The Newsroom Review: "The Blackout, Part II" (Episode 1.09)
To paraphrase Woody Allen (in a comparison I’m sure its subject will enjoy), “I don’t think [Aaron Sorkin’s] evil. I think the worst you can say about him is that, basically, he’s an underachiever.” Sorkin clearly has a mastery of language unparalleled in television writing. His wordsmithery would make Noah Webster beam with admiration. But words alone do not take the place of a compelling story or coherent narrative structure.
If you can wade through the often absurd pontificating—and if you’ve made it through nine hour-long episodes, it’s apparent you can—Sorkin shows a propensity to make valid arguments and observations that make the series tolerable. That said, the same logic is not applied to other areas of the show, nor does every storyline benefit from significant time and attention.
In a stunning plot twist, the opening of “The Blackout, Part II” picks up right where “The Blackout, Part I” left off, with MacKenzie and her Brigade of Noble Storytellers scrambling amid a blackout. The titular power outage occurred immediately after she asked for divine intervention to keep Will from interviewing a corrupt member of a lost generation, who was trying to cash in on her entirely insignificant role in the Anthony Weiner circus. Of course, MacKenzie takes this as an opportunity to go all Jules Winnfield on the staff and says the blackout was a sign from God that they shouldn’t be covering Anthony Weiner. All the while, however, it seems abundantly clear that Emily Mortimer can’t believe she’s been asked to deliver this monologue in such a ludicrous manner and that she actually agreed to do it.
Later in the episode, MacKenzie shouts at Will in the middle of the newsroom for an amount of time that can best be described as, “Really? She’s still going?” In the short time the series has been on the air, this exact scenario with different characters has played out an incredible number of times. At another point, Jeff Daniels flashes back to Dumb and Dumber as he hops out of his office in his underwear (mercifully boxers) as he is unable to put his pants on. Individually, the breaks in professionalism are minor chinks in the armor. Unfortunately, they occur with such frequency that there is not the remotest sense of decorum within Sorkin’s fantasy newsroom, and that damages the show.
The other great focus of this episode is the hate triangle and love rhombus between Will, MacKenzie and Mac’s ex and Lisa, Maggie and Don, respectively. Despite only having been on the show for two episodes, Mac’s ex smarmily confronts her for approximately the billionth time with the information that they once screwed each other several years ago, and he’d like to know where they stand. Meanwhile, Will reminds Don at one point that it was great when he didn’t care about his staffers’ personal lives, which suggests that somehow he now finds them interesting. Both of these story arcs distract significantly from the focus of the show, and both are considerably more annoying than they are engrossing. When Don explains his infidelity-by-omission to Maggie, and their relationship presumably ends, we don’t really care. Even if Maggie doesn’t end up with Jim, she wasn’t going to stick with Don, who is plainly an asshole.
The romantic and work relationships should form the glue of the series that keeps the media criticism together, but these parts of the show are so out of touch that they detract significantly. The focus of “The Blackout, Part II” could have shifted more heavily toward a discussion of the much-needed revised debate format Will and company propose to the Republican party. Instead, most of the hour is wasted on The Newsroom’s feeble attempt at winning a daytime Emmy.