More women, more problems for Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Newsroom’

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Crisis of confidence. ()
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Glynnis MacNicol writes each week about the HBO series "The Newsroom." Previously: "Sorkin's HBO effort 'The Newsroom' has turned into a network drama, and it's (slightly) better this way."

Is Aaron Sorkin the world’s greatest television troll?

That’s what I kept wondering during last night’s episode of "The Newsroom" (titled ‘Unintended Consequences). I watched as Sorkin, who has spent the season buffing up the credentials and the influence of the character of MacKenzie at Will McAvoy's cable-news network, as if to convince us his woman problem is a thing of the past, wind us right back down the garden path where women are confused, forever their own worst enemies, and generally in need a man to put them straight.

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I had this vision of Sorkin, enraged by all the criticism of season 1, slyly deciding to spend the first three episodes not-so-subtly convincing the audience he’d seen the error of his ways, only to turn around and gleefully shred our naïveté in episode four.

But then the phrase "Aaron Sorkin, Internet Troll" sounded so familiar to me I decided to Google it in case someone else had already come up with this theory. Turns out I had, almost exactly a year ago. A lesson in the making of Sorkinisms.

Or maybe like Will, Sorkin is simply having a “crisis of confidence.” Because this episode felt a lot like watching storyline punches being pulled left and right.

“I slapped you around to burnish my reputation as a moderate,” Will tells the Occupy Wall St. girl he “murdalized” during an on-air interview a few nights before. “You were a handy prop and I’m sorry I embarrassed you. I’m not smug, I’m having a crisis of confidence.”

The corresponding lack of confidence on Sorkin’s part, which has been evident since this show started, most glaringly in his depiction of women and weird fear of diving into the realities of the digital age, was on display again last night.

Let’s start with Occupy Wall. Street. Sorkin's avatar, McAvoy, thinks it a stupid project run by a group of inept children. I mistakenly thought when the O.W.S. storyline first appeared in the premiere episode and the fictional "Newsroom" newsroom laughed it off that Sorkin was trying to demonstrate the short-sightedness of the media when it comes to stories that don’t fit an easy storyline (how can one be expected to write a story without a leader/protagonist? Egads!). But no. It seems, based on Will’s lecture to Shelly Wexler, the OWS woman Patel has befriended, Sorkin actually believes the movement was idiotic. “Your movement sucks, Shelly,” says Will, noting that it was the Tea Party that all the Republican candidates were talking about on his show the previous evening.

Presumably Sorkin was watching the election results along with the rest of the country and is aware that the Tea Party did not fare well in 2012, that the 99 percent and the 1 percent have both become terms associated with income inequality across a variety of magazines from The Financial Times and The Economist and throughout other media; that the economic divide in America has become a mainstream conversation, and that two years out the movement remains part of the political discussion. So maybe by making Will sound like Grandpa Simpson out on his lawn shaking a fist at the changing times he really is setting up Will for a fall. But I think that unlikely. Will’s grudging apology to Shelly for embarrassing her, and his small concession that he should maybe spend some more time covering financial issues, is likely as close as we’re going to get to the OWS movement being taken seriously on this show. Which like so much else having to do with the "Newsroom" feels more like another exercise in missed opportunity than something to be offended by.

Also, I think we can throw out any hope that Sorkin will be writing better women anytime soon. Out on the campaign trail Jim and company are maintaining their protest of the inanity of talking points, and remain kicked off the bus (the bus the participating media organizations pay for). After overhearing Hallie (the relentlessly unsmiling Grace Gummer) being berated by her website boss (website bosses are the worst!) Jim secretly gives her his Romney exclusive (an exclusive he earned when the Romney press secretary snaps and tells him to “go fuck yourself” on the record; if only Barbara Morgan had thought of this!).

All women eventually need rescuing in Sorkinland (I don’t know why, but somehow this trope was less annoying in The West Wing).

When Hallie discovers how she landed the interview and confronts Jim about it he angrily lectures her about being ungrateful: “Am I suddenly a receptacle for every woman that’s pissed at a guy?” Yes Aaron Sorkin, that is exactly why so many people are complaining about your women's storylines, we are all just angry with our boyfriends!

The press secretary outs Jim’s forfeit of the interview to MacKenzie who pulls him off the campaign trail. Feeling bad, Hallie sleeps with him. “I’m the rebound,” she whispers. So, yeah, I think we can just call it a day on the Sorkin-woman front.

And that leaves us with Maggie. Poor, red-haired, PTSD-suffering Maggie. The whole episode is framed by her present-day interview with AWM lawyer Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) who is trying to determine whether Maggie will make a reliable witness on the stand.

There had been some speculation that the Maggie storyline, which up till this episode has only been hinted at (something terrible happened to her while on assignment in Uganda), might take on Lara Logan proportions. Logan, you may recall, was brutally sexually assaulted in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the uprising there in 2011 (an event Sorkin chose to ignore when he covered that very day on an episode last season). That is not what happened to Maggie. What happened to Maggie is that she befriended an orphan at the school they were visiting who was fascinated by her blond hair and liked her to read to him. When the orphanage was (oh-so-predictably) attacked in the night–the attackers were after the news camera they had brought with them–the orphan is shot and killed while Maggie tries to carry him to safety.

“And that’s it?” says a beautifully icy Marcia Gay Harden (would someone please make a show with Marcia Gay Harden as a lawyer and Jane Fonda as head of a major media company? That would be worth watching). Yes that’s it! That’s it! That’s what happened to Maggie. Then she comes directly home where, presumably, Jim is waiting to rescue her from herself. She won't take the Paxil she's prescribed.

I guess we will have to (happily) wait for Shonda Rhimes’ upcoming show on female war correspondents to shine a proper spotlight on the dangers they face in their jobs (in the meantime you can read this, this, and this). In the meantime, at least we can be grateful there was no Coldplay soundtrack.

“I’m fine,” declares Maggie.

“Fuck!” is what Halliday spits back, perhaps realizing along with the rest of us that there are six more episodes in this season.