The Newsroom 2.9: Sorkin’s Newsroom Finale Falls Flat
Jeff Daniels says a third season of The Newsroom is happening. But the biggest question from its season two finale is: why?
Warning: this is a recap. Recaps contain spoilers.
The Newsroom is a lot of things. Overwrought. Politically obvious to the point of banality. Tiresome when its story arcs move like molasses. It undersells characters (Sloan!). It oversells characters (Maggie!). It’s bizarrely hooked on getting its cast into ill-fitting relationships. Oh, and it’s blatantly and weirdly sexist.
At its best, however, it’s wordy and nerdy, nicely balancing its charmingly odd characters with weighty socio-political subject matters, providing unique insight into the way world events are reported and how we consume them. Better yet is when its characters are forced to interact realistically — making decisions and reacting like normal people under stress — within a restricted environment. Y’know. Like, say, in a newsroom. Weird, right?
Either way, The Newsroom is kinetic. Across this two-part season finale, The Newsroom has been both at its very finest and at its very worst.
The decision to base Season Two within a limited story arc was a good one: the set up and unravelling of Genoa was terrific television, and at times, the last half of this season was as good as anything not named Breaking Bad. That the finale was limited to just election night was even better; it allowed Sorkin’s speechifying to be kept to succinct, bite-sized parts, rather than dramatic poetry readings about the failing state of government/journalism/society/something.
We’d seen Op Genoa’s initial consequences with Shifty Jerry Dantana’s looming lawsuits, Charlie, Will and Mac offering their resignations, and the rest of the News Night crew wanting to follow suit. We had a Stoned Jane Fonda (her Leona Lansing is still challenging Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner for the best thing about the show) go ‘fuck it’, wax lyrical about how much she loves ACN, and challenge them to get back the public’s trust. We were invested in the outcomes of the characters.
But then came the second half of ‘Election Night, Part Two’. As with any time romance has been involved in The Newsroom, it’s as cringeworthy as a Wil Anderson joke about Tony Abbott’s budgie smugglers.
This episode took the great work of ‘Part One‘ — pacy and funny dialogue, characters with something at stake, a workplace under duress — and took the easy way out. By tying everything up in a neat, romantic bow and resolving everything — seriously, everything, except whether or not Shifty Jerry Dantana sues everybody — it undersells everything that was at stake.
There were great bits here, though. Like the excellent chutzpah of Don’s speech to Rebecca (yeah, Marcia Gay Harden!) about Shifty Jerry Dantana suing ACN (“He doctored the tape and gets to sue us? I gave him a bad job recommendation because he doctored the tape and he gets to sue me? The people who want tort reform, y’know, they’ve got a point.”) and the idiocy we face every day (“Shower cap fits one head.”). Or Taylor and Will squaring off about Republican nutjobs. Or Charlie and Stoned Jane Fonda not splitting a pizza. Terrific.
But then came the weird Sorkin-forcing, like Stoned Jane Fonda and Marcia Gay Harden’s Twitter reference (a guy in Arizona was run over by his wife? For not voting for Romney? How droll! Oh Twitter, you so crazzzzzeh.), and every blergh conversation about ‘new media vs old media’ or citizen journalists. At least those were fun bits, though; some of the main aspects of the story were downright painful.
So now to our play-by-play, WTF analysis of crucial points in The Newsroom’s finale.
Sloan: Sloan is a confident, intelligent and super-competent lady… who falls apart on the most important night of her career due to some bizarrely trifling subject regarding a book she didn’t sign? No. You’re right. It does sound as stupid as the entire arc felt. She figures out Don as the book’s buyer and kisses him. Yes, it’s a great scene where Sloan grabs him and plants one on our busted bookworm, but that it’s taken one of the most annoyingly trite plotlines to get here nearly buried Sloan Sabbith as a character. Lucky Olivia Munn is so terrific; that ‘COME ON‘ after being cut off by Will was great.
Jim’s magic: Jim mansplains Lisa’s (remember Lisa? Maggie’s housemate. Jim had a thing with her? No? Okay.) problems away and fixes her. Okay. Jim’s obliviousness regarding Lisa is awesome (you’re seriously waiting for him to say, “Wait, we slept together? Cool!”), but the set-up for him to speak to her is the worst. For example:
Scene: Maggie and Jim in the newsroom.
