For a show that's ostensibly about the news, "The Newsroom" spends a hell of a lot of time focused on other things (like the flaws in women and the overwhelming majesty of Will McAvoy). If there was any episode that you might expect would veer away from this pattern, it would be "5/1," which is all about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Alas, Aaron Sorkin has other ideas for much of the hour.
"5/1" starts at an anniversary party for the revamped "Newsnight," where everyone plays games and we get the mildly horrifying sight of Will and Jim strumming on guitars together.
But wait! Something's afoot. Charlie gets a call from a mysterious man, who tells the ACN president that he's going to get a message from the White House in 90 minutes. Why is he calling? Who knows. But Charlie fidgets for the next hour-and-a-half as the news seeps out to everyone else.
Sorkin nails the halting way that seriousness overtakes frivolity when major events intrude. MacKenzie gets an email from a national security reporter that says he's "available" to talk, and she thinks she's getting hit on. Neal's girlfriend Kaylee sees a tweet from The Rock about news that will "shock" people and thinks he's talking about wrestling. Then they start piecing things together, and suddenly MacKenzie's hustling everyone into cabs.
The electricity in the air of a newsroom during a historic time like that is more than enough to build a fine episode around, and when it zeroes in on that feeling -- especially with MacKenzie, who gets her best episode by far here as she totally dominates the control room -- it works.
Why (oh why oh why oh why) in the world Sorkin decided that what the episode needed was a heavy dose of sitcom schtick is beyond me. But he does.
First off, Will is super high when the news hits because, in a towering breach of professionalism, he's just eaten two of the weed cookies that his employee's girlfriend has given him. Since his condition doesn't visibly affect his on-air performance, there's no reason for it to exist except as a MacGuffin-worthy piece of filler. Will can't tie his tie! He's giggling! It goes on and on.
Yet again, the tale of Maggie and Jim and Don and Lisa takes up a surreal amount of time. I'm starting to wonder what huge world moment would be able to distract these people from the agonizing slog that is their love quadrangle. Bin Laden just got killed and this is what they're scurrying around discussing? Isn't that a fireable offense? I can just picture them hissing recriminations at each other while, all around, people try to figure out who this Lee Harvey Oswald guy is.
Sorkin sticks Don, Elliot and Sloan on a plane that stays seated at the gate, even as they get several important emails about what's going on and duly freak out. It's funny for a little while, especially as Don bickers with an imperious flight attendant, but then the sheer TV-ness of it (complete with all the other passengers being involved in the conversation about Don's romantic life) overwhelms things.
Also questionable is the mawkishness that Sorkin weaves through "5/1." Some people will totally disagree with me here, but I think the gravity of the moment could have been allowed to breathe a lot more. Did he have to engineer things so that two NYPD cops could be in the newsroom just as Will is announcing the news, and the camera can scan to their faces? Or there's the scene when Don stops freaking out on the plane and suddenly, voice trembling, violins swelling, informs the captain of the flight about what's happened. "We reported the news," he says.
Most gallingly to me, we suddenly learn that Neal's girlfriend, Kaylee, who we have barely seen throughout the show until now, had a father in one of the Twin Towers. I wouldn't gripe if I didn't feel that Sorkin wasn't shoehorning this in just so he could hit every angle of the event.
But Sorkin's not done. At the end of the episode, when Charlie's caller's prediction about the White House has been reliably borne out, he calls again and says that he's been monitoring phone hacking at TMI, the tabloid that's been going after Will. There's even a News of the World name-drop.
Now, I yield to no one in my obsession with Rupert Murdoch's phone hacking scandal, but even I can't take this twist. The NSA is monitoring a tabloid and someone uses the night Bin Laden's killed to inform the president of the news network owned by the same company as the tabloid about it?
However, nothing in "5/1," or perhaps in "The Newsroom" overall, can top the way MacKenzie queues Will's (perfectly timed, perfectly written, of course) announcement of bin Laden's death.
"Do it for me, Will," she coos.
Oh, the erotic power of a good news report.