'Press' Episode 4 Recap: "Magic"

(Photo: Courtesy of Lookout Point /Colin Hutton) 

This week, the fallout from the Joshua West story shook up everything on Press. Broken from the failure to print an edition for the first time in the paper's history, Amina orders Holly to write a front-page apology. This despite The Post's grabbing the story, plagiarizing Holly's notes, and getting it up in their stead breaking the dam of silence around it. Over a dozen women have come forward, but Amina refuses to touch the story again. She declares she's resigning at the end of the day, and The Herald will take its lumps and move on.

Over at The Post, owner Emmerson has made an appearance. Sure, he's pleased Allen did some real journalism (no matter what he did to get it done), but the Prime Minister's family photos wound up running next to it. The PM is enraged: Photos he didn't want on the front page, winding up next to a giant "Sex Pest" headline. He's so mad, he's barred The Post from the press briefings. Emmerson wants Allen to apologize and make it go away. First he asks, and then he stands on Allen's neck until it is done. But Allen's pride is now wounded by this forced capitulation. He's officially at war.

Meanwhile, Leona drags James to meet up with the terrible right-wing Wendy Bolt from the premiere episode. Apparently, Wendy is a family friend, and she's decided she wants The Herald to manage her coming PR crisis. What's she done? Does it matter? It's really all about Bolt versus Edwards going from restaurant to restaurant and bar and drinking, all on The Herald's dime, so that they can argue-counter-argue over the principles of journalism. And after all that, it's not for her at all. It's West. He wants Edwards to interview him for The Herald, which will act as his PR cover and in turn, make the story go away, which Amina agrees to run.

(Photo: Courtesy of Lookout Point /Colin Hutton) 

But this is all too much for Holly. She heads over to The Post to see Allen, to see if his offer is real. Not only does he back it up by promising to put her front and center as a Special Correspondent, but hands her a key to Joshua West's club so she can go snooping and sneaking and perhaps find the story on him — with a chance to confront him face to face as well. Of course, she finds the goods on West. (Naturally, there was at least one underage girl in the batch.) Edwards then uses it in the interview. West, discovering he's walked into a trap, storms out. Amina feels rejuvinated and retracts her resignation.

But it's not enough for Holly. They got the story, but only because she refused to listen to Amina. She hijacked what would have been The Herald kowtowing to the powerful, and she's done working at a place that is drowning in naivete. She walks out and demands The Post make her an offer, which Allen is only too happy to accept.

This episode is everything wrong with Press

(Photo: Courtesy of Lookout Point /Colin Hutton) 

For four episodes now, it's been striking how absolutely off the mark Press has been from the very beginning. The way it has treated The Herald like a sad sack from the very first, the way it seems to believe The Post's behavior is somehow excusable. This episode takes every opportunity to espouse these views. From Bolt's sneering speeches to Edwards over drinks while he squirms with rage, to Allen's pitch to Holly about why she should quit and come work for him, it's all ugly. The worst is West's speech to Holly, which comes off as an attempt at a variation of Arthur Jensen's speech to Howard Beale in Network about where the power really lies. The other side is never allowed to step up and fight for responsible journalism, though it's not clear it's because writer Mike Bartlett assumes everyone knows what their argument is, or doesn't care to make it. Allen will now fight for the side of right against whatever the PM is trying to cover up with Resonance. But it's not because he cares about right, it's because he wants to win. Lucky us, I guess.

Moreover, the show is just the most irritating because it doesn't care about getting what journalism in 2019 is like. The scene where Bolt runs up The Herald's bill, or Holly's entry into the club are merely the latest in a long line of egregious failures in reality. Perhaps Bartlett would argue the details don't matter because it's about the story, the drama. And I certainly am used to shows getting online journalism laughably wrong. Unforgotten Season 3, for instance, had an entire subplot of a "right-wing blogger" that was inaccurate to the point of absurdity, suggesting no one on the show had written anything on the internet since roughly 2004. But a mystery series like that doesn't need to get it right, because that's not what the show is about.

Press, on the other hand, is about the press. Even more damningly, SuccessionPress' twin series over on HBO, is getting it right. Succession isn't even about the actual newsroom. The show's focus is on the Emmerson-like figure, Logan Roy, and his family. The "press" part is treated like an object, the Iron Throne to be won. And yet, HBO's series, when it does deign to send a Roy family member to grace a newsroom with their presence, not only gets it right but are uncannily on the nose. Succession's pinpoint accuracy of what it is to work in media in this day and age only highlights in sharp relief how every other series has failed. And that includes Press.

Perhaps, having gotten all of these speeches out of its system this week, Press can at least get back to telling whatever story it's attempting to convey, or at least undercover whatever Resonance is. But there's a reason this show didn't get a second season.