The enemies of fictional newsman Will McAvoy are many and varied, and his battles with them are the stuff of legend. The golden-haired knight of the fourth estate has fought The Gossip Rags, The Corporate Fat-Cats, and, perhaps most memorably, Every Single Other Journalist In The World. But in this rogue’s gallery, few foes have proven to be as driven and persistent as The Internet — specifically, Aaron Sorkin’s highly personal, malevolent, superpowered version of the Internet, which is powered largely by coincidences relevant to the plot of The Newsroom. This week’s episode, friends, marks the event of several decisive skirmishes in that battle.
So let us once again travel back in time, to the glorious fall of 2011. I remember it well: I was a plucky young blogger living in Astoria who had recently undergone a classic rite of passage for plucky young bloggers everywhere — being haranged over Twitter by a large, shouty, self-righteous news anchor. On the larger stage, the 10th anniversary of 9⁄11 was upon us, a man named Troy Davis was about to be executed by the state of Georgia, and Occupy Wall Street was gaining steam. And in Newsroom world, Will was still sitting in his office grumping about the 9⁄11 coverage, and the strangest breakup in recorded history was rapidly unfolding.
To explain: Last week, there was an odd little scene in which Don and Maggie, who had just moved in together, broke up over a video that had been posted to YouTube of Maggie yelling at a Sex and the City tour bus about being in love with Jim. There was no real discussion, no “Can I ask you to clarify this for me given that we are in a live-in relationship, which as I understand it is an arrangement wherein human beings attempt to resolve their issues,” no fight, even. Don just clicked on a YouTube video, saw 30 seconds of it, and then disappeared in a puff of smoke. As he was whisked away by the spirits, Don insisted to Maggie that she must have expected that her outburst would end up on YouTube, because apparently Sorkin set his show in New York City without realizing that (a) your average New Yorker has seen about 50 strangers fighting, crying or urinating off the side of a subway platform by the time they get to work in the morning, and (b) you don’t record that stuff and upload it to YouTube, because you don’t want to get YouTubed the next time you’re crying and/or yelling profanities into your cell phone in the middle of a Barnes & Noble. Also, you could get murdered. It’s called the social contract, Aaron! Look it up!
Well: It was odd and clumsy, and seemed like a Deus ex YouTube attempt at clearing away a dead-end plotline, so I assumed that we could all ignore it and move on — much as any reasonable YouTube-viewing public would ignore Maggie’s video, which, frankly, was much too boring to merit online posting in the first place. Unless Maggie was sobbing about her crush whilst standing directly next to a cardboard box with a cat jumping into it, I simply could not envision an Internet on which anyone might care.
Clearly I had not yet expanded my mind to contain The Internet, directed by Aaron Sorkin. For, lo: The Tell-Tale YouTube video is now a smash Internet sensation. And an executive producer and high-profile newscaster for a major cable news network have nothing better to do than track the problem to its source, which is: A plucky Astorian blogger. Who writes Sex and the City fan-fiction. And posts about her laundromat on FourSquare.
What a realistic, well-developed, sexually alluring new addition to our regular Newsroom cast, everyone! I certainly look forward to her future contributions. But in the meantime, we get a scene in which Sloan and Maggie stalk this obvious and compelling audience-identification figure to the sacred ground of the laundromat so they can yell at her about boys and dating and which Sex and the City character is their favorite.
Meanwhile: Troy Davis is about to be killed by the state of Georgia. I’m just saying.
Anyway. Laundromat thus invaded, Maggie and Sloan promptly attempt to buy off the sweet and charismatic Plucky Astorian Blogger (hereafter referred to as PAB) by promising her more followers on Twitter in exchange for taking down the video. “Yessssss, you fool,” they hiss, their painted lips framing words of sweet torment for our heroine. “Release your holy quest for truth, justice, and hot Carrie/Samantha slash fic. Succumb, rather, to our desires. For we offer you a Klout score… A KLOUUUUUT SCOOORRE.”
