THE NEWSROOM 1.6: “Bullies”

This week it was finally time to see Olivia Munn’s Sloan Sabbith (Let’s see Sylvester the cat pronounce that name!) in the spotlight. Let’s see THE NEWSROOM try to redeem its reputation for depicting women poorly.

Sloan is an interesting character: She’s the smartest person on the show, but she’s much better with numbers and economic theory than people. If she were a male character, she’d be a nerd or a geek that the other characters make fun of. (Neal almost faces this problem, but the show pulls back from outright ridicule.) Instead, creator Aaron Sorkin prefers to show Sloan repeatedly put into situations in which she is very uncomfortable; and she’s not very adept at wriggling out of them. She didn’t want to be Mackenzie’s galpal, but she couldn’t avoid it.

Which is okay with me. I read that Munn has no problem with the portrayal of her character — or any of the female characters on the show — because Sorkin is giving them flaws that make them human, instead of a Mary Sue. And I agree. It’s sort of like colorblind casting — Sorkin distributes character flaws regardless of gender. It is not anti-feminist to depict a female character with flaws. The don’t all have to be supremely confident goddesses on Earth — that’s what sitcom wives are for. Who’s the most jealous and petty character on the show? Don (Thomas Sadoski). He’s the one who’s worried about his relationship with Maggie (the delightfully adorkable Alison Pill). Who would argue that 10 years ago Maggie would be the one losing her marbles over love? Okay, so Maggie is not the sharpest knife in the drawer; but again, her faults are more human. Yes, she made a big deal out of Valentine’s Day — but she’s not a man, for crap’s sake.

Speaking of which, how about the stereotype of Jim being a man who just can’t help bungling Valentine’s Day and dates — “just like a man.” There is plenty of offense to go around.

Anyway, the big plotline saw Sloan anchor the 10 o’clock show and use her fluency in Japanese to nail a Japanese power industry spokesman in the aftermath of the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. She hit him so hard that she revealed what he had said to her off-the-record earlier in the day!

I gasped and my jaw fell open at the same time as Don screamed in the control room. A cardinal sin of journalism!! No matter how wrapped up in an argument she was, how could Sloan burn a source on the air? Especially Sloan, who has two Ph.Ds.! In economics, sure, but still….

It was highly entertaining to watch Sam Waterston’s Charlie having a conniption after Sloan came off the air. I’ve seen small children react more calmly to being told it’s time to turn off the Xbox and take a bath! For a second there, I actually thought poor Charlie (and Waterston!) was going to have an aneurism and die on the spot. I guess he was letting out all those years of pent-up aggression after playing the DA on LAW & ORDER. Sure, Jack McCoy could get angry and even indignant, but never once did he blow a gasket so severely that he resorted to calling a professional colleague “girl.” If they ever remake the movie Scanners, the producers have to hire Waterston; they won’t even need special effects to make his head explode!

The point of the exchange was that Sloan bullied the Japanese executive because she took Will’s (Jeff Daniels) advice too seriously when he told her not let a source lie to her on the air. So she simply didn’t back down when the Japanese interpreter spun the conversation via her translations. Sloan did not appreciate being lied to and so she stood up for herself.  Just a bit too aggressively.

But look at her role model! In a flashback stirred up when Will visited his psychiatrist for the first time in four years (only to discover that the son had taken over the practice two years ago), Will remembered bullying a spokesman for Sen. Rick Santorum when he was running for president. The spokesman happened to be black and gay, so Will pressed him on the senator’s disdain for homosexuals. Will pressed him and pressed him and wouldn’t accept any diversions or half-answers — until the man cracked and exploded at Will, giving him a dressing-down like we’ve never seen before. Yet, when it was all over, Will still took one last jab and deflated the last remaining pocket of the man’s pride. Will was such a bully.

It’s no wonder that everyone in the newsroom is afraid of him; he’s a scary guy. And one helluva frightening boss!

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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