The Newsroom: S2 Ep2 review – The Genoa Tip

The Newsroom logoThis week on The Newsroom … More drone strikes. More droning from Maggie about her messed-up love-life. The humanisation of Don Keefer continues. And some Willie Nelson.

This week’s headlines

The Genoa Tip opens the day after last week’s season opener with Don pitching the Troy Davis case to Will. Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of an off-duty police office in Savannah, Georgia, with only one final plea for clemency standing between him and execution.

He’s a black guy accused of killing a white cop in Georgia. That hardly ever goes well for the black guy.

Meanwhile Jerry Dantana pursues the tip-off he received from Cyrus West about Operation Genoa, a black ops extraction mission to rescue two captive American troops in which sarin gas was allegedly used on civilians in Afghanistan – a war crime. Mac refuses to believe something this big could have been kept secret and tells Jerry to find a credible source.

On the off-chance this turns out to be true, people will have to go to prison.

Jerry eventually tracks down Gunnery Sergeant Eric Sweeney, who claims to have been involved in the mission and confirms the use of sarin.

The B-block

Maggie moves out of Don’s apartment and Sloan finds her sleeping in her office. The pair track down Erica, the woman responsible for the YouTube video of Maggie’s rant, to a laundrette in Queens where Maggie tries to convince her she isn’t a deranged stalker but achieves pretty much the exact opposite. Sloan offers to tweet about Erica’s Sex and the City fan-fiction to her 450,000 followers if she will take the video down. They fail. Maggie’s roommate (and Jim‘s girlfriend) Lisa sees the video and icily dismantles Maggie’s feeble attempts to defend herself.

Trouble ahead for Maggie (Image: Newsroom Wiki)

Trouble ahead for Maggie (Image: Newsroom Wiki)

This leads to Maggie redoubling her efforts to become the team’s go-to person on Africa. Mac tells her to come up with a specific story idea. Maggie eventually seizes on a comment by Jerry about Africa being the next place American soldiers will go to fight the War on Terror to successfully pitch a trip to Uganda – so, not actually Maggie’s idea at all – despite Mac’s concerns about safety and her lack of experience.

Still on the Romney trail, Jim is finally granted a seat on the campaign bus after rival journalist Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer) intervenes. The pair engage in a competitive but flirty rivalry as Hallie eavesdrops on Jim’s calls with Maggie. Hello, new love interest.

Elliot and Sloan front ACN’s 9/11 tenth anniversary coverage, using Will’s script. We learn that 9/11 was Will’s first time behind the anchor desk. A legal correspondent at the time, he fronted the coverage non-stop deep into the night when no one else was available, becoming the face of ACN in the process.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen targeted as a key figure in Al-Qaeda, is killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Worried that he is still gun-shy, Mac pushes Will to investigate government counter-terrorism plans and demand the release of the memorandum approving such targeted drone strikes – but Will has already prepared his script.

Finally, Neal is mocked by the team in their run-down meeting when the Occupy Wall Street protest he covers is attended by only 300 people in Guy Fawkes masks and not the hoped-for 20,000. But when he is called again by OWS leader Shelly Wexler, he finds himself in the middle of a bigger rally where the police overstep the mark and gets himself arrested. A furious Will marches into the police station to get his arrest voided. He may not be able to do anything about al-Awlaki or Troy Davis, but at least he can do something about this.

Observations

After last week’s promising set-up with the flash-forwards to Will and Mac’s depositions, this is a more traditional and somewhat pedestrian episode, bogged down by the need to set up key storylines or keep them rolling – Genoa, drone strikes, Maggie’s coming African trauma, a new love interest for Jim – while devoting an unnecessarily large chunk of airtime to Maggie’s catastrophic love-life.

