WARNING: Significant spoilers follow
This was the best episode of the series so far. It was tight, intelligent, focused and had a…well, not perfect ratio of “news” to “soap opera”, but it was pretty close.
This episode took place on the evening of May 1, 2011. That was the night we learned that President Obama had ordered an assault on a compound where Osama bin Laden had been hiding. Bin Laden was killed in the attack.
This episode wasn’t really about that attack. It was about the way that news broadcasters handle major events. It was about the efforts to confirm and confirm again, and people trying their hardest not to report mere rumors but to report facts. It’s also about the pressure news providers feel to provide the story, however weakly sourced it might be, before their competitors do.
The news first starts to arrive with Charlie (Sam Waterston) receiving a phone call from an anonymous source. Said source tells him, by way of confirming his value, that the White House will soon be sending Charlie an email to get to work. Charlie brushes this off, but it nags at him. Soon ACN’s resident national security expert is contacting people saying he’s available to come on the air. Shortly thereafter, everyone is scrambling to get to work.
There’s problems with this scramble. Will (Jeff Daniels) is a bit stoned on a mix of strong medical marijuana and Vicodin. Sloane (Olivia Munn), Don (Thomas Sadowski) and Elliot are all stuck on a plane. And no one else is able to get any confirmation of exactly what’s happening, so Charlie won’t let them run with the story.
I really liked all the news coverage aspects in this episode. They really worked and worked well. Even though I knew that the story was the death of Bin Laden, it was really fascinating to see what everyone else thought it might be. I also loved that they showed the consequences of what can happen when you roll with a story before you have all the information. That doing so made Fox News look bad was a nice bit of icing on the cake.
I also very much enjoyed that the story showed the pure pleasure that comes with telling people something they don’t know. When Don is able to tell the flight crew about the death of Bin Laden, and when the bodyguard does the same with the NYPD officers, it not only shows the importance of waiting until you have the story right, but also does indeed show how nice it can be to be the one to tell someone something important that they don’t already know.
And I was especially fascinated by the cliff-hanger ending they used where it’s revealed that Charlie’s new source works for the NSA and has information that ACN’s parent company has been tapping into phones ala News of the World. It’s a big story and has me actually looking forward to what the next two episodes.
Now, you’ll notice that I haven’t addressed the soap opera aspects just yet. That’s because they sucked, as per usual, though they did suck somewhat less. Very briefly, Jim (John Gallagher, Jr) told his girlfriend that he loves her after she said the same to him. But he doesn’t. Maggie (Allison Pill) is less than pleased with this and urges him to break up. Hilarity ensues.
About the only part of that storyline that I liked was the way that Lisa, the girlfriend, handled it. She knew Jim wasn’t in love with her and lets him off the hook. Then at the end, he comes back and asks her if they can start over again. I really liked both those things, and if the show builds on that, I’ll be much happier with the relationship stories.
In fact, I think I’ve figured out what the golden ratio for this program is. It should be 85% “news” story and 15% soap opera. This episode was about 80/20, so it was close. If they can continue making progress in that direction, I’ll be one happy camper.