Did Aaron Sorkin set The Newsroom S1E4 on New Year’s Eve just so he could have the excuse to have someone make a cheesy joke about starting the new year off with a bang? As The West Wing’s Toby Ziegler would say, that’s the kind of joke, you see it coming and you can’t do anything about it, you just have to stand there and let it happen.
“I’ll Try to Fix You” (and yes, it is named after that ubiquitous Coldplay song, for reasons that become clear by the end of The Newsroom S1E4) opens, like I said, at the Atlantis Cable News New Year’s Eve party. Everyone is all dressed up, and what looks like a pretty fun party is going on in the newsroom. Everyone is into it, except two people. News anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is busy brooding in his office, and senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr) is busy working.
Will is brooding in his office because it’s a New Year’s Eve party and not only is he there without a date, the one woman in the world he would like to be dating (his ex, Mackenzie McHale) is there with a date, and it isn’t him. All alone in his office, brooding and smoking—Will uses cigarettes like armour, and he needs all the armour he can get right now, because not only does Mac (Emily Mortimer) look as gorgeous as he does in formal wear, she wants to introduce him to her new boyfriend. Worse than just an introduction, she wants Will to actually talk to this guy about actual news things.
In typical Will fashion, before he does that, he has to verbally smack her around some more about the time she cheated on him six years ago. No, he never ever ever plans to let her out of the doghouse for that, and yes he plans to keep making her pay, and apparently she intends to keep putting up with it and thinking she deserves it (despite protestations to the contrary). Will, by the way, feels terrible for torturing Mac the way he has been doing, because he knows it isn’t right—but he also knows he can’t stop just yet. When Mac’s boyfriend Wade comes in the room and she greets him, Will blurts out, “Don’t call him honey, it makes me crazy. I didn’t say that. It came out of my mouth. Just—words.” Difficulty words-ing is a big theme in Newsroom S1E4, really.
Outside in the actual party, Jim isn’t living it up either, and the party is literally happening all around him. My favourite B plot ever is Neal (Dev Patel) and his mission in The Newsroom S1E4 to bring the entire newsroom team round to his belief in Bigfoot. An aside (I just want to put this out into the universe one more time), I have been rooting for Dev Patel to play the Doctor on Doctor Who ever since his Newsroom days. He could wear cardigans like Neal, and prove that Bigfoot is real. But I digress. The beauty of Neal is that for all his talk about Bigfoot and how he’s the biggest nerd in the office (there’s a constant argument over whether this title belong to Neal or Jim—tonight, it’s inarguably Neal), within seconds of that, in rocks his unbelievably hot “girlfriend” (girlfriend’s a strong word—it’s established earlier that Neal is a bit of a player, but he’s cute and charming about it so no one seems to care).
Jim is ignoring the party so he can do work for Will, so Will can brood. Once Maggie (Alison Pill) notices that one of these things is not like the other, she is only too happy to join Jim in ignoring the party to work. She’s got a crush on Jim that she is also ignoring, since she and Don (Thomas Sadoski) are in one of the “on” phases of their on-again-off-again relationship. Maggie is definitely dolled up for the party, having borrowed a dress from her roommate Lisa (Kelen Coleman). The dress is noticeably too big on her, and I always wonder who exactly she decided to get all dolled up for, Don or Jim…obviously I would like to think she got dressed up for no one but herself, but Maggie won’t have that kind of self-esteem until Season 3.
When Don shows up, he notices the dress—but he also notices Maggie and Jim laughing together. Don notices everything. Don Keefer is ridiculously smart, even when he is using his powers for evil, which he occasionally does. In this case, he’s prepared to be “fun Don”, being super affectionate and chalking it up to having had a cocktail. Whatever the reason, Don the Slytherin’s first suggestion at the party is to set Jim up with Lisa (see aforementioned cheesy joke). They have precious little in common, and a guy as smart as Don is has to notice how much his girlfriend is balking at the idea, but Don won’t be stopped. By fixing Jim up with another girl, Don is getting the competition out of the way, and he gets to do it disguised as a mitzvah.
If you ask me why Aaron Sorkin specifically chose to start The Newsroom S1E4 on New Year’s Eve, I would say there could be a lot of reasons, apart from the chronological timeline of the show. Don refers to the Times Square dropping of the ball as “one million people waiting for the world’s biggest non-event”. As a native New Yorker, I can tell you that’s pretty much true. Is it a metaphor? Could be, for a lot of things. It’s certainly a resetting of sorts for a bunch of things. By the end of the episode, a lot of them are looking at a lot of things (the news, each other, themselves) with fresh eyes.
For Will, New Year’s Eve is the unofficial start of what he will come to refer to as his Mission to Civilize. I for one am a huge believer in Will’s Mission, that which makes him a self-described Don Quixote of being a decent human being. Will, however, isn’t good at it just yet. His lack of tact when it comes to expressing himself while trying to date women who aren’t Mac makes him end up more than once with a drink thrown in his face, and with rude remarks in the press about what a bad date he is. On the advice of Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), he decides to try something new at the party, and talk to an available-looking hottie. This would work well, except for the fact that Nina Howard (Hope Davis) is a gossip columnist, and she represents everything Will finds vile in both journalism and humanity. He has no problem cutting the flirting short to tell her this, either. “What you do is a really bad form of pollution that makes us dumber and meaner.”