Arguably the most annoying character in season one, Maggie continues to veer between driven and borderline psychotic. Having spent the past year putting her own relationships in jeopardy, she now seems intent on putting both her and Gary’s lives in jeopardy by keeping a news alert about a massacre in Kampala secret from Mac. (Seriously, she’s the executive producer of a major news programme – do you really think that hiding one piece of paper is going to stop her from finding out?) Anyhow if, as looks likely, this is the end of the road for Lisa, at least she goes out in style by administering a cold-blooded take-down on Maggie that I suspect many fans would have loved to do themselves. At least we know now that her appointment with the red hair dye can’t be too far away.

Much better was the way the Troy Davis story was handled. Too often The Newsroom can serve as an infomercial for Aaron Sorkin‘s liberal viewpoint, but here the discussions between Will and Don have a degree of balance, with Will playing devil’s advocate to Don’s impassioned pleading of Davis’ case.

We’re definitely being shown a more sensitive side of Don so far this season. It’s something that needs to happen to prevent him from becoming a black-hatted caricature. However, I’d hate to see him lose his bad boy side completely as he’s often the only voice of reason in the newsroom.

And finally …

Troy Davis’ execution was the second-most tweeted about event of 2011, recording 7,671 tweets per second. Only the MTV Video Music Awards, where Beyonce announced her pregnancy, was bigger. Go figure.

Operation Genoa seems to be based on the real-life 1998 scandal surrounding Operation Tailwind, where both CNN and Time magazine ran unsubstantiated stories about the use of sarin in Vietnam. 

The Willie Nelson version of Always On My Mind plays over the coda of this episode. First recorded by Brenda Lee in 1972, the song was later made famous by Elvis Presley (also 1972), Nelson (1982) and the Pet Shop Boys (1987). Nelson’s version won three Grammys but the Pet Shop Boys’ cover achieved the highest overall chart position in both the UK (number one) and US (four).

Grace Gummer, who plays Hallie Shea, is Meryl Streep’s daughter.

The episode plays a bit fast and loose with real world continuity.  Jim was only meant to be on the Romney trail for a couple of weeks – it’s already been a month and shows little sign of ending soon. Anwar al-Awlaki was not killed on September 21st as shown here but nine days later. And when Will goes to bail Neal out, he wields an iPhone 5, which hadn’t yet been launched. (Indeed, the model was not launched until September 21st 2012 – exactly one year to the day later.)

Overall this was okay, but I wish we’d had more time on the serious news stories and less (much less) on the soap opera that is Maggie’s life.

Rating: 7/10

The Newsroom continues on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 9pm.

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6 Comments on The Newsroom: S2 Ep2 review – The Genoa Tip

  1. It’s funny that the supposed “bad boy” is the one with the sense, isn’t it? As I may have mentioned before ( 😉 ), I love Don. Totally agree with you on the deft handling of the Troy Davis case – the writing was good, but both Sadoski and Daniels were excellent too. Not sure many of the other cast members could have made that scene work as well.

    Lisa rules.

    And how beautiful was “Always on My Mind”? It’s one of my favourite songs ever and it was used perfectly. Much better than “You Better You Bet” last week.

    On a less positive note – I’m very worried for Gary. We know Maggie survives but Gary…..? Hmmmm.

    • I do like the Willie Nelson version. Will nailed it spot on – no other version is quite like it (although I do love the Pet Shop Boys’ electropop cover).

      Gary’ll be okay. He’s Gary Goddamn Cooper, after all … *crosses fingers, hopes*

  2. LISA! (My comment on the last episode, about how we wouldn’t see her this season, is proof that I don’t go looking for spoilers.)

    Much as I like Jim, is it really plausible that he would have three women (assuming that Mamie Gummer’s sister is going to be number 3) fighting over him? About as plausible, I suppose, as preferring Maggie to LISA!

  3. The best version of ‘Always On My Mind’ is Pet Shop Boys’.

    • I do adore both versions – asking to choose between them is a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child. But nothing else has quite the unique sound and impact of the PSBs’ version, that’s for sure. (Runs off to grab iPod …)

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