Sorkin’s Binders Full of (Incompetent) Women

The Newsroom relives Election Night 2012, minus the boring political stuff.

Jude Ellison Sady Doyle

Will McAvoy: The real star of Election 2012. (HBO)

Well, we’re back. The thrilling Genoa plot line has concluded. News Night with Will McAvoy has been brought low. Neal’s wanton intern-slaying has been revealed. And the stakes have never been higher for the News Night crew, who must regain the shattered trust of the American public, with feats heretofore unimagined in the realm of TV Journalism. For truly, each fine man and woman of this crew is called by a force higher than themselves to Report the News, and Report the News they… 

Emily Mortimer is wearing 0.06% less makeup than usual, which connotes, in TV world, the bleakest reaches of despair. Also, her hair's a little flat.

Oh, this episode is about Mac getting mad at her Wikipedia entry? Okay, then.

Now that the Genoa plotline, with its semblance of narrative momentum, has been swept out of the way — note: To recreate the narrative momentum of the Genoa plotline at home, enlist your friends to stage a dramatic reading of the Wikipedia entry for Operation Tailwind;” this neat trick can add a welcome element of dramatic tension to stagnant dinner parties, family reunions, or an especially long line at Shake Shack — Sorkin is settling down into his real wheelhouse. His real wheelhouse, of course, mostly being wacky office hijinks and women being irrationally, unexpectedly horrible at their jobs. 

It’s Election Night 2012, and for any Newsroom viewer who can name the current president, suspense is running remarkably low. However, even if the election isn’t interesting to us, 10 months after the fact, it should be interesting to the characters we’re watching. And yet not a soul at ACN seems to be the least bit invested in which candidate will hold the highest office in the nation — not even Mean Romney Lady, who has recently been fired by Romney and who has swung by the newsroom to co-host the coverage and banter cruelly with Jim. Mean Romney Lady’s meanness incites the first bit of lady hysteria of the night, when Maggie, who’s currently been reduced to engaging in passive-aggressive catfights with Hallie via Skype, is promised a way to get back at Jim by grabbing a story he doesn’t know about.

Specifically, Mean Romney Lady offers Maggie the chance to expose a Republican congressional candidate’s claim that that women cry rape” in order to score free abortions. And, after Sorkin spends almost fourteen entire seconds paying lip service to the passionate fight for reproductive justice that defined the course of this Presidential election — making sure to have Maggie note the phony outrage” being expressed by all those silly feminists along the way — Maggie and Don accept an offer from the candidate’s press flack to trade their exposé in for a better, more important, less woman‑y story.

Meanwhile: Sam Waterston is freaking out at the top of his lungs about how much he wants to quit. But if Sam quits, Leona will sue him. If Will quits, Leona will sue him. If Mac quits… Well, she also very much wants to quit, but can’t, because Leona would sue her. But she could, conceivably, be fired by Will, and Mac spends much of the episode begging Will to do just this. In response, Will gives Mac a little speech about how much Mac loves shoes. It should be noted that Emily Mortimer is wearing 0.06% less makeup than usual, which connotes, in TV world, the bleakest reaches of despair. Also, her hair’s a little flat.

A chill wind blows. I hear, in the distance, the harsh call of the raven, and the cruel laughter of hyenas, their fanged mouths stained with the blood of a forgotten intern’s corpse. If my Newsroom recapping skills serve me right, this means one of two things: A plotline that revolves around Neal, or another female cast member unaccountably losing her damn mind. Lucky for me, it’s both: A book supposedly autographed by Sloan has gone for $1,000 in a charity auction, but Sloan didn’t actually sign it, which means someone else did sign it, which means that Neal has to find the person who signed it, because Sloan is just flipping out. In the middle of election night coverage. Neal, being the male — and, therefore, rational — person in these scenes, points out that this is happening in the middle of election night coverage. Sloan — who is, elsewhere, reducing stories to word-salad on-air and awkwardly yelling about Genoa during live segments, because this is her week to be disastrously incompetent for no apparent reason — doesn’t care. 

We’ve lost Sloan, and we’ve lost Maggie, which means we have only one regular female character left to guide us through the chaos. A character who’s been suspiciously makeup-free of late. A character whose hair, lacking its usual bounce, warns us all that she is nearing the edge of madness. We may hope; we may pray; we may try to be strong for Mac, so that Mac can be strong for us. But, sure enough, Mean Romney Lady strikes again, inadvertently revealing that Mac’s Wikipedia page erroneously lists her as having gone to Oxford, rather than Cambridge. And there we are, with Neal frantically attempting to fix the Internet so that Mac can stop flipping out, while an entire presidential election just sort of murmurs around her in the background. Neal cannot fix the Internet. Will fires Mac, as per her request, after she and her Despair Hair wander into his office making dark allusions to shooting herself in the name of honor. Everything, for the moment, is lost.

But what is that real,” un-abortion‑y story that Maggie’s picked up? Why, it’s the Petraeus scandal. At long last, a real military scandal to report! Sam Waterston reacts to this by shrieking unto the heavens. Sloan and Mac, presumably, react by trying to remember what a military” is, and how to report” something. Maggie responds with enthusiasm, presumably dimmed somewhat by the fact that hers is no longer the most important Despair Hair in the newsroom. And Will responds by marching straight out to that news desk, sitting down in front of Mean Romney Lady, and ordering her to rip into him as viciously and personally as she can.

For Will, if his iron stare and swelling soundtrack are any indication, is about to Regain The Trust of The American People — and the professional dedication of Mac, and the commitment of Charlie, and Sloan’s ability to function at a mildly non-disastrous level, and possibly even Maggie’s earlier, non-depressive haircut — by getting yelled at in public by a lady. Clap your hands if you believe in newscasters, children! You must believe! And you must believe, among other things, that the most important thing about the presidential election of 2012 is whether Will gets his feelings hurt. But then, that’s a pretty standard leap of faith for The Newsroom.

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Jude Ellison Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributing writer. They are the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. You can follow them on Twitter at @sadydoyle.

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