27 Nov 2014

[Review] - The Newsroom, Season 3 Episode 3, "Main Justice"

Courtesy of HBO
This week's episode was the least cohesive episode of the season thus far, but somehow that failed to impact the overall quality of the episode. The through line of the season is now clearly the legal drama involving Neal's leaker, and that provided the dramatic backbone of the episode. The rest was a series of mad cap comedy scenes, meant to be as clever and entertaining as possible. This season, perhaps because of Paul Lieberstein's stewardship behind the scenes, has been the best of the three, and that is in no small part due to the greater influx of comedy. The show has never not been funny, but the comedy seems much more directed, much more purposeful this year. Maybe part of that has been the use of comedic actors in the larger guest roles, which has been working very much to the show's credit.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that despite their intentions, have a tiny bit of dickishness in their voice when they speak.

Soooo... not Snowden? Has the series finally divorced itself from established fact, opting instead to use analogue to tell the substance of events, without having to be dictated by chronology? Neal's predicament certainly seemed to be building towards the Snowden leaks, but this episode's reveal of the mystery woman played by Clea DuVall being the culprit would suggest otherwise. Unless this is a diversion, another layer of smoke and mirrors, it would seem that Sorkin has decided to explore the ethics and morality of leaking classified information without being restricted by having to follow events as they happened. This allows ACN to really be part of the sequence, to have Will become involved in the legal preamble to a much greater extent than would otherwise have seemed believable. I've been advocating this move since season one, arguing that for ACN and this news team to be relevant relative to events, they need to be able to exert influence, and they cannot do that whilst following a story carved in concrete.

Sorkin's scripts seem much more rapid fire than usual, as I noted last week. He's really packing these episodes with material. They covered more information about Will and Mac's wedding, without actually having a conversation about the wedding, than most series would be able to irk out over multiple episodes (or at least, handle so subtly and entertainingly). With this rapid fire comes a lot of additional characterization, and I wish other writers would take note of how Sorkin is able to establish a character through the course of organic conversation. Like Gary, long a punch line character, got a lot of elaboration in his two scenes. Two scenes, and I know more about him than I do I know some network characters after a full season. Likewise the new characters, Lucas Pruit (The Office's B. J. Novak) and Wyatt (30 Rock's Keith Powell). Briefly seen, deeply felt.

It is a sign of Sorkin's old school philosophy that he has introduced two new foils to the show. Because this is the sort of show that has foils. Not enemies, like last year's Dantana, but foils. Characters meant to disarm, to mucky the care-free leads about. Not to pose danger - in fact, both are powerful and helpful characters - but to breed disorder, to propel the leads into a new understanding. Wyatt is there to disrupt Sloan and Don, but ultimately to lead them to a most honest understanding of their relationship, one that they have been avoiding with juvenile ineptitude (which, as a by-product, is hilarious). Likewise, Pruit is there to challenge Charlie's sensibilities. He's an aggravating obstacle meant to drive Charlie into madness, for our delight, but also to provide the only viable lifeline to the character's continued survival.

Despite the less fluid construction of this episode, at least compared with the last two weeks, the episode worked very well. Most of that was on the back of the fact that every scene not having to do with the security leak was entirely devoted to getting as many laughs as possible. The gold star was the on air interview between Will and Maggie's EPA contact, played by Lieberstein. In Will's words, he spent ten years at the EPA, he saw some startling numbers and his brain cracked. The result was a hilarious segment that also seemed to be a parody of Sorkin's much bemoaned straw-man scenes. The interview was as one sided and biased as the Occupy or Tea Party interviews in previous seasons, expect the crazy went hard the other way this time. Rather than set up a climate change denier, Sorkin invented an extremophile on the other side of the argument, a doomsayer who sees no light at the end of the tunnel. The writing was so... palatable, it seemed like Sorkin took a lot of joy in mocking his own style in that scene.

The other winner was the board room scene, as the principles get hauled in for an off-the-record conversation with a government official about the who-knew-what-and-when of the leak. Anyone familiar with Sorkin's body of work knows that one of his strengths is the cross examination, and this was a court room without the court room. The adversarial yet friendly demeanors, the manipulations, the just-business, no hard feelings framing worked with the tone of the scene, the seriousness of the subject matter, and was in keeping with the characters (that government official, another example of telling us a lot about a character in a very short period of time). And it played into something we've long known about will: he's usually the smartest guy in the room, but that doesn't always work out for him. His cleverness, his avarice in manipulating the system, even for just or moral reasons ultimately backfired on him spectacularly. the final line of the episode was a laugh line, yes, but might it also be the first stage in a larger period of self awareness and examination on Will's part? Only next week will tell.

Oh, and Jim remains the series wet blanket. So, yay consistency.

1 comment:

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