Which is longer? The time between a real-life event and its portrayal on The Newsroom or the time between an Olympic event and its broadcast on NBC?

This week’s episode, “Bullies,” takes place in April 2011, so the question seems relevant. It begins with Will (Jeff Daniels) stumbling through the close to his show. After an impromptu eye test by producer Mac (Emily Mortimer), Will reveals that he’s suffering from insomnia. He hasn’t been to see his psychologist in four years despite keeping – and paying for – a regular appointment.

When he finally returns to Doctor Habib, he is welcomed not by the venerable Abraham but by his son Jacob, also a doctor. Apparently Abraham died two years ago. Will just wants a sleeping pill, but Dr. Habib wants to know why he can’t sleep. What a doctor! As it turns out, Will has been the target of a death threat.

Like many people, Will is not a fan of anonymous Internet comments. (When will the episode about his setting up his Twitter account get here?) So he makes Neal (Dev Patel) set up an independent verification system to make sure there are no more such comments on the show’s website. Soon after that, he defends the Ground Zero mosque/community center by pointing out how many acts of violence Christians have committed throughout history. Then he gets his first death threat.

That leads to a meeting with Charlie (Sam Waterston), who tells Will he will get a bodyguard whether he wants it or not. He also asks about a sexual harassment complaint filed on behalf of Maggie (Alison Pill) after Will allegedly created a hostile work environment. As we all know, Will’s been in the tabloids a lot lately. To find out about these stories before they happen, Mac has Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie start digging stuff up – “opposition research” they call it.

But it wouldn’t be an episode of The Newsroom without some sexism. What caused Will to lose his cool at Maggie? Apparently she mixed up the country Georgia with the state Georgia. And, despite growing up in the age of AOL instant messenger and Google chat, she thought “lol” meant “lots of love” – and even wrote it on Will’s behalf on a condolence card. Sound like things an otherwise-capable worker would do? No?

But it doesn’t stop there. Don (Thomas SadoskI) tells Sloan (Olivia Munn), he needs her to fill in for his 10 p.m. show. She seems lukewarm on the idea, but once Don mentions Gucci clothes, she gets moderately excited. What’s the implication here? A woman won’t jump at a chance for professional advancement unless free clothes are thrown in?

After what turns out to be a disastrous pep talk from Will*, Sloan goes rogue in her fill-in role. In an interview with a spokesman for a Japanese power authority – this is after the meltdown – she accuses an interpreter of not properly translating her questions or the spokesman’s answers. Then she tries to directly question the spokesman – in Japanese. To make matters even worse, she refers to an off-the-record pre-interview she had with the spokesman, who apparently she has known for some time.  Her stance is that the Japanese are downplaying the threat.

*-Before this, she pokes the chest of Lonnie the Bodyguard and then giggles. But she is fluent in Japanese.

Before Don can scold her, Charlie comes down and lays into Sloan.  The best scenes in this show always involve Waterston. After a humorous rant, he suspends Sloan with pay because he’s worried she presents a credibility problem. (Where was he when Mac was having her boyfriend and wannabe Congressman on the show?) Don, to his credit, supports Sloan to a limited extent and lifts her chin up and pats her on the arm to close the scene.

As the episode continues to play with time, Will talks to his psychologist about his childhood living with an abusive and drunk father. (In case the comparison to Good Will Hunting wasn’t obvious enough, Aaron Sorkin works in a reference.)  Meanwhile, Maggie and Jim dig up some stuff on Will for Maggie, though she insists their work is for the good of the show. She learns that he didn’t tell her he had an offer from Fox to move to Los Angeles and start a talk show. She thinks that this means he wasn’t serious about her and confronts him in melodramatic fashion. But he shows her a ring he would have given her, and she is made to feel foolish.

But he wouldn’t have given it to her unless he bought a time machine. As the episode goes back to Dr. Habib’s office, Will reveals that he – or more accurately, his agent – bought the ring once he found out people would be digging into his past.

Meanwhile, Sloan is packing up her desk (and wearing an Atlantis Cable News hat)* when the staff finds video of a newscast saying her friend/spokesman will resign. Will finds her concern admirable. Later, in a humiliating moment for Sloan, Charlie tells her to say she misunderstood the Japanese number four to be seven (apparently they sound alike in Japanese) when discussing radiation levels. Sloan doesn’t want to lie on the air, but because it helps her spokesman/friend, she agrees to do it.

*-Who wouldn’t wear apparel of the company that just suspended her?

Meanwhile, we finally learn what provoked some of the comments earlier in the episode. Will tore into a black and gay Rick Santorum adviser for working for someone who appeared dead set on discrimination against gays. In a scene that cuts back between the interview and Dr. Habib’s office, Will makes clear that this interview, not any death threat, is what is keeping him up at night. Why does Will feel the need to bully and berate so much? That’s what Dr. Habib wants to find out.

Being labeled as one of the better episodes of The Newsroom may be the definition of damning with faint praise. But other than the odd ring subplot twist and Don’s worries about Jim and Maggie (no, that storyline will not die), this episode managed to keep the nonsense on the periphery. It had some of the best scenes (the Santorum aide interview and Charlie’s explosion).  Sorkin still has four episodes to go crazy with the romantic storylines, and he probably will.

 

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