Saturday, July 20, 2013

TV Watch: In Season 2 of "The Newsroom," the American Taliban take their revenge on Will McEvoy


Creator-writer-producer Aaron Sorkin talks about Episode 1 of the Season 2 of The Newsroom.

"What's more frightening than the perversion of our great history is that sensible, smart, strong Republicans, the very men and women who should be standing up to radical fundamentalism, are so frightened of losing primary battles to religious zealots that they've thrown in the towel on sanity."
-- News Night anchor and managing editor Will McEvoy
(Jeff Daniels), in the Season 1 finale of The Newsroom

by Ken

Very Sorkinesque -- how better to describe the way that creator-writer-producer Aaron Sorkin has woven the doings and doers of Season 1 of The Newsroom into a bursting-open Season 2. Going into tomorrow night's Episode 2 of the new season there's a lot we still don't know about what happened between the end of last season and the start of the new one. Most ominously, we still don't know what near-unimaginable horror Maggie (Allison Pill) endured in Africa -- just that she underwent something pretty horrible.

But we have had most of the links filled in in the strange chain of happenstance events that led the ACN News Night team into the disastrous reporting blunder that has put them, for the foreseeable future, in the hands of lawyers -- hence the ripped-from-Shakespeare title of the season opener, "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers," with Marcia Gay Harden introduced as the lawyer who will shepherd the ACN people through the ordeal).

And that chain of events was strongly influenced by the dynamics of that remarkable set of characters Sorkin introduced us to last season, starting with the triangle of Maggie, Don (Thomas Sadoski), and Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), which in last season's finale briefly seemed on the verge of realigning the way we know it should have, except that nobody is better than Sorkin at creating relationships that look like they should work but somehow manage not to. Which instead left News Night senior producer Jim so desperate to get out of town that he assigned himself to the no-news beat of following presidential candidate Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, opening the way for executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), needing to fill the gap in New York, to dip into the Washington staff to bring up a new producer, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), and . . . .

Well, it's too complicated to retrace the whole chain, and it looks like we have most if not all of the new season in which to continue filling in the blanks. Meanwhile it also seems to me Sorkinesque that the great triumph of the Season 1 finale turns into the lingering horror of Season 2. Because in that finale, Will was drawn out of his personal crisis in large part by a renewed sense of mission, triggered in large part by stumbling across the story (in vintage Sorkinesque fashion) of an African-American woman in Tennessee named Dorothy Cooper who has been effectively disenfranchised by the right-wing voter-suppression movement.

From Episode 10, the Season 1 finale. Each bullet point appears on-screen as WILL McEVOY (Jeff Daniels) speaks it.

* Ideological purity
* Compromise as weakness
* A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism
* Denying science
* Unmoved by facts
* Undeterred by new information
* A hostile fear of progress
* A demonization of education
* A need to control women's bodies
* Severe xenophobia
* Tribal mentality
* Intolerance of dissent
* Pathological hatred of US government

WILL: They can call themselves the Tea Party. They can call themselves conservatives. And they can even call themselves Republicans, though Republicans certainly shouldn't. But we should call them what they are: the American Taliban. And the American Taliban cannot survive if Dorothy Cooper is allowed to vote.
Will's personal politics had been a hot issue at the start of Season 1, when he ducked the question of what makes this the greatest country in the world, finally answering, "It's not," and trying to explain that it can be. Of course it turned out that far from being a fire-breathing liberal as was universally assumed, Will is a Republican. This too came up in the Season 1 finale.
WILL McEVOY: During Tea Party rallies and campaign speeches we've been told that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that if the Founding Fathers were here today, they'd tell us so. Here's John Adams in the Treaty of Tripoli: "As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion . . ." And here's Thomas Jefferson: ". . . that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions." And here's the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

What's more frightening than the perversion of our great history is that sensible, smart, strong Republicans, the very men and women who should be standing up to radical fundamentalism, are so frightened of losing primary battles to religious zealots that they've thrown in the towel on sanity. So we get this:

YOUNG JOHNNY McCRANKY [on-screen]: Y-yes, the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation --"

WILL: It's ironic, because the biggest enemy of the phony Republican isn't Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, it's this man
[Stained-glass image of Jesus appears on monitor.]
He said, "Heal the sick, feed the hungry, care for the weakest among us, and always pray in private."

And the upshot?

Despite Will's careful delineation of the term "American Taliban," it marked him as Public Enemy No. 1 to the Rabid Right. At the start of Episode 2 of Season 2 we see the president of ACN's parent company, AWM, being refused admittance to an important House committee hearing on SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), despite his company's obvious stake in the subject. Later we learn that Will himself is being pulled from network campaign coverage out of fear of the rampaging Teabaggers.

Naturally the truth doesn't come into it, because with the Teabaggers it never does. You might think, if you hadn't seen the episode, that Will just dropped the term without such careful delineation. But as usual the Right never has to answer to facts.

By the way, if you missed Season 1, in addition to posting the whole of it on "On Demand," HBO offers a helpful recap narrated by Sorkin and fellow executive producer Alan Poul, which I'm sure you can find online as well as on "On Demand."

I see I also transcribed this little scene from the Season 1 finale. I think you'll see why. It involves Will and the bodyguard, Lonny Church, who was originally hired in Episode 6 last season after Will received a round of online death threats. This is Will and Lonny leaving the ACN building after the broadcast in which Will made his American Taliban analogy. Lonny had mentioned earlier that another hundred death threats had been received before this broadcast.
Lonny (Terry Crews) and Will (Jeff Daniels)

As WILL and LONNY reach the lobby on their way out of the ACN building ---

WILL: A hundred more death threats.
LONNY: Yeah.
WILL: But we're pretty sure they're not serious.
LONNY: Not these hundred. But after tonight I expect the next hundred will be very serious.
WILL: What do you protect me for?
LONNY: Seventeen hundred a week, plus health and dental.
WILL: I wouldn't take a bullet for 1700 a week.
LONNY: Me neither, pal. So I've leaned how to duck.
[They reach the street and a clamoring crowd outside the buliding with cameras clicking.]
It looks like a great Season 2.



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