For the cast and crew of The Newsroom, things are about to get really bad.
While groundwork is still being laid for News Night’s blown coverage of alleged U.S. war crimes — known so far as Operation Genoa — the second episode takes a more personal route, and this time both relationships and careers are on the line. In the second episode of the sophomore season of The Newsroom, it seems that Aaron Sorkin has dispensed with heavy-handed hindsight coverage and, instead, given us very personal accounts of the way the news affects the crew. In so doing, he manages to give us a fuller picture of each individual, and really, of the events themselves. Audiences are re-introduced to some pretty heavy news stories from the fall of 2011 that actually happened, including the drone strike that killed American citizen Anwar Al Awlaki and the (almost certainly) wrongful execution of Georgia prisoner Troy Davis. Everybody seems more fraught, and you get the feeling that Will McAvoy and his colleagues are going to have to sacrifice some of the principles they championed in the first season.
This is not to say that all of the characters are equally compelling. Allison Pill’s Maggie Jordan lags far behind the others. It is hard to see how she ended up in the middle of a love triangle. Olivia Munn’s Sloane Sabbith, on the other hand, has become a source of both comic relief and very accessible economics lessons. But it is Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy who is turning into one of Sorkin’s best characters yet. As his warts become more and more visible and his vulnerabilities more transparent, McAvoy shows us what it might actually meant to be a news anchor with principle. His fear of criticism is only matched by his desire to protect those under his charge.
They will need protecting if the first two episodes of the season are anything to go by. Dev Patel’s Neal Sampat, perhaps the most genuinely likeable man in the studio, will tread dangerous waters in his coverage of Occupy Wall Street. Far from caricaturing the movement — which critics say was misguided and lacked cohesion — it looks like The Newsroom will take the movement seriously, especially its connection to the hacktivist collective Anonymous. As well they should. If you disagree, read this article about a man named Barrett Brown. Because Sampat is a computer whiz, look out for him to get to get involved with some very dangerous business.
What I like most about the second season of The Newsroom so far is the acknowledgement that smart and well-intentioned people can make really, really egregious errors. Hamish Linkater, who plays the replacement senior producer Jerry Dantana, is doing a marvelous job foreshadowing his own downfall as he chases a story that could win him a Peabody award and send U.S. military personnel to prison. Sorkin, who has apparently hired conservative political consultants to help round out this season, is on the verge of producing another truly great TV show, one that, like The West Wing, engages us emotionally and makes us feel part of a momentous period in American history.