The Newsroom: Bullies Review

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This week’s Newsroom was a mediocre episode in comparison to the past few weeks of the series. But a weak episode of The Newsroom still proves to be a relatively enjoyable episode of television.

Episodes that revolve around a therapy session for a main character are somewhat of a favorite for writer Aaron Sorkin. We saw this type of episode for Dan Rydell in Sports Night, for President Bartlet in The West Wing, and now it’s Will McAvoy’s turn.

Will is suffering from insomnia, and that in conjunction with an internet death threat that earns Will a bodyguard (another reused Sorkin story line), and a few other issues addressed later in the episode lead him to his therapist’s office. He hasn’t been to his therapist in 4 years, and is shocked to find that he’s passed away and his son’s taken over his practice. Reluctantly, Will indulges him in a session. What Will reveals shapes the rest of the episode.

First we learn that yet another tabloid story has been leaked, this one about a year old HR complaint against Will. Charlie orders opposition research on Will so that they can try to contain any other potential negative press. Maggie and Jim are given the assignment. While they find nothing of merit in terms of PR, they tell Mackenzie that Will was offered a late night talk show in 2006. Mackenzie confronts Will, accusing him of deceiving her while they were still together by not telling her about the offer. Amid her rant, Will presents a Tiffany engagement ring that he leads Mackenzie to believe had been sitting in his desk drawer for 5 years. His therapist, however, knows that he bought it once he found out about the opposition research. Even a professional therapist has almost nothing to say about this psychotic behavior, his diagnosis is “not normal,” despite the fact that Will claims he plans to return the ring. But we see Will rip up the receipt, obviously having no intention of returning it, and revealing something we already suspected: Will is far from over Mackenzie McHale.

Sloan takes center stage this week in the secondary focus of the episode. Don asks her to fill in for Elliot at 10 o’clock, and she asks Will for advice. He tells her not to let her guests get away with lying. She takes this advice to heart during an interview with a spokesperson from a Japanese company (who happens to be a friend of hers) discussing damage to its nuclear reactors. Ignoring all of Don’s direction, she calls out the spokesperson on off the record comments where he told her the damage was far worse than was being reported. Charlie is furious, and suspends her. However, the suspension doesn’t sting as much as when he questions her credibility. The spokesperson she attacked announces his resignation, and Sloan feels horrible about damaging his reputation. Charlie, as he is want to do when protecting his employees, finds a loophole that enables Sloan to keep her job and the spokesperson to regain his own job and honor. It involves a lie about her understanding of Japanese, but everyone agrees to go along with it. In a brief but emotional moment, Will offers his unwavering support for Sloan, who he thinks of as a little sister.

Will’s admission to his therapist that he hates when people are afraid of him prompts a discussion about his drunk abusive father. Aside from a well-placed Good Will Hunting reference, it’s a rather anti-climactic revelation. It does lead to the climax of the episode though, an interview Will had with the former chief of staff for potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. He is a gay black man, and Will grills him brutally about his employer, who is known for his racists and homophobic remarks. While Will is clearly bullying him, he comes back at Will with equal force. The exchange is pretty painful to watch, in the most compelling way possible.

This episode was a much slower pace than we’re used to from The Newsroom. It was an effective transitional episode, but there wasn’t much more to it than that. It’s very typical of Aaron Sorkin to use this kind of psychology based episode to reveal some major elements of the protagonist’s backstory, and it’s very obvious that this was his goal. Which is fine, but it’s something we’ve seen before. I doubt I’m alone in my hope that next week we see something new and fresh from the writing staff, rather than more recycled Sorkin storylines. (6/10)


3 Responses to The Newsroom: Bullies Review

  1. mary says:

    I would have to disagree that this episode was mediocre. Though Sorkin did not focus as heavily as he usually does on hard societal issues, he did spotlight the humanistic complexities that exist within the characters, which is important. I think developing the characters more adds to the whole success of the show, since we can start to empathize and relate with them. In fact, Sloan’s determinism reminds me so much of my boss at Dish that I’ve taken a new liking towards her! Overall, The Newsroom has yet to disappoint me. I’m so glad I decided to record it on a whim one day! I have the Hopper DVR that has so much recording space that sometimes I don’t know what to do with it all, so I will randomly record a show in hopes that it is worthwhile. I lucked out this time around! I look forward to seeing how the season progresses.

  2. Nathan Slovin says:

    Ok, slow, boring, different, too talky, yes, guilty as charged, but this is Aaron Sorkin! And for this Sorkin junkie bring it on. Watching Newsroom, however flawed is one of the truly enjoyable experiences for me each week.

    Meg, thanks for reviewing these episodes. You always pick up something I did not see or think of. I caught some of the similar story lines including the episode long therapy session – so I guess Aaron thinks this will be effective series after series…. And I would have to agree.


    Both Josh Lyman and Dan Rydell resist speaking honestly with their therapists, engaging a verbal sparring match that lasts the entire episode until the truth is revealed. If only therapy was that easy.

    My question is whose therapist would you rather have?

    1. Josh Lyman – Stanley Keyworth played by Adam Arkin
    2. Dan Rydell – Abby Jacobs played by Jayne Brook
    3. Will McAvoy – Dr. Jack Habib played by David Krumholtz

    Thanks for pointing out the bodyguard theme. In this episode Aaron returns to the body guard theme reminding me of the interaction between CJ Craig and Mark Harmon (he died in the end) in the West Wing.

    • Meghan Coan says:

      Nathan I have to say, Adam Arkin was far and away my favorite Sorkin therapist. And I loved his interactions with both Josh and President Bartlet. This was my least favorite of the therapy-centric episodes.I think because rather than just let Will be flawed, as Sorkin has very successfully done with other main characters, he seems to really want to give an explanation for every one of his flaws and justify them, which is what he used this episode to do. I’m definitely looking forward to tonight’s episode!

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