier who asked a question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during a Republican primary debate. “How many different kinds of disgusting do you have to be to boo a man who volunteered to fight and die for you?” Will asks, incensed. He calls out the candidates for choosing not to renounce the booing, noting that if most of us were told we’d have to go to war, we “would go Corporal Klinger faster than you can pull on a yellow taffeta picnic dress.” (Heh – and yay for the M*A*S*H reference. Good God, I love that show.)
After the broadcast, Mac’s post-mortem with Will quickly devolves into her begging him to tell her what he said in the rest of his voice message to her the night of the bin Laden capture. “You’ve asked every day for two months,” he notes. (Oh really? Because we’re in Episode 3, and this is the first I’m hearing about it… You know what? Doesn’t matter. Questions are going to get answered soon, so let’s just keep things moving along.) MacKenzie tries to jog his memory. “I’m not just saying this because I’m high…” she starts, but he stands firm that he can’t remember what he said next.
A short time later, Mac throws out a theory: After the bin Laden broadcast, “for a minute, just a minute, you forgot you were mad at me.” He quietly closes her office door and informs her “I’m not mad at you” before softly yet forcefully reminding her that she was dating Brian “The Greater Fool” Brenner for four months while she was with Will. He may not be mad at her, but he’s definitely not pleased. “Sometimes, you’re not as cute as you think you are,” he says. Yeowtch and a little deserved, no? (Log your take in the comments.)
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (BLONDE) | Will swings by Charlie’s office, where his boss has some potentially pain-in-the-tush news: Nina Howard knows Will wasn’t actually sick when Sloan and Elliot filled in for him on the Sept. 11 anniversary. (Again I ask, what gossip rag worth its salt would care about this kind of cable-news minutiae? Unless Will’s absence was caused by his attendance at Jen Aniston’s surprise wedding or his acting as doula at little North West’s birth – or those events’ late 2011 equals – why in the world would a tabloid care?) Charlie suggests doing nothing, but Will wants an on-the-record meeting with Nina so he can revive his Mission to Civilize. “Nothing about that idea is good,” Skinner notes. (Heh.) But Will is sure his “appeal to her God-given humanity” will work. The back-and-forth between Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston is great here, by the way.
When Nina arrives for the meeting and finds the Atlantis World Media executive dining room empty except for Will, a pianist and a security guy, she quips, “Am I about to be murdered?” (Heh.) They sit, and he offers her a mimosa. “What?” she responds. Nina! The answer to “Do you want a mimosa?” is always, always “Yes.” He gallantly tells her that he did not have the flu for the Sept. 11 coverage and that it was Charlie, not Reese or Leona, who pulled him from the assignment after his Tea Party/Taliban comment. Nina agrees not to run the story because she likes that he told her the truth. (I’m ignoring the fact that the pianist has launched into “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” because it’s a little too much even for me. Nina’s reaction – “Oh dear God” – sums it up best, anyway.)
Will seems shocked by her easy acquiescence, so he leaves but returns a moment later to ask her out on a date. “I’d love to, but I won’t,” she says… because she’s heard the full voicemail and knows “You’re in love with MacKenzie.” He denies it. NINA: “The message said –” WILL: “You don’t have to say what it said.” ME: YES, YES, YES YOU DO. So here it is, folks, via Ms. Howard: “‘Hey Mac, it’s me. Look, I’m not just saying this because I’m high: I’ve never stopped loving you. You were spectacular tonight.’ Then there’s a pause, and you say, ‘Can you believe we got Obama?'” (Side note: Ha!)
NOT-SO-NICE NINA | With that taken care of, Will’s on the warpath for the leak. Sloan fears it was her (via a convoluted story about a wedding date with a guy who turned out to be Nina’s book agent) but TMI actually had the Sept. 11 scoop because it never stopped its nefarious phone tap. An apoplectic Charlie tells McAvoy to retrieve the recording of Reese admitting to the illegal eavesdropping, then he lets loose with a hilarious, “Will? We ride!” as they head up to the big boss’ office. Two things deflate their righteous fury: There’s nothing actually on the digital recorder (one of my biggest editorial nightmares writ large) and Reese couldn’t give a flying Fox News even if there were. Reese drops the recorder in the trash and dismisses them without a second thought.