Maggie: “Now might be a good time for you guys to patch things up.”
Jim, all arched eyebrows: “You really think this is a good time?”
*Cut to bustling newsroom.*
Maggie, super-serious: “What if none of us are here tomorrow?”
Ah. Gee. Maybe he could see her when he’s not fucking working on the single most important piece of live election coverage the network has had to deliver ever? Y’know, maybe shoot her a text or an email and say, “Hey, I’d really like to have a talk. When’s good for you?” Y’know, like a normal person.
Then he fixes Maggie! Man, Jim is magic with the ladies, huh? Because everyone realised that due to Mags cutting her own hair, she clearly had problems and sleeps with too many random guys, which sets the scene for the super-dubious closing shot (which we’ll get to). Lisa and Maggie also make up. Maybe this frees Maggie to go to Will’s forgotten therapist, along with his abandoned bodyguard and Nina Howard.
Will and Mac: Speaking of Will, after everything The Newsroom has done to try to rehab its image this season, the one thing it has not been able to remedy is the Will and Mac relationship. Every scene that’s rehashed their romantic past has been all intensity without the substance; their interactions have always felt weirdly hollow. (Except when Mac wanted to hit Will. Weirdly, with two arms in the air. It felt real. And Emily Mortimer nailed the barely restrained violence that scene was asking for.)
So, of course, pair them up. Will proposing to the lady who earlier in the evening called him a “massive bag of douche” feels fitting enough. At least they seemed to have chemistry when getting it on.
Oh, and phew — Mac sorted out her Cambridge/Wikipedia conundrum thanks to Hallie (Spawn of Streep) and new media! That saved us from another case of Sad Mac face!
Reese and Charlie: Reese gives a great, grandstanding newsroom speech and decides not to accept anyone’s resignation. Not that, according to Charlie, they were ever going to resign. Pissing contest… GO!
So everything turned out okay.
The way this all played out meant it felt like the end of an entire series, not just a season of ongoing concern. To have everything completely resolved strips any and all tension from the story, and shows that Sorkin and co. are playing it too safe. Where are the challenges for the characters that will have us waiting for the next instalment? You have to wonder what Season Three will even be about: Mac and Will getting married? Sloan finding a sex dungeon in Don’s apartment? Maggie growing her hair?
It’s much better to have at least one unfinished storyline: Jim gets busted for the call on Michigan vs Mississippi, or how about he punches some sneering blueblood at ACN’s upstairs viewing party for disrespecting Lisa? Either way, he has to go work at Taylor’s Republican PR consulting firm. THERE’S YOUR GODDAMN ENDING, SORKIN. You could even turn it into a spin-off and call it Elephant In The Room. Who wouldn’t wanna watch Taylor and Jim spitting caustic put-downs at each other for 10 episodes, as they slowly warm to each other… both politically and personally. See, it writes itself!
Or even having Sloan reject Don for being such a goddamn creep that he bought a signed book of hers? Or having Mac tell Will to shove it, and taking the high ground in their relationship for once after he pulled the jerk move of intimating he was going to propose to her before finding out she cheated on him? Or having Charlie suffer a stroke from all the stress of the Genoa fallout? After he crashed into the waitress (it was Lisa!) at the viewing party, that would’ve been feasible, right? Instead, we finish with a happy montage backed by Christian-rock band Laminate and their Grey’s Anatomy-ish cover of Pete Townshend’s ‘Let My Love Open The Door’.
As for the last shot of Maggie clicking on the yellow news alert? As the most embattled character of the show, Maggie Jordan and her entire Africa story arc had huge potential to flesh out a character in dire need of something beyond “I wish boys liked me”. It floundered, but this gave Mags a ray of hope. She said she wanted to be tough like Don, Mac and Jim; here’s hoping Season Three gives her a chance.
After an investment of 19 episodes (so far) in these characters, for it to have played out so neatly and so comparatively happily is kinda weird. It’s not necessarily bad, just easy. And given his track record, we expect better of Sorkin.
That might be his point, though. For all his talk (via Charlie quoting Jedediah Purdy) of us living in cynical times with terminal irony and a steady refusal to hope or care openly, perhaps this is Sorkin’s hat tip towards combating that. It was the most uncynical way to wrap a season, sure… But what do we have to hope for next season?
Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements
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