The Newsroom Recap: Clock Blocked

The Newsroom Season 2 RecapIn this week’s episode of The Newsroom, ACN’s Operation Genoa story falls apart like me during the last 15 minutes of Beaches. A bunch of questions are answered, at least one opportunity (in my opinion) is missed and three News Nighters throw themselves on their journalistic swords to save the reputation of the network. Let’s assume crash positions as we review the epic – I’m sorry, “institutional” – failure that goes down in “Red Team III.”

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DON CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH | Most of the key players spend some time in the episode being interrogated by ACN lawyer Rebecca; Don goes first. He rails against the stupidity of ACN having to prepare for the worst just because Jerry Dantana is angry he got fired. Rebecca counters that, although Jerry certainly doctored the tape, the matter is a bit more nuanced than Don would like to admit. Jerry’s “claim is, he’s a scapegoat,” she says coolly. “I understand why he’d feel that way, because it was entirely his fault,” Don shoots back. (Heh.)

But the truth of it is that there were several problems that should’ve gotten caught but didn’t during the three Red Team meetings, and a flashback brings us into the third one. We learn that MacKenzie interviewed the previously assumed-dead Herman Valenzuela, who backed up what the News Night team had already learned: Operation Genoa was an extraction to recover captured American military personnel, and in it, the U.S. Armed Forces used chemical weapons on civilians. This is the first meeting for which Will has been present, and his face is blank as Jerry & Co. review their sources and the facts – we find out his non-reaction is because “I heard the same story,” he tells them. (Though, as Rebecca points out, no one thought to ask Will if his reliable, in-a-position-to-know source was the same as Charlie’s. Oops.)

Charlie, Mac and Jerry want to run with the story. Don thinks airing it will put soldiers’ lives in heightened danger, and Jim says it just doesn’t feel right. “Eleven months of reporting versus your gut, I’ll take the reporting,” Jerry says peevishly. “I’d take Jim’s gut,” Sloan pipes up, and Neal concurs. (That’s sweet, guys, but Jim’s not infallible. Remember, he did give away an interview with a presidential candidate to a pretty face a few months back… though, in that case, his gut probably wasn’t the body part calling the shots.) Harper and Dantana argue — Jerry says Jim fetishizes the military, Jim says he doesn’t know Jerry and therefore can’t be certain about his judgment — until Will makes the ultimate call: “I trust Charlie and Mac.” The broadcast is a go!

ACN REPORTS | The special airs live, with all of the staff nervously watching. Everything seems fine until Charlie gets a call from a livid Gen. Stomtonovich, who strenuously asserts that he never said that the U.S. used sarin. “It’s on film,” Mac replies when she, Will and Charlie discuss the matter, but she volunteers to check the raw tape once more. Though the call rattles them all a little, Will and Mac still manage to have a seemingly innocuous conversation about shot clocks vs. game clocks as he watches a college football game. If you’re thinking Mac’s about to figure out what Jerry did to the tape… you’ve got to wait a while.

The next morning brings news both good (the special netted 5.8 million viewers, “That’s an I Love Lucy number!” Will cries gleefully) and troubling (the Department of Defense sends News Night an email that involves the phrases “legal remedies” and “Espionage Act”). That’s so not good. Still, everyone stands by the story… until Elliott interviews the former gunnery sargeant involved in Genoa on his show later that night.

During Elliott’s broadcast, Sloan and Don banter it up in the control room. I loved her assertion that she’d “thrive” in jail because she’d “do everybody’s taxes and invest the warden’s money. What are you gonna do? Produce their nightly news show?” but then things get a little fuzzy – probably because I blacked out for a moment after being hit over the head so hard with the “and sometimes boys are vague with their messages” line. (Side note: This season isn’t going to end with another Sloan-and-Don near miss, is it?)

