Granted, this is seriously late, and some of it may already be jossed by the episode that aired the other day. But I haven't seen episode 6 yet, and still have Things To Say about episode 5, so here goes--
There's a particular joy to watching people be good at their jobs. (Insert a broad value of "jobs" here.) The West Wing was full of it. The parts of speeches and montages where Will rattles off facts are good examples, particularly when we get to see behind-the-scenes crack newspeople rushing around to pull those facts together. The original scene with Amen, where they're going over technical specs rapid-fire, was excellent. I don't even know what the details mean; it was just fun to watch.
The show ought to be doing so much more of this.
Instead we keep getting scenes that are distractingly incompetent. On all levels. Even the security people are apparently unable to keep angry non-employees out of the building while News Is Being Done.
And Let's Talk About Mackenzie In Particular
We've gotten almost no rapid-fire-competence scenes for Mackenzie since the pilot, a trend which is really kind of worrying. Some blind spots and physical comedy in a competent and multitalented character are one thing, but when almost all we see on-screen is her weaknesses (doesn't understand anything about the economy; only pretends to understand the very segments she's producing; distracted from learning by sobbing over Will; thinks you can stop a person from getting their email by crushing their phone; puts her boyfriend on-air without realizing he's going to run for Congress...), it grates.
At least before this episode we could suspend disbelief with "look, she's been reporting from war zones for the past two years -- that's tough work, taking bravery and skill and fast thinking, and does not require knowing the difference between commercial banks and investment banks!" But now that image is starting to be shredded. We've got hints that Mac "almost got her team killed" in Afghanistan...and when the Arab Spring dawns, she doesn't know that the Egyptian Army is "not the good guys."
(Meanwhile, Maggie continues to have no major scenes that aren't about yelling at her immediate superior. And Allison Pill is playing this in a really abrasive way, too -- it would have worked on a more comedic series, it would have been great on The Guild, but here it just exacerbates the unprofessionalism in the writing. At least Sloan is consistently awesome; she's not portrayed as flawless, but her social awkwardness doesn't interfere with her visibly knowing her stuff. Now please don't let me regret saying that.)
In an earlier review I said Sorkin was showing us competent women, even while telling us about great men. That's turned on its head. He keeps telling us the women are competent (best EP in the business!), but the series keeps falling down at showing it.
The lack of visible, tangible competence is one of many reasons why Will's confrontation toward the end here sucked so much.
To recap: An organization that discovers that a major news producer is literally in bed with politics, and reports it? Tedious gossipmongers, who insult the name of journalism.
An organization that can't figure out that it's being used for self-promotion by a would-be politician, tries to keep this quiet first with hush money and then with threats, and has a list of accomplishments that mostly involves its members injuring themselves by running into things? Serious Journalism, the kind of Great Men the country needs to show it the way.
Also, there is nothing wrong with having to subtract on your fingers -- you don't have to be able to do math in your head to understand it. So why Will described Mac here as if she were a Lifetime-movie teenager from a rough background buckling down to graduate high school and make something of herself, I have no idea.
Also, That End...
My first time watching the episode, I seriously zoned out during the whole "let us recap the end of some sports movie for you" moment. So the last scene was meaningful as a standalone thing. The newsroom comes together to support a comrade! Hugs and tears all around.
On rewatch, I think it worked much better that way. The analogy is a lousy one, and feels like a cheap ploy to add emotional weight, which doesn't work if you haven't seen the movie. Maybe not even if you have, since, come on, Amen is (with respect to the characters on the show) a real person, a real kid who put his life at risk to get Will and company on-the-ground news about a breaking revolution. Why should we need a comparison to a '90s football film to find that story more compelling?
(Oh, ugh, is the scale Manly Entertainment > Real News > Womanly Entertainment?)
Other parts of the scenario fall apart a bit under scrutiny, but I think that's fixable. For instance, we've already had it stressed that Will is the only millionaire in the office. Shelling out some of his own cash to save Amen is the first time we've seen him do something tangible to back up Mackenzie's "he would throw himself in front of a train for any of you" assertion. To make it work that he takes his employees' money in repayment for this supposedly selfless gesture, I'm headcanoning in that he doesn't put it in his own bank account, but donates it to someone. Maybe Doctors Without Borders, earmarked for use in Egypt, to offset the damages done by the weapons that Amen's kidnappers probably bought with the ransom money.