The Newsroom Recap: Sarin, Lies and Videotape

The Newsroom Season 2 RecapThis week, the clock on the Newsroom story we’ve known all season was going to blow up in the News Night team’s faces starts ticking down in earnest – and one key player is revealed as a liar who’s basically responsible for the whole debacle. Elsewhere, I fear there’s another misguided Jim hook-up on the horizon. (Ladies love the floppy hair, I guess?) Without further ado, let’s review the major developments that take place in “One Step Too Many.”

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SEEING RED| We open with the first Red Team meeting, a term which, forgive my nerdery, brings to mind the redshirts on Star Trek away teams every single time I hear it. (Come to think of it, though, the people in this room are about to be just as screwed.) For those needing a catch-up, the Red Team is a group of previously uninvolved ACN journos who are briefed so they can poke holes in a potentially controversial story, hopefully making it better in the process. Neal, MacKenzie, Jerry and Maggie present the Operation Genoa cover-up to Don, Jim and Sloan while Charlie looks on.

The trio of newbies, particularly Jim, is quite wary of the story. “I don’t believe it, either. And I also don’t believe in Santa Claus, but if I saw eight reindeer take flight…” Mackenzie says, setting up a truly ridiculous digression about the precise name and number of St. Nick’s sleigh-pullers. Jim pulls the conversation back on track so he can wax skeptical about Jerry’s pet project, and is it just me or is Hamish Linklater channeling angry Ross Gellar here? Dude, no one’s confusing a pterodactyl for a stegosaurus or refusing to pivot on command. These people are on your side. Chillax.

Mac and Charlie announce they’re going to visit a retired Marine named Gen. Stanislaus Stomtonovich, who is in a position to confirm that Genoa happened and whose history indicates he may be willing to help ACN with the story. By the end of the meeting, Don and Jim’s thoughts on the matter at hand are clearly “Hell no,” but Sloan is harder to read.

THE BITCH IS… ACTUALLY QUITE LOVELY | I’m going to ignore the silliness of Hallie calling Jim via Skype on his office computer because I’m just so relieved to see her not copping her usual ‘tude. In fact, she seems downright bubbly. As they make plans for her New York visit the following evening, she requests a favor. “Do it. Whatever she’s asking, do it. Do it now,” pipes up Gary CooperNotThatOne, who appears out of thin air. (Heh, and side note to Newsroom: How about giving us more Chris Chalk in the future? Thanks!) Jim’s new lady asks if he’ll invite Neal to dinner so Hallie can pair him up with an mtvU reporter she knows from the campaign trail. Jim’s hesitant to do so, but he caves when Hallie promises him plenty of “discretionary time” with her back at the hotel. (Side note: I said I was going to forget about the fact that this couple is having a very private conversation in a very public manner at work, but I just can’t. In what way is this a good idea? And does Jim not own headphones?)

As Jim and Neal wait for Hallie and mtvU’s Aubrey to finish up at a Romney benefit, we learn that it’s March 21, 2012. We also learn that Hallie cannot read a social situation to save her life, because she’s invited Romney flak Taylor to dinner as an irritable fifth wheel. Taylor makes it clear she’s coming just because Jim doesn’t want her to, and they argueflirt with such agility and vehemence that I become certain they will sleep together before the end of the season.

Their banter continues at dinner, when Aubrey shows Taylor the YouTube clip of Maggie bellowing at the Sex and the City bus. The rest of the dining party fades into the background as Jim and Taylor dominate the conversation, talking about Romney’s record and his gaffes and… I’m not really sure what else, because I’ve suddenly become busy donning a Kevlar vest to protect myself from Constance Zimmer’s guns. (Whatever you’re doing, mama, it’s working for you.) Jim exhorts the Romney rep to tell her boss to play up his business background and use his religious beliefs to his advantage. “It’s been suggested,” she says uneasily. And? “I was fired” – that very evening, as it turns out.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s drinking at the very hotel where Jim is planning to spend “discretionary time” with Hallie. No one’s buying Hallie’s story that Jim’s “fixing my computer,” or Maggie’s lie that she’s there with a college pal, but the ladies’ first meeting is cordial enough. Upstairs, Hal and Jim engage in about nine nanoseconds of fervent making out before she gets word that Romney’s added an event in the morning, meaning she has to be on a plane in 90 minutes. Jim later encounters Drunky McFallsapart once more in the lobby bar, where he encourages her to be careful about what she says about Operation Genoa when she drinks. Then she leaves with the bartender, and it’s sad all the way around.

LOOKIN’ FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES | Will is feeling unloved, so he does ridiculous things like commission News Night focus groups and listen to Nina, who’s calling him “honey” these days and giving him tips on how to be more likable to viewers. On her advice, he visits the channel’s inane morning show and – among other atrocities — dons a football helmet that, as Sloan later points out, makes him look like Michael Dukakis in the tank. In his anger, Will breaks up with Nina (I think? Hard to tell with blusterers like him). “Why didn’t you say that I shouldn’t care about the [approval] numbers?” he shouts at her. “Because you should,” she counters, once and for all cementing her position as Not Mac. Later, Sloan gives Will some sisterly advice about doing the kind of News Night he wants to do. (This scene seemed redundant to me – I’d rather see Will in action than hear Sloan tell us what’s going on in his head – but I’m curious to hear what you guys think. Log your thoughts in the comments.)

Meanwhile, Mac and Don hang loose at Hang Chews. He laments that he can’t compete with the guys Sloan dates (though if you don’t post pictures online of her in her birthday suit, Keefer, I think that would give you a leg up). I lament that the show has chosen to shoot the very beautiful Emily Mortimer from such an unflattering angle. It’s a sweet scene, nevertheless. Key takeaways: Mac knows Will and Nina are an item (if, indeed, they still are). and Don feels guilty about Maggie’s current plight – though Mac tells him he shouldn’t.

THE KEY CUT | Charlie and Mac go to Silver Spring, Md., to feel out the retired Marine general (played by Stephen Root, Justified). He’s odd. He doesn’t remember them calling the day before, and he insists on watching March Madness, no matter what else is going on. Nevertheless, he surmises that the news folk are there to talk about United States forces using chemical weapons on civilians – “We’re not playing basketball anymore,” he says cryptically – and agrees to let Jerry interview him, at home and in disguise, about Operation Genoa.

Dantana and Maggie show up on another day, only to have Stomtonovich kick everyone but Jerry out of the room before taping begins. (P.S. This would not happen – from what I’ve been told, this kind of shoot necessitates a camera operator and an audio person in the room, at the least.) Before Maggie steps out, though, the general clearly says “It happened,” which was the phrase in question when lawyer lady Rebecca interviewed Mags a few weeks ago.

The thing is, once Jerry starts recording, Stomtonovich won’t confirm what he promised to confirm. He speaks only in hypotheticals. So when Jerry gets back to ACN, he sneaks into an edit room and makes some creative cuts. What the general actually says: “If we used sarin, here’s how we used sarin.” What Jerry’s version – the one he shows Mac and the Red Team, even when asked for the raw tape — says: “We used sarin. Here’s how we used sarin.” DEAD TO ME, DANTANA. Charlie still wants another source, which sends Jerry into a tirade that ends with, “What your problem is, is that you like this president. You trust him.” Objective much, Jerry?

A lot of time passes, and Charlie gets his final source: A Marine they thought was dead but isn’t, and who can confirm what they already know about Genoa. In the present, Charlie briefly outlines the special report’s success: It aired at 9 pm on a Sunday and drew close to 6 million viewers.  “By 10:05, I knew we had a problem,” he said soberly (for once). “None of it was true.” Eep.

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