The flirting is interrupted, though, as the vet slips on-air and says he incurred a traumatic brain injury while on duty. It’s an injury he’d lied about to the News Night team – and one that often causes memory loss, which could mean that he’s not as rock-solid on those Genoa facts as he originally seemed. Don urges Elliott to bail out of the interview, and they quickly go to commercial. Not long after, a late night emergency staff meeting is called.

During the tense powwow, everyone (but Jerry) learns that Maggie wasn’t in the room during the Stomtonovich interview. Cue the journalistic outrage! Charlie and his eyebrows subdue everyone into silence, telling those assembled to chill out – leading to this awesome exchange:

WILL: How much of what you’re saying do you believe right now?
CHARLIE: 60 percent
WILL: I thought it was in the mid-80s. You pulled it off.
CHARLIE: [with the most amazing look on his face] Experience.

Mac later realizes that Herman Valenzuela isn’t as solid a source as he originally seemed, either; in his interview, which she conducted, he didn’t state one original fact – he just backed up what Stomtonovich and Sweeney said. The next day, Charlie goes to D.C. to talk to his “Deep Throat.” And that’s when things get really bad.

A FATHER’S REVENGE | Charlie has lots of questions for the man who brought him the helicopter manifest, but that man first wants to show off some pictures of his son, David. There’s David on his first day of college, on his first day as an ACN intern, on his first day home from rehab (I don’t like where this is going…) and at his funeral. What?

Apparently, the source’s kid was hired at the network on his 90th day of sobriety from a heroin addiction but was fired, and that firing was part of a downward spiral that ultimately killed him. The grieving father is mad that Charlie didn’t step in to stop the dismissal, and therefore… ACN’s Operation Genoa story became a thing. (Side note: From the way the men talk about it, I was thinking that the intern was somehow involved in the Internet death threat hoax aimed at Will last season. What a good way to wrap in that plot point, I thought. But, nope. The kid just posted about how he didn’t like News Night, and Neal let him go because of it. Missed opportunity, no?) When Charlie states that David “deserved to be fired,” the source slaps him and suggests he hold the very fake manifest over a lightbulb for 20 seconds, Nancy Drew-style – which reveals a nasty message (aimed at Charlie) that would make Ned Nickerson blush.

TIME’S UP | Meanwhile, back in New York, the news division is getting the first word about the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Benghazi. It’s not too crazy, though, for one of the control-room guys to bring a segment countdown clock into the newsroom to show Mac. I assume he did so because the giant, flashing neon arrow pointing to Jerry’s deceit was being used by someone else? Something in the petite EP’s mind clicks, and we next see her reviewing Stomtonovich’s interview once more – and paying particular interest to the corner of the basketball game on the TV behind the general…

“You forgot the shot clock,” she says when she sees Jerry exiting the elevator, then pushes him back in and closes the door behind them. Mac is so mad she can’t look directly at the fill-in producer, so they both stare ahead as she tells him the clock on the tape goes from 19 to 3 to 2 to 14. He’s screwed, and he knows it, but he tries to rationalize anyway. “I wouldn’t have done this on any other story, and I wouldn’t have done it unless I was sure!” he says, voice rising. Mac shouts that “No one!” is ever going to believe them again, and he says he needs a lawyer. “You’re fired,” she calls out as he departs. “I know,” he says resignedly.

Upstairs, Mac finds all of the staff in Will’s office. They’re buzzing about a source who says that what happened in Benghazi was a coordinated attack, but they fall silent when she enters with tears in her eyes and says, “We have to retract Genoa tonight. All of it.” Want a visual punch to the gut? Watch Jeff Daniels’ face in this scene. Good stuff.

FAKE NEWS FALLOUT| As Will tells Rebecca & Co., News Night‘s top story that evening was the retraction. “We just stopped being good.” And so, after he reports on the following night’s election (it’s obviously November 5, 2012), he’s going to resign. He makes his way up to the executive level, where he, Charlie and Mac await Leona’s arrival from some swanky fundraiser. When the big boss lady does show up, she’s lamenting the fact that she paid $1,000 to see Skyfall at a benefit. “You know why? To meet Daniel Craig,” she says. (Lady, a grand to set eyes upon those steely peepers and that chiseled jaw in person? You got a bargain.) But Hurricane Sandy aftermath kept Craig from appearing. Boo.

