This week’s The Newsroom episode “Amen” shifts slightly from its focus on the news story, instead using the February 2011 Egyptian protests (and the anti-Scott Walker protests in Wisconsin) as backdrop for a lot of character development. It’s an intense, highly emotional episode during which classroom jerk Don (Thomas Sadoski), Internet nerd Neal (Dev Patel), and Will MacAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emerge as heroic, with Will completing his transformation from grouchy, difficult boss to true leader and mentor. But it also gives Neal’s character a poignant back story, making him so much more than the office social media geek.
Will also reveals the depth of feeling he still has for his executive producer Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) when she is compromised by her boyfriend, an aspiring U.S. Congressman, and is accused of using her position to promote his career. The result allows us to see demonstrated what we have so far only been told about Will’s true character.
Will has had enough of the gossip campaign being waged against him by “Page Six” of TMI, a tabloid published by ACN’s parent company. Now that the innuendo has spread to Mackenzie, Will’s really pissed off, ready to let his wrath out on the sleazy tabloid reporter.
Is the smear campaign’s mastermind really ACN’s owner Leona (Jane Fonda), upset that Will is intent on reporting the news, never mind that it ruffles the feathers of influential government types and close corporate allies, the Koch Brothers? This newsroom backstage drama is revealed against the backdrop of the very real drama played out on Twitter and on television 24/7.
Yes, “Amen” paints an ideal and idealistic portrait of those responsible for reporting the news. Portrayed as passionate about getting the story, nobly defending freedom of the press, despite the personal or physical risks, news-folk are noble knights.
From the on-the-ground terrified and courageous young Egyptian freelancer (whose Twitter handle is “Amen”) to the news anchor who gets physically beaten covering this breaking story, we are to understand the risks involved in bringing us the news and the impact on those making the sometimes life-threatening decisions to send reporters into danger. We are also to understand the forces that attempt to undermine it: the Rush Limbaughs of the world whose lies pass for “news” in some circles.
Does The Newsroom present us with a self-righteous portrait? Absolutely. Is it preachy? Definitely. Is it true? It can be, but not necessarily. The Newsroom presents us an impossible ideal of what the news can be, but seldom is—not in the reality of 21st Century America.
Will MacAvoy is an idea; he is an ideal. With enough personal wealth and power within the East Coast news establishment, he is finally willing to use it, unafraid of taking risks for some greater good, ruffling the feathers of his superiors.
I am a middle-aged guy who’s never lived up to his potential,” he threatens tabloid reporter Nina, telling her that she does not want to get on his bad side if he ever does. And in “Amen” we begin to see that he does.
Encouraged and supported by his boss, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), and Mac, he uses his capital, inspiring those under his wing. Even until last week’s episode, Will had been at least concerned about reaction to his renewed passion for news from the executives who sign his enormous paycheck.
What inspires Will? Is it the personal courage with which he’s surrounded: Neal, Amen, the beaten anchor Elliot, and Skinner? Fueled further as he becomes enraged by the personal attack against someone he cares about as collateral damage to the war being waged upon him, Will awakens fully to become the man both Mac and Skinner know him to be.
Although this week’s episode lacked the political bite of previous weeks, ratcheting up the emotional intensity of the backstage story, I found it deeply satisfying. It felt in many ways like a finale, the ending of a significant arc in the series overall narrative. And I wonder where creator Sorkin, et al will take it from here.
The Newsroom airs on HBO Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET.