Politics is a dangerous game to play whether it’s a polite argument between friends, a shouting match between two strangers after one overhears the other’s conversation, or when news anchors spew vitriol at each other on national television. Everyone loves to watch it, some people like to learn about, but everyone hates it when what could be a simple disagreement over second amendment rights has suddenly torpedoed an otherwise happy and enjoyable relationship. Will McAvoy has immersed his life in politics, but he doesn’t want to just play the game anymore. He’s tired of playing. He’s transcending the game. He’s making himself something more than just another talking head on the television screen. Will is going to be the only person in mainstream news who delivers objective news. But there is one thing that people need to know about him before they can trust him with delivering the news: Just who is Will McAvoy?
He’s a self described republican, stubborn, and despite a momentary lapse in judgment he tries to be a man of principle (momentary in this case being a number of years doing softball journalism). He can be bitter, he can be angry, and he’s the perfect encapsulation of what a news anchor should be because this show is the perfect encapsulation of what the news should be. Idealism at its finest. But this is a drama not Pleasantville, so something has to happen that shatters the almost dreamlike world these characters live in. And this comes in the form of an executive producer with whom he used to be romantically involved and who eventually cheated on him.
So he’s insecure. But I think there’s something deeper, I think that what makes him tick is what makes the entire show tick. Idealism. Will McAvoy needs everyone to love him. Or if not love than at least respect him. And for the longest time it seemed, even before the show began, that idealism held up to scrutiny. Until MacKenzie McHale cheated on him. and he had to pick up the pieces of himself. But often you can never put yourself back together properly after something that shocks the system in that way. You try fitting pieces together but you see they no longer match, and grabbing new things to fill the gaps only serves as a temporary solution. It leaves you raw. That’s why McAvoy decided to go for ratings over substantive reporting. Because that’s how he compensated for Mackenzie. He used the attention he gets from his audience as a substitute for love. But that could never hold right. So he became overly sensitive and distant. And cynical. Every time someone rejects him, insults him, ignores or hurts him in some way he lashes out. He’s perfect for prime time. That is, if he weren’t so self destructive.
It’s the natural progression for someone who’s stubborn to eventually devolve into troubling himself simply because that’s where he’s learned to thrive. His relationships with women, with his bosses, and that one time he reported the news while he was high on pot brownies and pills show that he needs to hurt himself, for no other reason than it’s what he knows. That isn’t to say that he knew he’d be going on air the night he got so high he forgot how to use a phone, but he was hosting a party in his own home and decided that then would be the perfect time for a nice buzz. After all, self-destruction is easy, and forgiveness is hard. Even if it’s a bit cliché, clichés are usually created when a truth becomes popular enough.
He does it because he has to remind himself that he’s hurting, and in doing so it reminds the person who hurt him as well. But there is never any satisfaction in it, because all hurting himself does is remind him that he’s become the problem not her, and guilt tripping is the weakest vengeance there is. It’s only satisfying until you realize you’re hurting yourself more than the person who hurt you in the first place, and it doesn’t take very long to get to that point.
I like Will McAvoy. He’s like the median, politically savvy American wrapped up in Aaron Sorkin’s eloquence despite the popular claim that most Americans are simple mouth breathers who love reality television, fried butter, and celebrity gossip. You don’t necessarily have to agree with everything he says or does but it’s important to the balance and objectivity of his journalism that the popular opinion is represented fairly. Most importantly he’s massively entertaining. When news reports are blatantly one sided or of questionable relevance to public discourse it’s nice that someone still stands up and asks, “Is this the best we can do?” It’s just unfortunate that it has to come from a fictional television show.