Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum sent the latest session of “The Newsroom” flying out of the gate.
Clips of all of those 2012 Republican presidential candidates fueled the opening moments of “Willie Pete,” Sunday’s (July 28) episode of the HBO drama that had a teleplay by series creator and executive producer Aaron Sorkin. The scenes served as lead-ins for “News Night” anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to target those who had booed a question asked via YouTube by a gay soldier serving in Iraq.
Moments later, the show reaffirmed that it’s revisiting its past while moving forward, as Mac (Emily Mortimer) again grilled Will about a very personal voice mail he left her last season. He still maintained he couldn’t recall leaving it, since he had been “high.”
The past came back to haunt Will in another, somewhat related way, with gossip columnist Nina Howard (returnee Hope Davis, who also worked with Daniels on Broadway in “God of Carnage”) determined to run a story on why he was absent from 9/11 anniversary coverage. Meeting her in a posh, otherwise deserted restaurant, Will was unexpectedly disarming … to the extent of having the house pianist launch into “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
Nina eventually agreed to kill the story, leaving them both somewhat astonished — and even more honest, with Nina admitting she would “love” to date Will, but her having heard that voice-mail message convinced her that he was in love with Mac. And, she informed him, he was “an idiot” for thinking Mac might not feel the same way,
Which didn’t prevent Nina from being less than honest when Mac called her later to ask if she remembered the gist of Will’s voice-mail message. The call came at a moment when Nina happened to be with Will.
Will also was determined to learn who on the ACN staff leaked that illness wasn’t the reason for his Sept. 11 absence. The apparent source turned out to be Sloan (Olivia Munn), who confessed to Don (Thomas Sadoski) she’d turned down an invitation to go to a wedding, explaining why to the would-be date … who, she had learned later, was Nina’s book agent. The explanation involved Will on Sept. 11, since she had to sub for him. Whoops.
But after she owned up to Will and Charlie (Sam Waterston), Sloan was stunned to learn she actually wasn’t the leak. It was network president Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), who’d told Nina the truth about Will to get even for numerous slights by the anchor. Reese threatened to give the story to someone else after Nina’s decision not to run it. “You don’t meet me halfway,” he told Will and Charlie. “You meet me the whole way.”
Back on the Mitt Romney campaign trail, Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) continued to challenge the candidate’s media handlers, pressing for specifics of “the governor’s plan.” Fellow reporter Hallie (Grace Gummer) also wasn’t appreciative of Jim’s continual pressing, telling him, “You’ve heard the only answer you’re going to hear. Learn how this works, because you’re driving the rest of us crazy.”
That didn’t prevent ever-inquisitive Jim from advancing his mark as a troublemaker on another Romney media guru, the curt and ever-on-message Taylor (Constance Zimmer). Jim’s remark to her, “Is there somebody inside you, operating you with controls?,” did not do much to endear him to her.
And Jim only kept his guns blazing, trying to inspire an insurrection by the other reporters to demand the answers he felt they deserved. Callie ultimately joined him, with Jim asking the others, “We know the questions. Why aren’t we insisting on answers? (We) can cover the campaign the way a campaign should be covered .. if we do it together.”
However, in the tradition of Tom Cruise energetically asking others to join him in leaving the sports-management firm in “Jerry Maguire,” Jim soon found himself booted off the bus in the middle of nowhere, along with Hallie and one other supportive reporter.
Jim’s producing fill-in at ACN, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), also continued to press … about the so-called “Genoa tip” that suggested U.S. forces used sarin gas on civilians. Mac joined Jerry in meeting with a soldier, who recalled “tripping over people screaming,” inspiring Mac to give the soldier a steno pad to write down “as many names as you can remember, please.”
Brought into the situation, Charlie was skeptical it would lead anywhere, though he gave Jerry the go-ahead to pursue the story (“Just do it quietly”). Mac still had her own doubts, but outweighing that was her fear another news organization would follow the story and get somewhere with it first.
Occupy Wall Street coverage featuring Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly also caught Mac’s attention, and she sent Neal (Dev Patel) back into the trenches. And after taking pills to prevent illness on her trip to Africa to investigate the Genoa operation — which also made her an irritable paranoiac — Maggie (Alison Pill) got clearance for the journey, her assigned cover being to work in an orphanage.
Translated faxes, including one about villagers being subjected to “Willie Pete” — a code name for the incendiary chemical white phosphorus — kept the Genoa probe very much alive at ACN as the hour came to a close. And there’s no question it will live in “The Newsroom” for weeks to come.