They work for the same company, but she’s daytime and he’s nighttime—the Jets and the Sharks, as he describes it. “Maybe we could be like Tony and Maria.” Um…it didn’t work out all that well for them, Nina. And it’s not like Nina is batting 1000 when it comes to saying the right thing outside of the flirting either. One of the first things she says to Will is to inform him that he strikes her as lonely and broken, but he shouldn’t worry, because she can fix him. Will says, “If there’s one thing a man likes, it’s a woman who tries to fix him,” not knowing his words will be a setup for Coldplay later on. Nina then opens his eyes to the concept of a “takedown piece” (which is exactly what it sounds like, and even the journalist in me finds the idea repellent). The rest of the conversation goes south quickly, and as everyone else is kissing as balloons drop at midnight, Will is standing alone, Nina’s drink dripping off his face.
Sloan, by the way, is the world’s most socially awkward human for all that she’s brilliant, with her seventeen degrees in economics (when everyone else is smooching at midnight, she is looking at her phone in a bored way). When Mac is horrified that Sloan sent Will to go chat up a gossip columnist, Mac isn’t much more eloquent than Will is about the situation. “New Year’s Eve, you’re setting up my boyfriend—not my boyfriend—just—words…” Again, words-ing is problematic in The Newsroom S1E4.
It may not have been a New Year’s resolution of Will’s to start dating again, but date he does—and he’s really bad at it. Well, it’s not that he’s bad at the dates, he’s just bad at choosing the women he decides to go out with. When he tells Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) that he’s not an elitist when it comes to women, Charlie thinks he ought to be one. He tells Will, “On the off chance that you’re not going to live forever, why not take a shot at being happy now?”
Kathryn Hahn is a household name these days, thanks to WandaVision, but Newsroom viewers can consider ourselves members of the Hahn First Wives Club if we remember her as Will’s gun-toting date from The Newsroom S1E4. Her .38 is pearl-handled, and she is as gorgeous and snarky as ever, especially wearing what we know as Standard Sorkin Lingerie—one of her date’s shirts.
His next date doesn’t go much better. She’s got cleavage halfway down to her knees (that’s an exaggeration, but it’s pretty impressive), and she’s more into celebrity gossip than Nina Howard was. Will blurts out more words, lectures her about his mission to civilize, and gets another drink thrown in his face. Will, sweetie, not everyone is ready for the mission…especially not when you are being a patronizing jerk about it. Furthermore, his lack of success in the dating game can’t seem to stay out of the papers (a side effect of chatting up and pissing off a gossip columnist), and the whole mess is creating a distraction to the serious news that Mac and the team have been trying to do. Never mind the mission to civilize, there is a bigger mission at stake here—to do the news for real, and pieces about what a lousy date Will is are poisoning the well. Will thinks he’s Don Quixote, Mac thinks she is…Charlie knows that he is, and by the end of the series, we know which one of them is right (I’ll give you a hint—Sorkin Charlies are always right).
Will is understandably defensive and grouchy that his personal life is under the microscope this way, especially when it gets in the way of his using dating as part of his Mac-vendetta. I don’t think anyone would enjoy seeing their name trashed in the tabloids, and these particular tabloids are owned by AWN, NewsNight’s own parent company. I can’t really blame him for the subtextual on-air dig he makes, when he is talking about people who report false news statistics—“I think people who willfully, purposefully, and gleefully lie to the American people in order to damage someone’s reputation should, like a registered sex offender, be required by law to come with that warning label the rest of their lives.”
While all this has been going on, Jim and Maggie have both been being idiots, in my opinion. Jim went ahead and hooked up with Lisa even though he had no real interest in her. Lisa is nervous about the concept of dating an actual nice guy instead of the scumbags she is accustomed to dating, and Maggie can’t bring herself to deny Lisa the date with the nice guy. She also can’t own up to the real reason she isn’t comfortable with Lisa and Jim dating—because she’s got a crush on Jim, and everyone knows it (well, Jim doesn’t know it, but Don and Lisa sure do). Lisa is smarter than anyone realises, including Lisa, and she is onto Maggie, but Maggie made her bed, and Lisa is going to bang Jim in it. Jim, however, lied to Maggie and told her he didn’t hook up with Lisa. Busted in the lie by a telltale ringtone and Don being a Slytherin out to make a point, Maggie now has a reason to be demonstrably angry with Jim—the lie—even though that isn’t the real reason she’s angry.
