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'The Newsroom' Recap: 'Red Team III' Is (Gasp!) A Pretty Good Episode

"Red Team III" was good! It was a good episode. It really was. Now, of course, in being good, it was also essentially the opposite of every single other episode of the season.
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Note: please don't read on if you haven't seen Season 2, Episode 7, "Red Team III."

So I feel like I need to talk to my shrink, or someone with a sympathetic ear, because I'm feeling all these weird feelings I haven't really felt before. I watched an episode of "The Newsroom" and I...liked it.

Yep, I said it. "Red Team III" was good! It was a good episode. It really was.

Now, of course, in being good, it was also essentially the opposite of every single other episode of the season. No horrifying romantic triangles, a bare minimum of speechifying, just a dash of current events from a year ago. Take away all of the lousy stuff, and "The Newsroom" is a pretty decent show.

Rather than get bogged down in all that muck, "Red Team III" is devoted nearly entirely to the unraveling of the Genoa story. Last week, I worried that making Jerry the ultra-villain would seriously cripple any dramatic tension the plot had. The answer to that question is "yes, sort of," but, even though he's still a problematic character, there's enough going on that it's OK. That could be said of much of what happens during the episode. The breakdown of the Genoa story comes in waves, each worse than the last. Each wave has the same kernel of implausibility at its core, but everything manages to avoid tipping over into outright ridiculousness, and each carries with it enough dramatic spark to bring us along.

For instance, it was always strange that nobody noticed the very obvious edit in the general's footage, and it was equally strange that MacKenzie would wait for days to review it closely. But for once, Emily Mortimer has something good to do with her character, and she embraces MacKenzie's creeping horror at what she missed and what she allowed to happen. Her scene with Jerry in the elevator is probably the best she's had so far. Thus, we can forgive any weakness in the story.

The Charlie twist is also good for its genuine surprise, if not for its somewhat soapy overtones. Charlie did the right journalistic thing, getting rid of someone unprofessional and disloyal instead of helping his longtime source. Then he paid big time for letting his ethics win out. Sam Waterston does getting slapped in a parking garage by a grief-stricken, vengeful friend very well indeed.

Oh, and Jane Fonda is back. Can Jane Fonda please never leave? First of all, her hair is fabulous in this episode--just grade A+ hair. Secondly, she has that ability inherent in actors who have earned our awe to exude power merely by walking onscreen. Leona walks in, and you want to watch her and only her, always and forever. And Fonda is having so much obvious fun in the part--is she drunk or high or both or simply outlandishly satisfied with herself?--that she just sashays away with the whole scene.

The question, of course, is whether "The Newsroom" can keep this up. I have my doubts, to say the least. (The Benghazi stuff was the show at its very worst--of course the team knows the real story when everyone else doesn't!) But maybe next week's episode will just be scenes of Jane Fonda dishing out orders to people, and I can finally declare this extremely flawed program to be the masterpiece many always thought it could be. Fingers crossed, everyone.

The Newsroom airs Sundays at 10 PM on HBO.