WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!
January 8, 2011, was a very bad, bad day here in Arizona. It’s the day the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was attacked and shot in the head by an extremely unbalanced man. This came in the wake of a whole series of discussions in the media about guns an some ill-advised political rhetoric that used gun imagery. Giffords survived, though a bunch of other people, including a little girl, did not. It was, as I said, a very bad day in Arizona.
I mention this because the media event that’s used for this week’s episode of HBO’s series is, as you may have guessed, the shooting. Its use turned what was otherwise a rather boring, unexceptional episode into something interesting. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.
As we begin this episode, Will (Jeff Daniels) is hanging out in his office wearing a rather stylish tux. Turns out that it’s New Year’s Eve and there’s a big party in the office. McKenzie (Emily Mortimer) brings in her boyfriend, a federal prosecutor, to talk with Will (who, the episode reminds us about twenty times, is a Republican), about Congress gutting his office’s budget so that he can’t prosecute the big banks. This was rather an interesting thing, but sadly the episode then goes to Will hitting on a gossip columnist. She’s preparing a “takedown” piece on one of the Real Housewives of Whocaresburg. Will is appalled by this, saying:
“I’m not putting you down, I’m saying that what you do is a form of pollution that makes us dumber and meaner and is bringing down civilization, and I would have more respect for you if you were a heroin dealer.”
Well, there’s no way that can lead to anything bad. Soon he’s dating his usual series of women and there’s a whole lot of coverage in various tabloids talking about his personal life. It gets so bad that he eventually ends up as the cover story in a celebrity “news” rag owned by the same parent company that owns ACN. It seems that Jane Fonda’s character is living up to her threats from last week.
Now this I liked. I liked it a lot. I liked Will’s comment on the way that celebrity “news” is generally covered. I liked that we saw what a coordinated media takedown can be like. I also really liked that they highlighted the incestuous relationship the various media branches have. Had this been the only plot to this episode, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
Sadly, this episode also continued to chronicle the “relationship” between Jim (John Gallagher, Jr), and Maggie (Allison Pill), while also showing her actual relationship with Don (Thomas Sadowski). I continue to not even remotely care about this and all the little bits of jealousy and misunderstanding and everything else continue to come off as poorly written as, say, a junior high school play on the same topic.
This episode also did nothing for the character of Neal (Dev Patel). I like Dev Patel. I’ve liked him ever since I first saw him in Skins. His character in this show is supposed to be a blogger and all-around tech geek, which is fine, but in this episode he’s shown being bizarrely obsessed with Bigfoot, even to the point of calling everyone in for a meeting on a Saturday (a power I’m surprised he has). This really just makes him look like a clueless idiot. I hope there are plans for his character down the line, because so far he just doesn’t work.
I continue to have great hopes for this show overall, but I believe strongly that it’s at its best when it focuses on the sausage-making process of the news, and at its weakest when it focuses on personal relationships. Sorkin just can’t write those, and yet he seems unwisely interested in them. It is, at least at this point, an interest that is dragging down the show.