12 August 2013
People really like to call Aaron Sorkin sexist. Now, I’ve shared on many occasions my firm belief that his often weakly drawn female characters have entirely more to do with his inability to understand women than any honest belief that we are inferior (man’s got no game, I feel pretty strongly that his writing shows us that). But this most recent episode of The Newsroom seems to suggest that Sorkin’s got a little Don Keefer in him as much as he’s got a lot of Will McAvoy; that “someone told you you’re a bad guy” thing seems to have crept up on the writer and boy is he trying to make Maggie move in with him (also, he loves Sloan more than words can wield the matter).
This episode was all about women (with a dash of Trayvon Martin coverage thrown in there to somehow appease the weirdos who think he’s racist and also the thoroughly justified people who think he’s a liberal megaphone- the story got a shockingly balanced angle that showed the team trying hard not to hop on assumptions of villainy too early in the story, even if hindsight means the viewers would have been totally okay if they had). Maggie talked about the treatment of “sluts” in contemporary American culture. Mack bristled at the word “bitch” before laying an awesomely deserved yet wonderfully cool-headed smackdown on a kid trying to take advantage of her. Will’s dad died offscreen in a touching story that put an end to the life of a wife-beating drunk (with remarkable conflicting empathy, I must say). Someone brought up the “war on women” and we briefly discussed the unhelpful ways in which that’s been used to attack the innocent and thus marginalize real sexism. It all, by the way, played out in real time against one full hour of “News Night with Will McAvoy” (also the episode’s title).
But let’s talk about the real story of the episode and the biggest and most interesting piece of the conversation about women that Sorkin seems to be having in his writer’s room. Brought to you by the beautiful and ballsy Olivia Munn.
Until her brilliant performance as Sloan Sabbith on The Newsroom (a character who was pretty kickass in season one and, I would argue, the breakout character of season two so far), Munn was known pretty much entirely for being hot. Really hot. Like Maxim “Hot List” hot in that guys-love-her/girls-hate-her kind of way. She did some interesting work (she was a Daily Show Correspondent and hilarious on the not-at-all bad sitcom Perfect Couples) but she was mostly known as hot. This was not helped by the 2012 phone hacking that (just months before the serious role that would prove just how seriously talented she is) made her one of the most notoriously sex scandaled actresses of the current generation. The leaked pictures were two-fold. First there were the sort of actual nude photos that often leak from the phones of hacked hot celebrities (or are accidentally tweeted, as in the case of fellow Newsroomer Allison Pill’s topless shot), not particularly more interesting than the photos from her Maxim shoots that were clearly meant for publication. The real problem was the other set of photos- technically less risqué but with outrageously dirty instructions (for then-boyfriend Chris Pine) superimposed onto them. Like, think of the dirtiest thing you’ve ever seen in writing. Now double it. That’s the sort of stuff supposedly written by Munn to Pine on these photos. It’s never been proven that the writing was hers but the photos themselves are most definitely not fakes and the shadow of their explicitness is going to follow Munn around forever, no matter how many Emmy-worthy performances she gives.
Sloan’s daring, original and affecting storyline in this generally excellent episode was about an ex-boyfriend leaking naked photos of her online. There are obviously some key differences (Sloan’s leak was personal as opposed to illegal hacking, Munn is actress not a TV Economist and therefore not as professionally threatened by the exposure) but this was clearly Munn’s story. I’m fascinated by that prospect- whose idea was it? Did the writers have the guts and/or insensitivity to ask Munn to do this story? Did she come into the writer’s room to tell her side or is she speaking Sorkin and his team’s perspective on her own experience? The heart-wrenchingly honest emotional side of Sloan’s arc in this episode suggests that Munn must have at least shared her experiences with the writers. I just don’t see how Sorkin could have gotten inside a reaction like that if Munn hadn’t led him there. But even if she was just speaking lines with a heavy coincidental bent, the wide open way she played the scenes was, as Don calls it, “impressive” in a this-is-me bravery kind of way. Sloan spends most of the episode hiding in a dark office with Don at her side, their emotional contemplation of Sloan’s predicament punctuated by a goofy subplot about Don’s dry wit being taken as a legitimate news quote from a “reliable source”. My two favourite characters are never better than when they’re together and this story showed us so much of who each of them is. It was insightful, emotional and just a really beautiful handling of a perspective no one really thinks about. In the process of watching Sloan’s humiliation turn to rage, we saw not only more of who she is but a glimpse of the real Munn as well.