Remember the “American Taliban” comment Will lobbed at the Tea Party in the final hour of The Newsroom‘s first season? Sure, it was all fun and triumph and patriotic idealism at the time. But as we learn throughout the opening episode of Season 2, Will’s snarky insult is the first domino in a Rube Goldberg-like progression that, as it trips along, causes Reese’s ouster from a meeting of DC power players, Jim’s relocation to the Romney campaign bus, Mackenzie’s hunger for the story of the century, Sloan’s awkward fist-pump and Maggie’s truly awful haircut.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, and Marcia Gay Harden and the ACN legal team get paid far more to walk us through the episode-long flashback than I do. So let’s let them take the lead as we review what happened in “First Thing We Do Let’s Kill All the Lawyers.”
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TROUBLE AHEAD, TROUBLE BEHIND | We catch up with Will as he’s being interviewed by the cable channel’s counsel, headed by Harden’s Rebecca Halliday, at a time that’s not now but is closer to now than the events that take up most of the hour. Confused yet? As the episode unspools, we gather that at some point in the 14 months between last season’s finale and this season’s premiere, News Night aired a segment alleging that the U.S. military committed a war crime by using nerve gas abroad. The show later retracted the story about the so-called “Operation Genoa,” but heaps of trouble remain.
Just then, a random staffer wanders in and asks Will about the rundown and OH MY GOD THAT’S MAGGIE. You’ll forgive my not immediately recognizing her: She’s dressed like a Lilith Fair roadie and her hair, aside from being now red, looks like she went into SuperCuts and asked for the Hannah Horvath special. After Maggie leaves, Rebecca notes that Ms. Jordan’s appearance will matter if/when the current spot of bother goes to trial, because she’ll be a character witness. “What the hell happened to her hair?” she asks, and a protective Will informs her that Maggie went to Uganda for a story (um, okay?) and “It got real very fast. She came back a little messed up.”
From his posture, tone and general look of disdain, Will clearly doesn’t want to answer any more questions. And Rebecca clearly doesn’t care. So she makes him go back to the beginning, starting with the fallout from his “American Taliban” shot. “What happened then?” she prompts. “A lot,” he says, tiredly.
THE COST OF FREE SPEECH | Just like that, we’re in late August, 2011. Will’s anti-Tea Party rant gets ACN president Reese shut out of a Capitol Hill meeting about the Stop Online Piracy Act, which makes Mama Leona very unhappy – and she tells Charlie to rein Will in. So after a broadcast with two near-calamitous control-room mishaps (of which Will, humming Rebecca Black’s “Friday” to himself in the studio – ha! — remains blissfully unaware), Charlie pulls the cantankerous anchor off the network’s coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Will makes some good points – “For the record, I compared the Tea Party to the Taliban, and we were attacked by Al Qaeda” – but Charlie says the anniversary of the attacks is “just not the day to have the argument.” Will concedes, and they agree that he’ll conveniently come down with the flu just in time for Sloan and Elliot to take his place.
Though Will acts like he’s OK with the change-up, he’s really not… as MacKenzie can tell when she calls and interrupts his patio pity party later that night. (Side note: I don’t know that I would be able to be sad about anything for long if I had Will’s primo New York real estate, complete with Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” pumping in the background. Conversely, I don’t know if I’d ever get any sleep if I had MacKenzie’s bedroom, which appears to look out on the neon insanity that is Times Square. Don’t you maybe wanna pull the curtain, Mac?)
LIVE FREE OR DIE | Jim can’t handle Don and Maggie acting like a rom-com couple – and he’s not interested in Maggie’s pleas that they return to being good buds — so he volunteers to fill in for an injured ACN reporter who has to take a break from covering Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. (It’s completely ridiculous that a senior producer at the channel’s biggest show would ever take a gig as one of the boys on the bus, but like the Uganda thing, you’ve just gotta kind of get over it if we’re going to have any fun this season.)