After briefly considering a long con in which Will McAvoy blocks and unblocks Plucky Astorian Blogger 15,000 times while saying massively screwed-up stuff about a sexual assault case, PAB lets them just, like, link to her blog, or whatever. But, ah! The forces of corruption cannot touch the pure and holy heart of PAB! For she leaves the video up anyway, causing Maggie’s best friend to see it and deliver a 15-minute long lecture about Maggie’s psychological weaknesses as if she’s auditioning for the part of Hannibal in an all-female revival of Silence of the Lambs. Then she breaks up with Maggie, over Jim. Because female friendships are flimsy and trivial and can invariably be broken up over brief, non-live-in relationships with dudes whose hair looks like a Beatles wig that’s seen the business end of a DustBuster. Because boys are the most important thing in the universe, because Sorkin, The End.
Meanwhile, Troy Davis is going to be killed by the state of Georgia. But wait, no, hey!: Someone wants to put a Twitter scroll on the bottom of a newscast.
Don hates this idea, because “you can’t turn your arm clockwise and turn your leg counterclockwise at the same time. Try it!” Readers who have tried it will know that it is not only entirely possible, but also sort of cute, a little like Uma Thurman’s dance from Pulp Fiction. Nevertheless, running a Twitter scroll on the screen will henceforth symbolize the corruption of all legitimate news. Will will bring it up whenever he gets frothy. Will gets frothy quite a lot. He is in his office for most of this episode, sulking. He emerges only to silently creep-watch his crew as they ooh and ahhh over archival footage of his coverage of 9⁄11, because, as we have previously established, the most important thing about 9⁄11 is and always has been Will.
Meanwhile, Troy Davis is going to be killed by the state of Georgia. But WAIT, HOLD ON, HOLD THE PHONE: What’s up with Neal? And the Internet? The Internet is very important, for Neal!
Neal, after wetting his pants over Reddit in the previous episode, is now wetting his pants over videos posted by Anonymous. Last season, I am informed, Neal was the only character to truly get WikiLeaks. Two things, here. First: It’s important to note that Internet engagement, for Neal, is a heroic and journalistic pursuit, one which (a) qualifies him for a job at a high-profile news organization, and (b) allows him to get the scoop on important stories which would otherwise lack mainstream coverage. Meanwhile, Internet engagement for women (such as Plucky Astorian Blogger) is entirely confined to narcissism, attention-hunger, and posting one’s masturbation fantasies online. Second: Neal’s supremely brogressive Internet habits lead me to believe that he is not a fictional character, but a real live dude who happens to look like Dev Patel. Also, that he’s probably called me a “cunt” on the Internet at least eight or nine times.
Neal, who uses the Internet for Real News rather than silly gender stories, attends Occupy Wall Street. He promptly gets arrested, despite identifying himself as a journalist, because that is a thing that happened in the world. He YouTubes the incident, because YouTube is a heroic and constructive endeavor, when men do it. “This guy seems really tough and full of integrity! At least he’s not posting ‘Sex & the City’ fanfic LOL,” posts Redditor bigfootsreal497, who has always been a big fan of Neal.
Meanwhile: Troy Davis has been executed by the state of Georgia. “Cut the Twitter feed,” someone says, determined not to let the frivolous Internet corrupt this sacred moment. Instead, in this moment, which is uncorrupted by the frivolous Internet, we see the face of Troy Davis — a man who was likely innocent, and who was killed at the age of 42 by the state of Georgia due to structural racism — floating behind Maggie, as she tries to call Jim to tell him how sad she is that she’s been broken up with due to a Sex and the City YouTube video. Troy Davis’ face continues to watch Maggie and Sloan as they parse the number of rings on Jim’s cell phone. It’s callous, and it’s monstrous. But at least there’s no Internet in it, because that would really damage the seriousness of the proceedings.
But WAIT NO STOP THE PRESS I WANT TO GET OFF: In the course of Googling “Will McAvoy Hate,” which is apparently something he does, Will has come upon a website. It is named, helpfully, “Why We Hate Will McAvoy.”
Lord: I’m not a praying woman. And I’m not a righteous woman, by any means. I haven’t talked to you for a long, long time. But Lord, if there is any justice or truth or screenwriting symmetry in this world of ours, I’m asking you: Please, please let Why We Hate Will McAvoy Dot Com turn out to be run by Plucky Astorian Blogger.
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.