‘The Newsroom’ Season 2 Rage-cap: “Election Night, Part I”

Here’s the problem with having Jane Fonda end an episode with a self-righteous monologue: she’ll sell the hell out of it, but that same self-righteousness is going to look twice as grating on everyone else. Which is how an otherwise fun election-night episode gets bogged down by endless self-flagellation on the part of the News Night higher-ups, who seem to be competing with each other for the title of Most Willing to Throw Self Under Bus. The Genoa fallout had to be taken care of eventually, but knowing that this is a Sorkin show and all of our protagonists are going to walk out of this more vindicated than ever sucks the suspense out of the situation.

Everyone has a role to play here: Charlie is flustered, Mac is destroyed, Will is a ticking time bomb, and Fierce Lawyer Lady is the angel on their shoulder telling everyone how right they are and how much she’s getting paid. Everyone except Will still thinks they deserve to be fired, but since Leona refuses to accept their resignations, Mac’s the only one who actually can be terminated on account of her insanely vindictive contract turned Chekhovian plot device. Charlie happens to mention her fire-ability early in the episode, making her eventual “exit” inevitable, but we all know this is going to end with her back on the show (and probably in Will’s arms).

As for election night, ACN has chosen as the faces of its six-hour coverage three experienced news anchors and one random ex-press aide. Taylor’s continuing hatred of Jim still makes for zippy dialogue, though, not to mention a flimsy excuse to tip off Maggie to a congressional candidate’s Akin-esque statements about rape and pregnancy. Now that Maggie’s breaking news with one of her exes while the other lamely Skypes his girlfriend during one of the most important work nights of the year, does she stand a chance of Winning the Pseudo-Breakup? Oh, and for everyone else who was confused as to when she actually chopped off all her hair, Maggie’s traumatizing Africa flashback/de-blondeification happened in early November, months after Africa.

Charlie’s inspiring speech about the importance of elections and not screwing up is pretty great, but this being The Newsroom, post-Genoa anxiety looks the absolute worst on the show’s women. Sloan freaks out because someone paid $1,000 for a signed copy of her book that she didn’t actually sign, while Mac is infuriated by Wikipedia’s false allegation she went to Oxford instead of Cambridge. “It’s funny the things people try to control when they feel like they’re not in control,” Neal literally laughs in Mac’s face. So while Will comes off looking positively “jovial,” Sloan and Mac get to be the irrational women who project their insecurities onto books signings and debate union presidencies while the 20-something male blogger looks on. Sigh of sighs.

Fortunately, the night’s biggest actual screw-up goes to Jim, a character I’m always happy to see taken down a few notches. He accidentally calls a race in Michigan rather than Mississippi, and rather than take up Charlie’s offer of a job at the sanitation department for anyone who drops the ball, he decides to neither fully fix his mistake nor fully lie about it and simply takes the race off the scroll at the bottom of the screen. Remind me again why this guy is better than Jerry Dantana? Oh yeah, because even though Jim is the worst he’s not suing an ex-boss for $20 million just for telling Kickstarter he’s a sociopath. Poor Don.

The resignation drama continues to play out behind the scenes. Will can’t resign because Leon would hold him in breach of contract and Reese can’t fire Charlie because his mommy won’t let him on account of the lack of grandbabies. That leaves Mac, whose totally justified shame over making the biggest mistake of her professional career somehow gets tied up in her half-decade-old relationship drama with Will. I’m not quite sure how, but a fight early in the episode somehow turns into Will claiming he’s never punished her. Hey, remember that time he bought Mac a fake wedding ring just to guilt trip her for sabotaging their future? Seems an awful lot like punishment to me.

Eventually, Mac and Will have yet another Very Emotional Conversation in which he’s shocked that she thinks he won’t let her go for image reasons and she’s literally begging to be fired and he finally agrees to do it. The game face Will flashes the camera at the end of the episode is pure murder, but asking a rando Republican with zero credibility to “tear him apart” on-air is the least effective form of self-punishment we’ve seen yet. Something tells me that post-Genoa News Night is going to look a lot like pre-Genoa News Night, and the season’s penultimate episode did very little to prove me wrong.