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'The Newsroom' recap, 'Red Team III'

By Ethan Renner

For The Baltimore Sun

8:01 AM EDT, August 26, 2013

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"No one is ever going to believe us again." — Mackenzie McHale

"The Newsroom" began the last third of its second season with Don facing Rebecca and the ACN legal team, pleading with them to recognize the absurdity of why they were all there.

It wasn't Maggie, freshly traumatized from her time in Africa, who had erred; it was Jerry. It wasn't Will in all his pompous grandeur who had cut up an interview trying to make a name for himself; it was Jerry.

It wasn't Charlie who had deceived a room filled with his peers in an effort to bring down a president; it was Jerry. It wasn't Mac who had tarnished the good name of an entire news operation and a retired Marine general chasing what turned out to be a false story; it was Jerry.
 
Don certainly hadn't done wrong, but there he was, giving a statement to a conference table filled with lawyers with expensive haircuts, because Jerry was suing ACN for wrongful termination in the wake of the Genoa story.

It wasn't long before Don was forced to admit that while no individual member of the ACN team had flagrantly done the wrong that Jerry had, perhaps the News Night institution as a whole had failed, which gave credence to Jerry's lawsuit and provided the thrust for the rest of the episode.

We saw Don, Jim, Neal and Sloan laying out Genoa for Rebecca, detailing the sources -- seven in all -- that they had used to put the story together. We also flashed back to the third meeting of the "Red Team."

It was there that we saw the acrimony between Jerry and Don, Jim, Neal and Sloan. The four of those characters that we know best also knew each other best. They were loyal to each other, and they trusted their guts. So when Jim still had reservations about the story, they jumped to his defense, while Jerry went into attack mode.

Ultimately, the final call to run with the story was made by Will. Mac and Charlie were inclined to go with Jerry. Will chose to trust the people that he knew best, Mac and Charlie. And so, Genoa was a go.

As the ACN special report aired, we saw a pensive Jim wringing his hands in the control room. We saw Mac, steering the broadcast with perhaps a little less confidence than usual. We saw Charlie watching the report from his office, pacing. And we saw Jerry staring at the monitors in his weaselly, Jerry way.

Right after the broadcast, Charlie got a call -- just as he was about to enjoy a celebratory drink -- from General Stomtonovich. I used to work with someone who would have celebratory drinks in the office. She really seemed to celebrate a lot of things. Made it to work? Celebrate! Time for lunch? Celebrate! You know that thing where vodka is supposed to be odorless? I don't think that applies to grape vodka. I can still remember that smell.

Stomtonovich maintained that he hadn't said that the United States had used sarin gas, and claimed that his interview had been edited. Mac and Will talked it out while Will watched a football game, and we got the first overt clue as to how Mac will catch the edit Jerry made, as Will explained the shot clock in basketball. Hey, there was a basketball game playing on the television screen in Stomtonovich's interview!

Everyone at ACN wondered why the Department of Defense had not immediately responded to the story. It was now the morning after and still, no response. Charlie and Will congratulated each other on the huge ratings that the special broadcast had done, while Neal and Mac went about business as usual.

Business as usual changed when the team received an email from the Department of Defense, threatening legal action. Mac tried to calm Will, saying that they knew that they would catch some flack for the story. But in her mind, and in the the minds of everyone on the team, there was some doubt. Still, they decided to stand by the story. Or, more accurately, they decided to stand by each other, in the face of what was fast becoming a story with serious holes.

ACN doubled down on the story, running Eric Sweeney, one of the sources for the story, out on Elliott's show to tell his story. In telling his story, Sweeney revealed that he had suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, immediately calling his credibility into question.

In an emergency meeting, the story continued to fall apart, as Maggie revealed that she had not been in the room when Jerry interviewed Stomtonovich. Charlie was still in, though, and Will's previously undisclosed mystery source told him to stand by the story.

Mac instructed the team to go back over every inch of the story. For her, that meant questioning herself, and whether or not she had asked Valenzuela, the witness that gave ACN the gumption to run with the story, leading questions when she interviewed him. Will tried to comfort her, but he couldn't.

Charlie met with Shep, his source, who seemed to reveal that he had given Charlie bad information in retaliation for ACN firing his son, who later died, from an internship with the news organization. Boom.

While her crew began chasing the Benghazi story, Mac went to the edit bay and discovered the edit that Jerry had made to the Stomtonovich interview. Mac cornered Jerry in an elevator, confronted him and fired him. She went to Will's office and delivered the news that they would have to retract Genoa to him and their team. Everyone slumped their shoulders and lowered their heads. All that was missing was the sad Charlie Brown music.

Will detailed to the legal team how the Genoa story had called everything about their operation into question, and how they hadn't been able to run with Benghazi as they would have liked to, because their integrity had been compromised. He laid out the actual facts of the Genoa mission, and told Rebecca that he and his team would resign after the election the next day.

Charlie, Mac and Will met with Leona and told her of their intention to resign. Leona had just missed out on a chance to meet Daniel Craig and had taken to having a few celebratory beverages to deal with her disappointment. In her state, she told them that she was proud of all of them, that she loved ACN, and that she would not accept their resignations.

Final Thoughts

"Red Team III" stayed away from the toxic love triangle that has derailed a number of episodes in the past, dealing only with the Genoa story and mercifully putting it to bed. The dialogue lacked the crispness that we've come to expect from the show, but understandably so. This hour was all plot.

It's hard to do too much wrong with the talented cast Aaron Sorkin has assembled here, particularly when he gives Emily Mortimer (who is just delightful in everything she's in) and an old pro like Sam Waterston room to strut their stuff. "Red Team III" gave Mortimer and Waterston and Jane Fonda the stage, and they did the rest. Good stuff.