Anyway, Leona swans around the room in an awesome black gown and refuses the trio’s resignations. “You will resign when I fire you out of petty malice and not before,” she states. (Ha!) Right after she uses the vernacular “hizzy,” Charlie wonders out loud what I’ve been thinking since she entered: “Leona, are you stoned?” She’s not high, Charlie, but she’s also not going to let Jerry take home a $5 million settlement just to make the network’s problem go away. Rebecca enters and tells Leona not to let them go, and the ladies’ back-and-forth implies a friendship that goes beyond the network. (To be a fly on the wall on one of those girls’ nights!) The entire scene feels like a fever dream – in the best way possible – but Charlie is determined to have some normalcy. “Leona, we don’t have the trust of the public anymore!” he bellows. “Get it back!” she shouts. And… roll credits!

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Slizabeth says:

    I said before this season that Sorkin couldn’t really let the ACN team get ALL of the news stories right this season. That gimmick would get old. Well WOW he really blew the crew out of the water… Not what I had in mind, but it made for some amazing television! Please tell me we have like 15 more episodes before this season ends… right? RIGHT?

  2. DMD says:

    AMAZING!!!! Thomas Sadoski was spot on with his lines…and Marcia Gay Harden was incredible as well!

  3. nonniemb says:

    Leona at the end was PURE GOLD.

    • wordsmith says:

      I came here immediately after seeing the episode to say the exact same thing. I don’t know what all is happening this week on TV, but I can’t imagine anybody topping Jane Fonda for Performer of the Week.

    • Brendan says:

      Back in The 112th Congress, I loved the scene between her and Charlie at the end, where they established that she agreed with NewsNight ideologically before she went pure-business. The obstinate higher-up fighting our intrepid heroes is cliche, and at the time I was very happy they were differentiating her a bit from the archetype. The scene tonight was a big payoff of that setup, her siding with the good guys after playing the enemy in season 1. Love the complexity that gives her character.

    • Ana says:

      Jane Fonda and Marcia Gay Harden were just spectacular in this episode. I can watch those ladies fire off Sorkin’s dialogue all night long.

  4. AD says:

    It was a brilliant conclusion to a seven-episode story arc that was skillfully written and masterfully portrayed. Sorkin and company at their best!

  5. Keres says:

    Omg!!! My heart is still racing! Absolutely amazing episode! And Jane Fonda needs to be in waaaaaaayyyyyy more episodes! She’s a scene stealer! Love this show! It keeps getting better and better!

  6. kate says:

    Loved Jane Fonda as Leona, and I’ve loved Marcia Gay Harden all season, and in general. That said, as I was watching the scene with Charlie and his source unfold, I thought it was dumb. How do you blame a guy for your son’s death from a heroin addiction?…which Charlie obviously didn’t even know about. But thinking about it, the revenge angle, even if it felt slightly contrived at the time, made total sense. Revenge, in reality and not in entertainment, is often petty with twisted logic and blame placed on the wrong person. And there were clues throughout the season that they were being set up, except my friends and I all thought it was Reese and not this other source nobody ever thought to look at twice. Great writing.

  7. hipper says:

    I’ve had my problems with this show from the start but this episode was easily their best of the series. Kudos all around. This is ‘The Newsroom’ I signed up for.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Just wow! That was television at its finest!

  9. Mimi says:

    “Get it back!” A.K.A. The Newsroom Season 3: We Need People To Trust Us Again.

  10. I too enjoyed the last 5 minutes of this episode the most the second Leona/Jane Fonda entered the room. For all the grieve Aaron Sorkin’s taken over his poor characterization of The Newsroom’s female characters so far, Leona Lansing negates it all (thanks in part to Fonda’s amazing portrayal).

