Great movie moments don't always have to be great visual spectacle. They don't even need to occur in the movies. When Will McAvoy gives his opening speech in the first moments of The Newsroom, we are being treated to cinematic drama of the purest caliber. Shortly after the series premiere on HBO last year, the speech went viral on YouTube and it gathered over a million views, which is not bad for a political statement by an as yet unknown character.
FUNCTION OF THE SCENE
Will McAvoy’s speech, flawlessly delivered by Jeff Daniels, is indicative of the type of show we are getting and it gives us a flavour of what to expect from the episode climaxes in this series. At the same time it sets up the unpredictable and uncompromising nature of the main character. When we see Will's producer MacKenzie appear and disappear, it sets up mystery about him: is he seeing or imagining her? And if he is merely imagining, does this mean he is crazy? Finally, this scene is the TV equivalent of the trademark James Bond opening action sequence. It gets our attention by way of shock therapy as Will provokes the American audience by stating something no proud citizen of any nation would like to hear. It takes balls to do this. Or a big name, like Aaron Sorkin.
Sorkin is a master of dramatic structure. Although the speech sits right at the beginning of the episode, it has its own long first act during which the problem is stated by the other speakers, and anticipation is built by showing Will's increasingly agitated body language. Of the eight minutes this scene runs for, only the last three are taken up by the speech. But when Will erupts, we are rewarded for the long wait. The second act contains all Will's arguments - I chuckled at “Belgium has freedom!” - and he closes with gravitas in the scene's final act by reiterating: “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.” At the very end of the speech you’ll recognise Sorkin’s comic relief tag: “Enough?”
In the speech and in the ensuing series, Sorkin addresses issues that David Simon had already brought to the attention of the American audience in The Wire (and in his 2011 lecture at the University of North Carolina). But where The Wire was raw, yet complex and razor sharp, The Newsroom is more stylised, glossier and simpler. After all, the priorities at the fictional network ACN’s aren’t too far from HBO’s: ratings first, informing voters next. And despite the newsmakers' commitment to show both sides of each story, Will McAvoy really doesn't. Will and his producer MacKenzie have an agenda, just like Sorkin. The question is, does it work? Politically, perhaps. Dramatically, definitely. Season Three has been confirmed.