Episode Name: Grossberg's Return
Premise: Ned Grossberg, former Network 23 chairman, resurfaces at rival Network 66 and rolls out a plan to take the ratings lead away from Network 23.
Theme explored: This is the first episode that focused less on a specific theme and more on setting up the overarching storyline for the season -- that Grossberg, ousted from Network 23 after the revelation that his Blipverts had lethal side effects, was now with Network 66 and plotting to become its chairman and launch a rivalry with Network 23.
But the themes remain evident, surrounding how the media can be utilized to play political games. It starts with Grossberg using a device called View Doze, which counters viewership of people who leave the TV one while sleeping, in an attempt to win an election for Harriet Garth (in this world, elections for leadership positions are won based on the ratings garnered by the network, which backs a chose candidate). This prompts Network 23 to launch an investigation into the practice.
It takes a different turn, though, when a freelancer working for Network 23 -- who is really working covertly for Grossberg -- reveals footage of Garth apparently having an intimate affair with a Network 66 reporter. Cheviette, the chairman of Network 23, pushes Edison Carter to pursue the story, mostly because of Cheviette's desire to win the election. All the while, Grossberg is manipulating both Network 23 and Network 66 in a move to claim the chairmanship of Network 66 for himself.
The media's effect on elections is discussed a lot in light of the 2016 Presidential election, but this Max Headroom episode takes it a step further, in which networks themselves are backing political candidates. Nonetheless, the debate over how the media should cover elections and political candidates is relevant to our society today.
Max Headroom quotes:
"Ratings! Audiences! You're playing my tune!"
"I'll never understand why people always use so much energy over the idea of getting excited about the very thing they'll need energy for once the excitement is over."
"You should leave it to me next time -- leave it to someone who understands show business."
Personal thoughts: This was the first episode in which the writers focused on continuity from previous episodes and set the stage for what was intended to be the overarching conflict of the season. Though the series was cancelled a few episodes later, you could tell that the writers knew that the table had been set and now was the time to move forward with episodic storytelling. Even so, this episode stands well on its own for its underlying theme.