  11. Rh says:

    But the shot clock thing seems totally unnecessary! If anyone just looked at the time code of the raw footage they could see it had been edited…

    And just When did Maggie cut her hair?

    • Jeff says:

      Timecode can be modified.

    • canadian ninja says:

      Apparently Maggie cuts her hair sometime between Sept 11/Benghazi and her deposition by Rebecca a few days before the election. We know the Africa stuff happened months ago so there is probably another incident to incite the great hair event of season 2.

  12. May says:

    Incredible episode, best thing I’ve seen in TV for a while. Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels nailed the ‘we have to retract’ Genoa scene and Jane Fonda was… well, herself. Aaron Sorkin did a great job with this episode, and it really is a pity that we only have two more episodes to go.

  13. Brendan says:

    Dear anyone who will make a television show at any point in the future:

    This is how it’s done.

    That is all.

  14. Dani says:

    best episode of the season by far. an entertaining and fulfilling hour of television if ever i saw one. Jane Fonda is pure gold (and dare i say it, DAYUM she does not look a day older than 50).

    • Simon Jester says:

      And as someone who hardly ever pays attention to what characters are wearing, I have to add… that dress of Leona’s was STUNNING.

  15. Trip says:

    That David guy was pretty cute. Too bad he’s dead and can’t show up again! :-/

  16. Bob Rush says:

    By far, the best episode of the series..wish this show had no breaks BTW why do we have to wait two weeks to see again?

  17. Gina says:

    You obviously didn’t realize that Sloan’s reference to doing taxes and investing the warden ‘s money was a sly reference to “The Shawshank Redemption”?

    • Meg says:

      Not really a sly reference when the character actually says that’s the reason she’d do well in prison.

    • RyanC says:

      Yeah, the line is pretty much:
      “You think you’d do well in prison?”
      “Shawshank. I’d do taxes and invest the warden’s money”.
      It’s pretty much the opposite of a sly reference.

  18. Bluestem says:

    When that slap in the garage happened, I thought a Dynasty-like cat fight was going to break out. Except, that doesn’t seem very Sorkin/Waterson.But it felt dirty, small, and almost shocking. Indeed, what has been said about revenge of the Source-man in this is true in how it embodies pettiness and avarice; but it’s amazing that a person in that position would be so corruptible by resentment (not to mention, couldn’t also be brought down in this conspiracy’s investigation).
    This is the first episode wherein so many of the cast have been shown across the table from Becca and I wonder if it’s all a part of so many revelations opening in this one. But it makes me think too: while Hell-za-poppin in “Red Team III” there have to be larger sub-plots that must tie up or progress as a result of this transfer in story. Not just Jim and Maggie (please; it’s about Maggie now that Jim evaded any claim on his affections there); but anything having to do with any of their careers, correcting their mistakes and moving forward. Maybe intern-girl will save them all LOL.

  19. bobbie says:

    I had, up til this episode, thought X was right when he told me that this season had devolved into typical Sorkin relationship focused episodes. Then last night’s episode! It knocked my socks off! Bravo Aaron Sorkin! BRAVO!!!! Standing O!!!! Wonderful Jane Fonda! BRAVO!

  20. Magically Suspicious says:

    The episode was brilliant, but I did find the shot clock thing bothersome. The tape itself jumped significantly. There were two players and a referee running across the court in the screenshot, and then there were no people in the shot. It was obviously spliced. The logo at center court also gives away the edit. There’s no way a professional news team didn’t notice that.

    • Simon Jester says:

      No, Mac *specifically* says that Jerry lucked out with the edit because there were no players on the part of the court that was in the frame at that moment. The shot clock was therefore the only giveaway.

