Smugness is a common problem for the cast in “Unintended Consequences” which begins with Will (Jeff Daniels) shredding Neal‘s (Dev Patel) friend Shelley Wexler (Aya Cash) live on the air over the more ridiculous aspects of Occupy Wall Street (as writer/creator Aaron Sorkin continues to make no bones about how inane he believes the entire protest to be). The trouble for the rest of the staff is the fact that Shelley has what may be the only source left for Jerry (Hamish Linklater) to continue the Operation Genoa story (stretching the story’s bounds of coincidence and lucky breaks to even more absurd levels) but is far less willing to share that information after being made a fool of in front of 1.5 million viewers unless Will agrees to an on-air apology. Yeah sister, that ain’t happening.
The various attempts by the staff to try and coax the name of the source of Shelley meet with Neal getting punched in the stomach followed by visits by both Sloan (Olivia Munn) and Don (Thomas Sadoski), neither of whom help the cause by their lack of understanding of the actual story and their own smugness that keeps sending the young woman off in a huff. The end of the episode finds Will, who still doesn’t know about Genoa, visiting Shelley and apologizing, not for his smugness, but the joy he took in making himself look good while beating up on her cause.
“Unintended Consequences” also finally gets around to Maggie (Alison Pill) and Gary’s (Chris Chalk) trip to Africa and the fallout that leaves her somewhat broken following an attack on the orphanage by cattle thieves in the dead of the night and the final days of Jim on the campaign trail, whose own smugness gets him the interview he’s been asking for and a chivalrous decision that gets him dragged back to New York for good. Of the two storylines it’s Maggie’s which has the more last effects as the episode brings back Marcia Gay Harden and her legal team looking back at the events that led to News Night broadcasting their report about Operation Genoa and the mental state of those making the tough decisions around a story that turned out to not be true.
The heavy foreshadowing makes it impossible not to see the possible end of Maggie’s story coming well before the death of a young child she was trying to save. The story still works, and helps lay groundwork for a different version of the character (hopefully less crazy) who returns from Africa and fights her own smugness and pain during her deposition in the sequences that take place six months later. In much the same way Jim’s final days with the campaign play out as expected as he gets a chance to play the hero (and as always gets yelled at for it) and finally says goodbye both to his tormentor (Constance Zimmer) and a possible new love interest (Grace Gummer).
As the episode wraps up the show is nearly at its halfway point for both the year (we’re now told we’re only six months away from Genoa being reported and ACN being sued) and the season. Operation Genoa finally looks real enough to force MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) to take it seriously, and Jim and Maggie are both back in the studio (although each is effected in different ways by their time away). Sorkin, who has often been accused of being smug certainly champions the theme throughout this episode as even when admitting his mistake Will refuses to apologize for the overall disdain and superiority with which he views the rest of the world. It might make him a good anchor, but despite Sorkin’s best attempts at portraying him as such, it certainly doesn’t make him a great man.