MacKenzie grants Jim’s wish when he likens his situation to when she “blew it” with Will and ran off to Peshawar to lick her wounds. So Harper drives all night to New Hampshire, where Romney’s advance staff is not psyched about Will’s take on the Tea Party and bans Jim from the bus in retaliation. Nice. Back in New York, Washington D.C.-based producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) arrives to be nuJim for the few weeks that Harper will be gone. Jerry is eager for News Night to cover U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan; when Sloan is also hot on the topic, an on-air panel discussion is born. The who-cares-who-dies-as-long-as-they’re-not-American military expert Jerry brings in is a little too gung-ho for anyone’s good – but Will, not wanting to appear anti-American after the Taliban brouhaha, refuses to challenge him during the show.
When the military expert – who’s clearly trying to make a name for himself — senses that News Night probably won’t have him back, he desperately pitches a new story to Jerry. The tale is “the kind that makes careers and ends presidencies,” old military guy says super dramatically, and because Jerry is also trying to gain a foothold at ACN headquarters, he’s intrigued. We now know this is our intro to Operation Genoa’s cover-ups, black ops, yadda yadda… Hey, what are Don and Sloan talking about in the other corner of the newsroom?
I’M SORRY. I CAN’T. DON’T HATE ME. | The pretty financial whiz has been filling in for Elliot, meaning Don is her executive producer, meaning they probably have lots of opportunity for conversation every day. So… why is this the first time they’re talking about their “Why are you still single?” “Because you never asked me out.” interlude near the end of last season? Maybe they were hoping that time would help the talk be less uncomfortable? They were wrong. Don casually tosses out that he took Sloan’s emotional nakedness “as a joke,” which forces her to play it off as though he’s right on track – but they both know he’s not. Arrgh. I’m not sure which is worse: Sloan’s hella dorky arm pump (which I loved for all of its ridiculousness) or Don’s reason for why he’s got to get home to Maggie: “I’ve got a 13-day streak going of being a good boyfriend.” Ick.
But when Don returns to his apartment, Maggie’s vindictive plot contrivance cousin has emailed him a link to a YouTube video of Mag’s Sex and the City bus breakdown – in which she admits (loudly… to a double-decker stuffed with tourists – one of whom decided to capture the moment via smartphone) that she’s fallen for Jim. Maggie wakes up as Don is packing to spend the night in a hotel; he says Lisa will take her back as a roommate – so they did move in together – but that Maggie’s best friend hasn’t seen the video and he didn’t alert her to its existence.
I’ve gotta say, Don doesn’t appear very broken up about this turn of events; rather, he seems to be happy that he managed to hold off on screwing things up until his bumbling blonde girlfriend did the honors. “I spent this whole time thinking I was a bad guy for not being in love with you, but it turns out…” He leaves, advising her to call Jim and “tell him to get off the f—ing bus. We’re trying to do the news.”
WRAP IT UP | Elsewhere, Neal becomes interested in the nascent Occupy Wall Street movement. “I believe America is on the verge of starting its own Arab spring,” he tells anyone who’ll listen. Well, as long as we’re not overhyping it… And MacKenzie and Will wind up at the bar, where they have a conversation in which the lyrics to The Who’s “You’d Better You’d Better You’d Bet” are used as a parallel for both Will’s relationship with his audience and MacKenzie’s relationship with Will. Then, just in case we didn’t get it, MacKenzie and Will have a discussion about how the lyrics mirror both of their situations. We heard you the first time, Sorkin.
GOTTA SING! GOTTA DANCE! | The show’s regular musical-theatre mentions seemed nearly nonexistent in this episode, save a visual callout of a Memphis topper on a cab in the background of a scene. As always, if I missed any, shout ’em out in the comments.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the show’s new opening? Were you pleased to see Maggie and Don split again? What’s your theory for what happened to Mags in Uganda? Do you agree with Charlie’s removing Will from the 9/11 coverage? Sound off in the comments!