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[Spoilers ahead from Sunday’s episode, “The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers.”]
If there’s one thing that viewers will remember from the season one finale of HBO’s The Newsroom, it’s that Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) signed off a News Night show by deeming the Tea Party the “American Taliban.” That didn’t go over well with some people. Season two picks up right after the finale and incorporates a new structure for the series built around flashbacks.
After the revamped intro titles roll, the drama begins with McAvoy smirking at ACN’s lawyer, Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden), while she tries to elicit answers about why his show went on the air with a story alleging that the U.S. used nerve gas in an operation called Genoa. The details of the operation are unclear, but News Night had to retract the story.
Also during the meeting, it’s revealed that associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) — seen with short hair dyed red — went on a trip to Uganda to chase a story, and “it got real very fast and she came back a little messed up,” McAvoy said. The show then flashes back to 14 months earlier — Aug. 23, 2011, to be exact — where it starts explaining the “American Taliban” aftermath.
First off, the president of ACN’s parent company, Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), got shut out of a House Judiciary Committee meeting on SOPA. Consequently, McAvoy is pulled off the 10th-anniversary September 11 coverage for the network by Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), president of ACN’s news division.
The News Night team, meanwhile, is covering the rebels taking over the Libyan capital of Tripoli and experienced a series of technical problems during the story of the dismissed criminal charges against ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), who runs the show’s blog, becomes fascinated with the nascent Occupy Wall Street movement. “I believe America is on the verge of starting its own Arab Spring,” he says during his story pitch. The pitch is declined by MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), but Sampat attends a OWS planning meeting anyway.
Since it’s August of 2011, it’s also very early in election primary season, and an ACN staffer who was covering the Mitt Romney campaign in New Hampshire broke his foot. Senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), who’s still in love with Maggie but crushed that she’s now living with Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), signs up to cover Romney. Harper gets refused entry to the press bus by a conservative operative who wasn’t pleased by the “American Taliban” comment.
It turns out Harper didn’t have to go to N.H. after all. Late in the first season, Maggie ranted at a Sex in the City bus tour about how she was in love with the guy her friend, Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), was dating. The guy was Jim Harper. He was on the tour and chased after her. In season two’s first episode, it was revealed that the incident was caught on tape, posted on YouTube and made its way to Don Keefer, Maggie’s boyfriend. Keefer moves out of the apartment.
Back to the news. Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), a producer from ACN’s D.C. bureau, is recruited to fill in for Harper while he covers the Romney campaign. Dantana is eager to report on President Obama‘s counterterrorism policy, and ACN’s business anchor Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) seconds the notion. Dantana decides to include a military expert on a News Night drone strike panel.
The expert annoys the news team with his pointed demeanor while serving on the panel. To make up for it, he offers Dantana a tip on a story. What type of story? “The kind that makes careers and ends presidencies,” he says solemnly, mentioning Genoa. The news producer can’t help but laugh. The episode ends back in the meeting with ACN lawyers 14 months later to discuss how the reporting on Genoa went wrong.
The Newsroom airs at 10 p.m. on Sundays on HBO.
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