This week’s episode of The Newsroom finally shows us what happened to Maggie and Gary in Africa, and it’s bad. Not the same flavor of bad that I (and, judging by the past few weeks’ comments, many of you) expected, but still a nasty, nauseating, heartbreaking development that would probably cause me to take a hacksaw to my hair, too.
In other, really-not-important-in-the-scheme-of-things story developments, Jerry receives an Operation Genoa gift from the journalism gods and Jim finally gets 30 minutes with Romney… and a lot more. Let’s review what happened in “Unintended Consequences.”
THE LYIN’ KING | As the episode begins, it’s Maggie’s turn before Rebecca and the wrongful firing squad. The lawyer reminds Maggie that her entire testimony in the termination suit revolves around two words –”It happened” – and here’s why: Jerry is saying that a retired general uttered those words during an interview regarding Operation Genoa; Maggie, who was also present for the interview, says the military man didn’t. Jerry’s also alleging that Maggie is no judge of who said what because of what happened to her in Uganda. “I would like to, once and for all, abudiate the notion that I am messed up,” Mags says, making up a word. “I’m hardly the only person in my newsroom who’s ever seen a dead guy.”
The Maggie that left for her first international assignment was the daffy, slightly nervous, rom-com-imized blonde we’ve come to know over the past season. The one facing Rebecca here is a brittle, defiant, acerbic, spiky-headed ginger. Give her a law degree and some shoulder pads, and she’s Sex and the City‘s Season 1 Miranda. And Magranda does not care that Jerry’s affidavit paints her as an unreliable basketcase dosed with antidepressants; she knows for sure that the general “didn’t say it,” she grits out. Regardless, Rebecca notes, Jerry’s lawyers will put Maggie in front of a jury and make her tell her Africa story in the hopes that she’ll break down – and Rebecca wants to know what that will look like. Steel yourselves, because here we go…
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED | After Maggie and Gary CooperNotThatOne arrive in Uganda, their first stop is an orphanage that U.S. troops are helping to improve. As they’re reporting the feel-good story, the two ACN producers meet the kids… and then promptly scare the bejesus out of them when they think Gary’s camera is a gun. Orphanage director Pastor Moses explains he children are frightened because the cattle raiders in the area tend to arm themselves to the hilt as they steal, rape and kill across the countryside. Nice, Gary. YOU BROKE THE KIDS. After the children calm down, one catches Maggie’s eye: His name is Daniel, his parents are alive but he’s living at the facility for a while to stay safe and he’s really got a thing for Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. Maggie and Daniel become best buds. (Meanwhile, back in New York, Lisa is like, “Just wait, kid — she’ll turn on you, too…”)
The American soldiers take off but Maggie and Gary wind up stuck at the orphanage for the evening, thanks to their terrible plot contrivance of a local guide. And then, to borrow a phrase from Will in the first episode, it gets real very fast. Some raiders come around, wanting to steal the camera they spied earlier that day. Pastor Moses quietly sneaks the kids out the back and onto a bus, but then realizes that Daniel is missing. Maggie finds the little boy wedged under her bunk, refusing to come out. Gary helps her dislodge him, and she has Daniel climb onto her back so they can skedaddle to safety. At one point, a gunshot sounds and Gary falls to the ground… but it’s all misdirection. And even though Maggie has a momentary remembrance of reading Lyle to Daniel by flashlight as the bus speeds to safety – a la Buffy and Joyce in the ambulance in “The Body” — it’s false: Daniel’s spine is severed by a bullet that would’ve taken Maggie down had he not been on her back, and he dies while she watches in horror.
SURVIVORS WILT | Back in the conference room, Rebecca’s male lawyers are all, “I will not cry,” but Mags is dry-eyed as she reports that she never made it to Kampala. A flashback shows Jim finding her on the floor of the control room and telling her he knows what happened, but if there’s more of a dramatic reunion between the two, we don’t see it. In another flashback, as Maggie remembers Pastor Moses joking with Daniel about her blonde locks, she cuts them off in haphazard chunks.
