That incoming-call alert as he was going on the air was enough to rattle Will (Jeff Daniels) in the opening seconds of “News Night With Will McAvoy,” Sunday’s (Aug, 11) episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Written by creator Aaron Sorkin and directed by Alan Poul, the hour played out in real time.
Will wasn’t the only one on edge as the tale, set in March 2012, began: ACN president Reese (Chris Messina) was reading Sloan (Olivia Munn) the riot act for posing for supposedly private photos that went very public. And her pained revelation, “There are more,” surely didn’t make things better. Nor did the fact she was “trending No. 1,” per Reese, though that could have been a professional boost as well as a personal problem for her.
Back in the swing of the newsroom after his time with the Romney campaign, producer Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) was overseeing coverage of explosions in Damascus when a caller claimed her husband was trapped in the wreckage and on another phone line with her. But behind-the-scenes probing would reveal the call to be a hoax, preventing Will from being pranked on the air.
As the story progressed, Will learned his call hadn’t actually been from his estranged father, but from someone phoning to let him know his dad was in a hospital. He also was concerned about fallout from a tweet, which Mac (Emily Mortimer) had tried to prevent him from learning about, by a newspaper writer who felt she’d been snubbed by the unwitting Will at a restaurant.
“I really do think tonight is one of those nights when you should just do everything I tell you to do,” Mac told the increasingly overwhelmed Will. To which he responded, “How exactly would that be different from every other night?”
In fact, Mac spent much of the episode trying to persuade others to do things: Will to call his father (“I don’t know what to say,” he tells her), and a young guest (James Hamrick) not to “out” himself to his parents while on the air. “It’s not that kind of show,” she told him. “I’ll put up color bars before I put you on our cameras.”
The Travyon Martin case also factored into the plot, with Maggie (Alison Pill) handling a painfully slow download of George Zimmerman‘s 911 call to police, giving her and an impatient Jim plenty of time for verbal fencing. Jim finally called her out on what he suspected was a drinking problem she had after her African trek, which she informed him was “none of your business.” And he said, “I know.”
Charlie (Sam Waterston) had his own fencing to do with a presumed secret agent (Frank Wood). The latter wanted to know inquiring why producer Jerry Dantana, who had replaced Jim in New York during the latter’s sojourn on the Romney trail, was looking into Operation Genoa.
“I can’t tell you what the story is,” Charlie maintained, but the alleged spy seemed to know what was up anyway and appealed to Charlie to “fix the crazy problem.”
Cradling herself on the floor in Don’s (Thomas Sadoski) darkened office, Sloan confessed everything about her dilemma to him and concluded, “I wanna die.” He then analyzed her choices in men, and she regained her sense of purpose as he tried to arrange the takedown of an Internet story for which he was the only source — mainly because the organization it was about came from his imagination.
Sloan then demonstrated she’d gotten to “the rage place” by going to the office of her betraying beau who posted the revealing photos and, in front of a number of his colleagues, giving him a couple of solid punches that would do Rocky Balboa proud. Don, who had escorted her, prevented him from following her out of the building.
Charlie’s purpose was re-ignited as well, since his visitor’s attitude convinced him that the Genoa story was real. However, the episode’s outcome for Will was much different.
“He died,” he quietly informed Mac of his father. He’d reached his sister and received that news, yet he stayed on the “News Night” set. And once Mac returned to the control room and the commercial break ended, he sat silently on the air for several seconds — an eternity in live television.
He then regained his composure to end the show by offering a correction to how the 911 call had been presented, due to Maggie’s editing error in racing to get it in by the end of the show. And another night, and another “News Night With Will McAvoy,” was over.