It’s hard to keep up the pace of a great TV show.
The first two episodes of this season’s The Newsroom were excellent. An enjoyable, engaging story-line was growing rapidly as too were my expectations. Now Sunday night’s episode was good, but “Willie Pete” did not meet the standard set by the previous episodes of Season 2.
What made that so?
For starters, the plot line that the title, “Willie Pete,” is named for was used too sparingly. Instead of pushing full throttle on Genoa, other stories were given a great deal of screen time. These included the eventual romantic set up of Don and Sloan, Neal pushing MacKenzie on covering Occupy Wall Street (to the point where he even went after her $1,200 shoes), and Jim’s time away on assignment. While these scenes have merit and were fraught with so much witty dialogue I’m sometimes surprised the actors could keep up with themselves, it made for a less emotionally charged episode. Writer / creator Aaron Sorkin has an expertise in dialogue, particularly quick banter. But I found “Willie Pete” to be a throwback to much of last season’s dialogue, too quick for its own good at times. It lost the passionate momentum that galvanized me to this season’s headline story.
Further, spending so much time with Jim on Mitt Romney’s campaign press bus seemed more of a clear avenue for Sorkin to consistently slam Romney’s stance on the issues than push the plot forward. Or I should say lack of stance on issues, as according to “Willie Pete,” Romney’s consistent line was to offer his plan on said issue after he was elected to office. While a humorous exposé of a presidential hopeful, Jim’s time on the campaign trail is running its course. It became too repetitive and had me less engaged.
Now that I’m done picking, what made “Willie Pete” good?
The new love triangle between Will, Mac and Nina Howard sparked genuine interest. In a scene filled with humor and delight, Will invites Nina to have a samosa cocktail and discuss quashing a potential scandal. He appeals to her humanity not to run the story, and to his surprise, she agrees. Now, there is surely an ulterior motive from Nina, as she has the hots for Will. Reciprocating, he does for her too. Only thing is, Nina knows the secret behind Will’s marijuana educed message to Mac last season, proclaiming his love for her.
Coming out of the talk with Nina, Will and Charlie discover the true mole who leaked the scandalous story to Nina in the first place. As if Dragnet met Dumb and Dumber, Will and Charlie confront Reese Lansing, the President of AWM, with a tape recorder. The two buffoons bumble through their interrogation, ending in an unmitigated loss of their only piece of hard evidence. The two failing blackmail agents must return tails between their legs to the newsroom. Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston are terrific together. They can play off one another in any scenario: dramatic conflict, bickering friends or comedic fools. Their chemistry on screen is as good as any on The Newsroom. They have an ease together which is a true joy to watch.
This plays out at the beginning of “Willie Pete” when Will talks to Charlie about meeting with Nina. The two are in an actor’s paradise, not only playing off one another, but clearly having fun doing it. Yet the issues at stake are not just keeping Will out of the press. He wants to challenge Nina, appealing to her human side. In a fantastic retort, Charlie reminds Will she is a gossip columnist and has no humanity. The back and forth is great but it also furthers a message – that we in society have become too mean. When did this happen? The explosion of the internet is surely one cause. Through Twitter, Facebook and other avenues, everyone can give their opinion, no matter how ill-informed. But when did it all become mean spirited? Were things always that way, only more hidden – a snide comment from behind a locker in high school. Today, there is an almost anonymous way to express that venom. For humanity’s sake, we should do as Will proposes and “be one inch nicer to each other.”
At episode’s end, “Willie Pete” comes with a great cliffhanger. Willie Pete is another word for white phosphorus. If ever used in an enclosed area, Willie Pete alone would be considered chemical warfare. Earlier in the episode, MacKenzie and Jerry Dantana, the producer filling in for Jim, meet with a US soldier returned home from active duty. He opens up about what he saw first hand, which gives Jerry the green light to investigate further. Later, while receiving translated cell phone transcripts from the area apparently attacked, a shocking revelation comes over the fax, leaving the team speechless and Charlie in disbelief. This is likely enough to push forward the ACN News investigation which will lead them all into hot water surrounded by gnashing sharks. I mean lawyers.