I have to admit, I’m surprised: Given the show’s ripped-from-the-recent-past storylines, I really expected Maggie to run into a situation similar to what befell 60 Minutes‘ Lara Logan in Egypt in 2011. I’m glad she didn’t. But at the same time, doesn’t the death of a cute, innocent kid feel a little manipulative? Wouldn’t the violence abroad have had more impact if it had, say, killed off Gary CooperNotThat One? And am I a terrible person because I don’t have a ton of sympathy for Maggie, even though she’s getting crushed by the weight of her survivor’s guilt? (One more question: Can someone please forward my mail directly to hell? Because that’s where I’m probably going to end up for not properly mourning little Daniel and/or feeling Maggie’s pain.)
VASSAR FOR THE WIN | And just as I am afraid that I won’t be able to make fun of anyone or anything in this episode, along comes Jim. God bless you and your floppy haired, misguided do-goodery, Harper! Romney’s people have now thoroughly cut ties with the Jim, Hallie and Stillman (formerly known as Reporter Horatio Sanz), which means the trio is forced to share the only room left in a hotel and chase the campaign bus in a compact car. While in that car, Jim and Stillman overhear Hallie’s boss berating her for missing a lame-o speech story that all of the other Romney reporters got, and he finishes off her verbal beat-down with, “Unless you wanna put on heels and f—k me for an hour, you need to stop being a little bitch.” Poor Hallie, champion of women’s issues, is cowed and embarrassed; you can tell because her permanent lemon-sucking face is a little less pinched than usual.
Jim’s got the ugly interaction in the back of his brain when he lucks into a 30-minute interview with Mitt Romney later on. (And by “lucks into,” I mean, “Gets Romney flak Taylor to drop the f-bomb on the record, then trades on it by having her give Hallie a half-hour solo interview with the man, the Mitt, the legend.”) Hallie is conducting the one-on-one and is obnoxiously writing it up in their shared room – if I am supposed to eventually like her, lines like, “I’m killing it. You know why? Vassar. Kaboom!” aren’t helping any – when Mac Skypes to rip Jim a new one: Taylor let her know that he gave the interview away… and this is news to Hallie. Mac orders Jim to come back to New York, and Hallie’s not much happier – and there’s only so much a sensitive producer can take. “Am I suddenly a f—ing receptacle for every woman who’s pissed at a guy?” he moans, then leaves to sulk by the pool. Hallie apparently finds Jim’s Halpertian frustration (and his kind, though condescending, gesture) attractive, because she seeks him out and kisses him. “I’m the rebound, and I went to Vassar,” she says. Oh… kay? Jim starts to psychoanalyze her deep-seated affiliation to her alma mater but then, perhaps preferring that insanity to hearing the object of his affection screaming at a tourist bus, hushes up and starts kissing her back.
OCCUPY THIS | Shelly, Neal’s Occupy Wall Street contact, appears on News Night. As everyone but Shelly predicted, it doesn’t go well. Will mocks both her and the movement, citing its lack of leaders as evidence of its lack of substance. She punches Neal in the gut and storms out of the building after the show, and therein lies a problem: Just before air, she’d mentioned that one of the OWS guys had worked at a non-governmental organization that had been shut down after he wrote a report about an American attack on civilians… and that attack, Jerry and Neal realize, sounds a lot like Operation Genoa. But without Shelly’s cooperation, they’re having a hard time finding the guy.
Shelly wants an apology from Will. “She found him smug,” Neal says. “Me, too!” Mac replies. (Heh.) Both Sloan and Don are sent in as surrogates, but both lose their patience with the shrill NYU professor before any amends can be made. (Though I have to give Sloan props for both her Titanic riff – “I’ll never let go, Kodak” – and the way she calmly sips her Shake Shack milkshake after grinding Shelly into cinders.) Finally, Will shows up outside one of Shelly’s classes to tell her “your movement sucks” and to give her the apology she’s been craving. “I slapped you around to burnish my reputation as moderate. You were a handy prop, and I’m sorry I used you,” he says, adding, “I’m not smug. I’m having a crisis of confidence.” (Side note: I’d like to see other actors sell lines like that so successfully – Jeff Daniels is really doing quite the job in this role.)
The overture is enough for Shelly, who agrees to lead Neal to the former NGO worker… but Will says they already tracked the guy down. And when they get a hold of his report, it seems to back up everything Jerry’s source said. From the look on her face, Maggie’s not completely on board with the story yet, but she’s definitely packing her suitcase…
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!