      • Steve says:

        Actually, it was Will that said that. In either case, it’s not remotely true; on last week’s show I spent about five minutes rewinding and playing that scene again, trying to figure out how the hell anybody would miss that. It jumps from one half of the court to the other, with players and a referee moving several feet in an instant. You can’t miss it.

  21. HAP says:

    Many of the comments made tended to over analyze minutia. This was bravura television. ‘Nuf said.

    • scooby says:

      Actually the commenters are intelligent people analyzing details with the proper amount of attention to detail necessary for an Aaron Sorkin show. You’re not supposed to just sit there and let it wash over you.

  22. Monica4185 says:

    Charlie getting slapped and Leona Lansing at the end, both time my heart stopped a little. The best episode of the series.

  23. Brilliant headline, Kimberly! :)

  24. Sami says:

    I might be the odd one out here but i think this arc should have exploded atleast 2 episodes ago. I can’t justify what i would have cut off in the previous episodes but….. this Genoa-arc didn’t feel like it had Sorkin’s handwriting most of the time. Except this episode ofcourse. Felt very different.
    Though with the current situation in Syria i’ve always had to think about this arc.

    Now i can only hope for some extra drama coming up in the remaining episodes.

  25. Chablis says:

    Kimberly fabulous recap. I may be wrong but I thought Leona’s fundraiser was $10,000? Didn’t seem like she would be “complaining” about $1,000? :-)

  26. Evelyn Grace says:

    Absolutely loved this episode! I only wish I could have seen how they figured out that Will and Charlie’s source was the same. Maybe next week? Otherwise, brilliant!

  27. Mel says:

    The presidential election was on 6 November 2012 so if this episode ended on the day prior that would make it the 5th not the 1st.

  28. seriously jane fonda with what 3 minutes she just stole the whole episode in one line! get an emmy for the lady like ..NOW!

  29. Steve says:

    I said last week that, even though I knew it was going to happen, I was going to be terribly disappointed when nobody noticed the skip in the basketball game…sadly, it ended up being even more infuriating than I imagined. The fact that Don mentioned the game showed that at least one person was paying at least some attention to it. And how many people in that room watched that tape how many times? And nobody noticed the obvious jump? Come on. But the worst part, the unforeseen part, was Will saying nobody noticed because there was no action…when that’s just not true. It was very easy for me to notice. Now, look, I get that this is small…but when Sorkin gets something wrong, which is so rare, it’s worth mentioning no matter how small.

    Unfortunately, he also got something bigger wrong. Much bigger. What really happened in Operation Genoa? Even if we are now to believe that sarin was not used…this is a good time to remember that Charlie Skinner himself said that in that context, the use of white phosphorous alone was a war crime. Just the white phosphorous. And he’s right. And, unfortunately, white phosphorous was used. It’s backed up by th Hamni8 tweets about willie pete, burning, more burning, and after 32 minutes of silence “I think everyone is dead.” We know Hamni8 simply stopped tweeting because his cell plan ran out, not because he is dead, but that still doesn’t explain those tweets. This is a very significant hole, especially for somebody like Sorkin.

    Other than that, wht a great episode and great story arc.

  30. JeffK says:

    There is a show the Discovery Channel called “Your bleeping brain” or something like that it explains why no one notices the jumps in the tape. Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time and frequently misses subtle changes unless you are looking for them. The focus was on the speaker and his words, what was going on in the background was “noise” that the brain just ignores. The “brain” show’s example was a woman performing a magic card trick. While you are busy watching the trick, they changed the hairstyle of the magician, articles of her clothing accessories, and even the actor that was playing the foil. (the “pick a card guy) while you are watching most people didn’t notice any of those changes. Your brain just can’t process everything it sees. That easily explains why no one saw the cuts in the tape (as subtle as they were) they weren’t looking for them.

  31. Penny. Thank you for the scoop on Beauty and the Beast. So looking forward to new season. says:

    Love this show! Love the characters, the brilliant writing, and the perfect ending in Sunday night’s finale! Can’t wait for Season 3!

  32. Nick C says: