The inquisitory deposition process that has given the second season of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” a welcome narrative cohesion and an undercurrent of suspense was resolved tonight with a slap — and I don’t just mean the one that Charlie Skinner took for the team from a trusted Deep Throat equivalent who turned out to a skilled liar plotting revenge. We in the audience got slapped also, for swallowing Will’s repeated assertions that the Genoa mess was an “institutional failure.” In the end it was nothing of the sort. Episode 2.7 ended with the newsies pretty much off the hook for everything, receiving a rousing pep talk from the Big Boss.
When the season began, with talk of a lawsuit and the need to immediately retract a huge story — a claim that U.S. troops had committed a war crime by using sarin gas on civilians — it appeared that institutional bias was indeed likely to be a culprit, the slant view of liberal journalists who see what they believe and assume the worst about the military.
Now look what we actually got. The lawsuit that set everything in motion was brought not by the DOD or even by the soldiers who stood accused, but from a former ACN employee, an ambitious import from DC, subbing for Jim, who doctored an interview tape and is now claiming wrongful termination. (Actor Hamish Linklater nails the character’s self-serving earnestness.)
Forgive me for finding that revelation both implausible–given the existence of clear-cut evidence of digital tampering– and anticlimactic, in that it did nothing to deeply challenge the news-gatherers’ idealistic sense of themselves. Apparently, instead, the system works. The only person on the team with an anti-military grudge is exposed and fired. “We trusted the wrong guy,” is about the worst thing the others have to confess.
Especially Charlie, with a sidelong glance at the old boy insularity of veteran news gatherers who get too cozy with their favorite sources. The truth is, Genoa happened because Charlie was lied to and set up, fed fake evidence to bolster a story that he had been too careful to believe up to that point, until he studied that forged document in the right light.
The mystery story of Season Two of “The Newsroom” is, in the end, a very conventional one, with a couple of clear-cut bad guys and few really troubling larger implications.