The Newsroom recap: 'Main Justice'
A showdown between the Department of Justice and the ACN elders lands Will in even more hot water, and a prospective investor has Charlie grappling with a frightening future for his news network.
The only trade-off to making the first several minutes of “Main Justice” akin to symphonic perfection is that the rest of this week’s Newsroom episode was, at best, tedious. Yes, we had plenty of great Charlie Skinner one-liners to help us limp through to the finish line (“For now, just go drink—home! Just go home”), but unfortunately all the momentum was used up by the time Will McAvoy uttered the pun that would be his downfall: “I’m too big to jail.”
“Main Justice” begins with the ultimate fake-out: Before the lights even come up on the first shot, we hear the faint strains of Chris Chalk singing the upbeat Cole Porter standard “Anything Goes.” Open on Gary Cooper exiting the ACN elevator, bounding toward the newsroom, only to be stopped dead in his tracks with, “What the f— is going on?” Yep, it’s about a few minutes after “Run” ended, and the FBI is still swarming around every hard drive in sight. But Gary doesn’t have time to stand around with his mouth agape, because while MacKenzie McHale is sparring with her now-frenemy FBI Agent Molly Levy over the courtesy of wedding RSVPs (really, Mac?) and Will is calmly explaining everyone’s legal rights, the rest of the ACN crew play a game of Chicken with the windbreaker brigade.
Charlie gets on the phone, ostensibly to the L.A. studio (in reality, Domino’s Pizza) to announce the New York bureau will be cutting in with breaking news that the FBI is currently ransacking their newsroom. Sloan Sabbith gets miked up and takes her place at the news desk (Will is still in his T-shirt and jeans ensemble, so he’s not going anywhere near a camera). Gary grabs a camera and Don Keefer and Jim Harper start firing up the control room—even though only Maggie Jordan knows how any of the technology actually works (except for how to spell “Breaking News”—which initially appears on the chyron as “Beaking News”).
The scene is slick, smart, hilariously funny, and most importantly, it works: Molly gets spooked and she has her team stand down. Obviously the ACN crew is nowhere near out of the woods, but at least their little stunt bought them some time to figure out their next move while Neal Sampat is flying under the radar (needless to say, Dev Patel does not appear in this episode). Atlantis World Media lawyer Rebecca Halliday also worked her magic with the assistant attorney general, the U.S. attorney for the southern district, and the deputy director of the FBI, granting ACN a “one-week ceasefire” in order to prepare for a showdown at Department of Justice headquarters (a.k.a. Main Justice) in Washington, D.C. At said showdown, both Will and Neal (if he can be located) are expected to tell investigators everything they can without revealing the source of the 27,000 classified documents. Reminder: Neal gave Will the name of the source before he took off into the great unknown.
NEXT: The Justice League
With Neal MIA, Will has no qualms about taking the fall for the British blogger’s unwitting espionage activities. Trouble is, the News Night anchor is placing way too much weight on his status as a celebrity, and it’s evident long before a DOJ intern arrives at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a week later with a subpoena that Will’s declaration that “They’re not going to lock me up—I’m too big to jail” is going to bite him in the ass.
Cut to a midnight meeting at Main Justice a week later: Will, Mac, Charlie, and Rebecca meet in a dark conference room with Barry Lazenthal, assistant attorney general of national security. When he’s not antagonizing the journalists for their subordinate’s reckless behavior, Lazenthal announces that Neal somehow made it to Venezuela. Charlie’s reaction is priceless: “Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of him!” But Lazenthal is no dummy: He correctly calls out Will’s game, which was to have all of the evidence point back to him instead of Neal (Will’s black Amex was used to purchase the air-gapped computer, Will knows the name of the source, etc.) and that his fame would keep him from being prosecuted.
In his requisite Sorkin-ologue of the episode, Will eloquently cops to Lazenthal’s accusation, but then makes the mistake of letting his ego take charge. After arrogantly stating that “your jaw-dropping government overreach simply won’t extend to putting a TV star in jail for contempt,” he takes it one step further: “You bungled this, and I can’t help you anymore.” Will and the ACNers then strut out of Main Justice, and spend the next 22 (give or take) hours in blissful ignorance.
The following evening, the ACN staff is having a grand old time at the Correspondents’ Dinner—well, except for Mac, who, engages in her second clandestine exchange with an important female player to the story line this week. (Yes, I really wrote that! Better late than never, Aaron Sorkin.) Sadly, there was no frisking-through-a-towel in a 24-hour spa, which is what Mac endured upon her first meeting in question, where Molly implored her to find Neal, for his own sake.
However, this second female player to enter the picture easily trumped Molly’s value by far—steam-room setting or no. Her name is Lilly Hart (played by Argo‘s Clea DuVall), she works for BCD, which is the PR firm responsible for planting the false stories that caused the Kundu riots, and she’s Neal’s source. Dun, dun, DUN!!!!! And, oh, right—unless ACN runs her story within the next 96 hours, she’s going rogue and posting it on Goop.
Well, Gwyneth Paltrow’s site is about to get the biggest scoop of its existence because the odds of ACN being able to go on the air with Lilly’s story before Will has to appear before a grand jury are slim to none.
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Moving on to The Newsroom‘s other important plotline, the outlook is pretty bleak for the future of ACN anyway, because Leona and Reese Lansing have decided that the only way to raise the $4 billion necessary to pry AWM away from greedy blunder twins Blair and Randy Lansing is to spin off ACN. It’s either that or dissolve the network. Unfortunately for Charlie, this means spending his time at the Correspondents’ Dinner listening to the crackpot ideas of pompous Wi-Fi guru and potential investor Lucas Pruit (B.J. Novak, killing it), who apparently is ACN’s only hope for survival.
When he’s not giving his fresh-out-of-college assistant heart palpitations because there’s no Schweppes Bitter Lemon stocked at the bar (they only have Canada Dry), Lucas is informing Charlie of his big plans for ACN, and the news industry in general. One thing it doesn’t include? “A channel where professionals investigate and report the news” (Charlie’s idea). But it will include “a Stalker Channel,” a “Disaster Channel” and a channel devoted to people stalking Danny Glover.
The most upsetting part of this scene though, is the realization that this is merely a commentary of the state of cable television already (ever checked out the Chiller network?), not of what’s to come—which could be why Sorkin is bowing out of the TV game.
–Thomas Sadoski wins the episode for the best performances with food props. First he gets the Tony Goldwyn salad-eating award for his scene with the new HR vice president, Wyatt Geary. Wyatt is already incredibly bored with his new gig, because he’s made outing the Don/Sloan relationship his personal cause. Even though Sloan and Don came clean last week, if their romance is made public, one of them could be transferred to a different bureau. Like, one in another city. So Sadoski’s second foodie award goes for his ability to shovel hors d’oeuvres into an unsuspecting elderly partygoer’s mouth at the Correspondents’ Dinner in order to deflect Wyatt’s attention from the hors d’oeuvres’ intended recipient: Sloan.
–Newsroom executive producer Paul Lieberstein, in the role of EPA deputy assistant administrator Richard Westbrook (the guy who gave Maggie the exclusive interview on the train last week), takes what could have been a completely forgettable subplot and runs with it. His EPA report on how “the world is coming to an end” has landed on News Night‘s schedule thanks to Maggie, but the associate producer’s glee is short-lived when Westbrook’s on-air appearance devolves into the ramblings of a doomsday kook on par with this classic Ghostbusters speech.