Much as I love Don (it’s hard not to love someone that smart, even when, as stated, he uses his powers for evil), he is a pretty bad boyfriend for Maggie and always was, and it doesn’t help that he’s watching the example Will sets of girlfriend torture. And Maggie hasn’t even done anything wrong apart from have feelings for Jim, which she’s been trying to suppress. When Don points the way to bust Jim and Lisa in the sack via Lisa’s Rod Stewart ringtone (good grief, Lisa, please get some self-esteem that doesn’t come from a ringtone), and Maggie gets indignant, Don says “There is no way I’m the bad guy in what just happened. At worst, I’m in fourth place.” I agree with him.
So everyone gets called to come in on a Saturday, which turns out to be a good thing. Charlie has called in Will, Don, and Mac to discuss Will’s latest dating debacle and how to deal with it. Everyone else is there because Neal is determined to educate them about species diversity…namely, Bigfoot. They are all busy rolling their eyes at this, except for Maggie, who is busy throwing passive-aggressive shade at Jim for sleeping with her roommate. Jim, of course does his typical high-and-mighty thing about it, mansplaining to her the real reason she is upset. He’s right about this, because loath as I am to admit it, Jim is as smart as Don is, and Jim has Don’s number about the whole thing. Still, Jim, don’t assume you know why Maggie is upset, even if you’re right. It’s pompous and rude.
In the other room, Team Charlie is trying to figure out what to do about the Will situation. Mac, Will, and Don are learning for the first time what Charlie has known for a while now—that they are living under the threat of Will being fired by AWN owner Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) if he doesn’t dial back some of the on-air fire he has been throwing at the Tea Party and their ilk for the past while. Will is one of the most popular news anchors on cable, yet Leona is willing and ready to make up a reason to fire him, and she’s got the power to not only do it, but he would have to stay off TV for three years afterward, which would ruin his future career. This non-compete clause in his contract is his own fault—it was part of how he negotiated the ability to fire Mac at the end of each week if he wants to. So, he’s screwed himself, and kind of screwed everyone, all because he needed to be vindictive toward Mac, and have this thing to hold over her. It’s not like Will is wrong about any of the things he has been saying on the air, by the way, and it is his opinion that, as a Republican himself, he has a responsibility to point out where the Right is going wrong. “I’m a registered Republican. I only seem liberal because I believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”
Finally, all this is out on the table. Will is naturally peeved that Charlie has kept it from him, and Will doesn’t like the fact that now he is the reason they have to keep the ratings of the show up. Charlie feels badly about this, but wasn’t sure how Will would have handled the information had he known. Before anyone can argue about it further, they are interrupted by the news.
Aaron Sorkin knows music, he knows how to use it, and in The Newsroom S1E4 he proves it once again. As Coldplay’s “Fix You” starts to play (and yes, everyone and their brother has used this song for something, but for me, the association is always this), first Maggie, then Jim, then Mac, then the rest of the newsroom springs into action because Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot in the head, in Tuscon. Nina Howard was wrong. This right here is what can fix Will, and Mac is his partner in it. This news breaks into Red Carpet Roundup, and Will flings the tabloid magazine with his face on the cover off his anchor desk and across the room, because this is what’s important. It’s a gorgeous sequence, second only to the one with the Dire Straits in the West Wing episode “Two Cathedrals”. The team is working like a well-oiled machine, and for the first time Don is part of it too, jumping in with both feet to help.
When they start hearing from other news sources that Giffords has died of her injury, Mac won’t let Will announce it. It’s not confirmed. Other news sources are reporting that she’s dead, but not our team. Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), Leona’s son and President of AWN storms into the newsroom and demands to know why his channel is behind the others, why they haven’t reported the Congresswoman’s death. He thinks Don is going to back him up, but Don says (and I love him for it) “It’s a person. A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news.” They cut to commercial, and Will has to make a choice of what he’s going to say when the camera comes back on. Mac is on tenterhooks, but you can tell from the look on Charlie’s face that he’s got faith in his boy to make the right call. Once again, the Sorkin Charlie is always right. Good thing too, because Maggie gets the anaesthesiologist on the phone, and they find out that the very–much-alive Giffords is being taken into surgery, and every news channel apart from them called it wrong. Score for our team. I swear to god, no matter who else uses the song—and everyone else uses it, though perhaps in 2012 it wasn’t quite as everywhere as it is nowadays—my brain always fills in various people calling out “she’s alive!” in appropriate places whenever I hear it anywhere else. Those other things always benefit from my Newsroom-related feelings when they use this song.
They cut back to commercial, and Will shouts for Mac and Charlie. He is practically exploding with the victory, and it’s as if a man-shaped firework (or a ball dropping, like on New Year’s Eve?) has been set off in the anchor chair. “You tell Leona that if she wants me out of this chair, she better bring more than just a couple of guys!” It seems like everyone, including Will himself, has been waiting for this explosion for a long time. He also tells a teary Mac that everything is going to be okay. She’s apologising, I’m never sure for exactly what in that moment. Possibly their entire history? But he tells her it’s going to be okay. He goes back on camera, she goes back behind the camera as the last “I will try to fix you” sounds (with Coldplay as our narrator, I don’t know who is fixing whom just now, but I think there is healing going on all round)…and you think for the first time that maybe, just maybe, it will be.