Later in the episode, Mac calls Nina to thank her for killing the story and to ask if she had any inkling of what the rest of Will’s message might’ve been. Nina – who’s drying her hair, which will prove important in a minute – relates the part about MacKenzie’s kick-ass producing but omits any mention of Will’s ongoing devotion to his EP. Curious! Could it be because she’s clearly just finished a post-coital shower at Will’s? (Side note: Thank goodness Nina’s not quite the gossip-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold the show made her seem at the end of last season. This new wrinkle makes the character much more worthy of Hope Davis’ portrayal.)
SHOW ME THE ROMNEY | Jim’s frustration with the Romney campaign is starting to tick off everyone on the bus. After one petty interaction that ends with Harper asking advance staffer Cameron “Are you a cyborg?,” Hallie speaks for everyone when she says, “Are you a moron?… You’ve heard the only answer you’re going to hear. Learn how this works, because you’re driving the rest of us crazy.” But when a female Romney flak named Taylor is thrown into the mix, the discourse devolves to the point that one of Harper’s follow-up questions is: “Is there somebody inside you operating you with controls?” (Ha!) Jim’s disillusionment comes to a head one night when he tries to rally the rest of the reporters to join him in asking the tough questions. “Who’s with me?” he asks, a manic Jerry Maguire minus the fish. Hallie stands with him, so does a mustachioed guy who I’m sure has a name but who I always think of as Reporter Horatio Sanz, and… that’s it. “Oh god,” Hallie says as she returns to reality. The campaign tosses the trio and its gear off the bus, leaving the reporters on the side of the road at night in the middle of nowhere while the rest of the press corps motors away for another day of baby-kissing and stump-speechifying.
WOMAN UP! | Sloan and her EP disagree about whether she should voice her political views re: military drones during her financial show. In short, she did it against Zane’s wishes, and she tells him that Don backs up her decision. Which is true, except Don also told her to do what her EP tells her to do. But let’s push all of that aside for the moment and focus on the visual of Sloan’s EP leading one of the network’s top talent into Don’s office BY THE ARM like she’s a petulant toddler. I nearly used up this post’s italics budget on that last sentence, and I don’t even care: Why is Sloan so routinely treated like a little girl in the ACN newsroom, and why does she allow it? It’s lovely and all that Don stands up for her, saying that she’s smarter than pretty much anyone in the building. But that look on your face, Sloan? Don’t fall for him just because he’s the only Y-chromosomed person in the news division aware of the obvious. You are smarter than pretty much anyone in the building. You’re also prettier than pretty much anyone in the building. Please don’t let the latter infringe on the former. (And the fact that you threaten your EP with a ball peen hammer at the end of the scene is heartening, but next time, don’t bury the lede, ‘k?) Also, because this fits nowhere else: Don falling over backwards in his teeny Hobbit office chair multiple times made me laugh out loud.
ELSEWHERE AT ACN | After meeting with Jerry’s Operation Genoa source, Mac gives the producer the go-ahead to try to verify his tale about the U.S. using white phosphorous (nicknamed “willie pete”) and/or serin gas on civilians. Just when a dubious Charlie and Mac are about to kill the story, some translated tweets seem to prove that the attack actually did happen… Neal basically calls Mac a bourgeois princess out of touch with the common man, and that somehow makes her sympathetic to his passion for Occupy Wall Street. (Side note: Yeesh.)… Maggie takes the wrong type of malaria medicine and freaks out about it at an incredibly inappropriate time (how completely out of character!).
MY DESTINY CALLS AND I GO | In our ever-evolving tally of the series’ musical theater references: During the Mission to Civilize conversation in Charlie’s office, Will brings up Man of La Mancha. Again.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots