Recap and review of The Newsroom – Season 2 Premiere – The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers:
The season premiere of The Newsroom is a bit difficult to unpack. I enjoyed “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers,” yet it’s so packed with story that it can be hard to parse out what’s most relevant. This is always an issue with a show that’s starting a new season fresh, with no real cliffhangers from the previous season informing the direction of the premiere. But things are a bit more complicated here in that Aaron Sorkin has introduced a narrative feature right out of his own Oscar-winning script, The Social Network: a deposition serving as a framing device for a story that takes place in flashbacks.
So the ACN team is under fire for reporting a story that alleged the U.S. government committed war crimes overseas in something called “Operation Genoa”. It’s a mystery about which we learn the beginning during a deposition in which Will (Jeff Daniels) exasperatedly goes over the details with the network’s lawyer, Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden). It’s August 2011, and Will’s on-air comparison of the Tea Party to the “American Taliban” has ramifications, as network president Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) gets shut out of a SOPA meeting on Capitol Hill, and boots Will from ACN’s tenth anniversary coverage of 9/11 in retaliation. To make matters worse, the “American Taliban” comment makes things difficult for Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Neal (Dev Patel), as both come under scrutiny as a result of Will’s comment. Jim is prohibited from boarding a press bus for the Romney campaign, since the man in charge doesn’t like the way ACN covers the news, citing the Tea Party comment as reason enough to keep Jim off the bus. As for Neal, he has a hard time finding an in with the Occupy Wall Street movement, due in part to Will’s reportage, but also simply by nature of his own status as a journalist. These storylines are interesting in and of themselves, but are much more so for how they spring off of Will’s actions, creating a cause-and-effect relationship that’s excellently deployed.
But Reese, Neal and Jim are hardly the only ones feeling the effects from Will’s impulsive Tea Party comment in last season’s finale. Will himself is suffering the ramifications, and in trying to fix the situation, he ends up inadvertently setting an entirely new disaster in motion. When Will refuses to follow Mackenzie’s (Emily Mortimer) direction to challenge a pro-military panelist on the air, for fear of how it will appear in the wake of the “American Taliban” comment, the panelist assumes he won’t be asked back to the show again, and decides to tell Jerry (Hamish Linklater), the ambitious young producer filling in for Jim while he’s following the Romney campaign, about a bigtime story, “the kind that makes careers and ends presidencies.” Presumably, this is where the “Operation Genoa” story begins, and it’s this story that has landed ACN in hot water with the government. This domino effect is the most interesting aspect of the episode — well, that and the show’s continued depiction of how a cable news show actually gets made. Watching Mackenzie seamlessly direct a voiceover audio correction for a video package is tremendous stuff, as is her solution to a power crisis that blacks out all the digital equipment in the studio. More so than in season one, it’s clear to see why Mackenzie has her job, and why she’s the person best qualified to perform it. However, not everything can be as compelling.
I’ve never hated the romance subplots. In fact, I grew to be rather fond of the Jim, Maggie (Alison Pill) and Don (Thomas Sadoski) love triangle last season, as wacky as it ended up getting. But it just didn’t click tonight. We see in the deposition that Maggie has chopped off nearly all of her hair, dyed it red, and has grown a meek, introverted personality to go along with it. As Will explains, this is the result of an undisclosed trauma that happened to her while covering a story in Uganda. Maggie hasn’t been the same ever since, and Halliday is concerned that this could harm ACN’s case, as Maggie is a character witness in the upcoming trial. Though the flashbacks to August 2011 don’t shed any light on what happened to Maggie, we do get a glimpse into the fallout from last season’s developments with Jim. Turns out, Maggie has gone back to Don, and Jim is furious when she tries to talk him into going back to just being friends/colleagues. He pleads with Maggie to send him to New Hampshire to cover the Romney campaign, even though he’s far above the assignment. Jim simply wants to get away from Maggie, and convinces Mackenzie to give him the assignment by comparing his own situation to how she’d taken an assignment in Peshawar years ago to get over Will. The staff is immediately suspicious of why a senior producer like Jim would be taking an assignment for a junior reporter, but Don quickly puts the kibosh on all the speculation. And not a moment too soon, as he has some matters of his own to deal with…
Maggie’s climactic rant last season, to a bus full of Sex and the City tour patrons, has made it to YouTube, and Maggie’s cousin sent Don the link, not only because she’s vindictive, but also because she’s been crushing on Don. After watching the entire rant, in which Maggie confesses that she’s fallen in love with Jim, her best friend’s boyfriend, Don decides to leave Maggie. She tries to get him to stay, but he actually seems a bit relieved to be ending things. “I spent this whole time thinking I was a bad guy for not being in love with you, but it turns out…,” Don says, laughing about the situation, because of course someone would be videotaping his girlfriend’s manic rant to a bunch of strangers. He suggests that she move back in with Lisa (Kelen Coleman), who has agreed to take her back as a roommate, even though she doesn’t yet know about the YouTube video. As he leaves, Don tells Maggie to call Jim and “tell him to get off the f—ing bus. We’re trying to do the news.” But Don’s confusing female issues don’t end there, as he and Sloan (Olivia Munn) discuss her confession last season that the only reason she’s single is because he hasn’t asked her out. Don admits that he assumed Sloan had been joking, prompting Sloan to agree and play it off as a joke, in one of Olivia Munn’s funniest moments on the show. Not sure if I’m really invested in Don and Sloan as a couple just yet, but it’s a far more amusing potential romance, at this point, than the Jim/Maggie stuff, which is right back to square one for no discernible reason.
The performances continue to be excellent, with Jeff Daniels doing his best to make Will McAvoy both irascible and endearing, while Emily Mortimer also makes the most out of her scenes with Daniels. Will and Mackenzie analyzing the lyrics to The Who’s “You’d Better You’d Better You’d Bet,” and drawing the correlation to their own relationship would have played as very heavy-handed in the hands of lesser actors. But it ends up being one of the best scenes of the episode. I was also pretty impressed with Aya Cash, who played the Occupy Wall Street protester who gave Neal a hard time about being on the wrong side of the camera if he really wanted to affect change in the world. Neal’s participation in the movement wasn’t the most compelling business of the episode, but the fun interplay between Cash and Dev Patel in that last scene came close to making the entire thing worth the time. There’s a lot to like about “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers,” and it’s a premiere that has me stoked about where the show could go in this second season.