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Review: ‘The Newsroom’ Season 3 Episode 5, ‘Oh Shenandoah,’ Offers a Rare Twist

Review: 'The Newsroom' Season 3 Episode 5, 'Oh Shenandoah,' Offers a Rare Twist

[Editor’s Note: For discussion regarding the controversy around Don and Mary’s rape debate, please see What to Know About Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Worst ‘Newsroom’ Episode Ever’]

Top Story: 

Rest in peace, Charlie Skinner. The death of ACN News’ unifier, moral leader and president wasn’t the twist I was referring to in the headline, but it was the one that rocked the ACN world and will undoubtedly become the focus of next week’s series finale.

Tears were going to stream one way or another on “The Newsroom”: Aaron Sorkin, who shockingly has never ended a series on his own terms (he left/was fired from “The West Wing” while “Sports Night” and “Studio 60” were canceled) wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go out with an emotional wallop, to end a show packed with them (remember the “Rudy” scene in Season 1? Or Jane Fonda’s speech at the end of “Red Team III”? Or Will and Mac’s wedding just last week?). Charlie’s death, while heartbreaking, feels justified given not only the hardships recently forced upon him, but the almost-too-perfect martyrdom of a man ready to be canonized in the church of journalism.

You’ll be greatly missed, Charlie, but never forgotten.

Best Ping-Pong Dialogue:

Sloan: “So people are out there and they can post a message to us and say, ‘Kristen Bell and her kid are at the 4pm showing of How to Train Your Dragon at the Arclight?'”
“And it goes right on our map, instantly.”
“So that when Kristen Bell and her kid come out of the movies, there are a dozen sociopaths waiting for them?”
“…I don’t think that’s likely.”
“Why not?”
“Well, it’s the price of fame, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not. It’s a punishment for it. Celebrities have been stalked and celebrities have been murdered. What this app is best at is assisting in that, right?”
“I’m sorry you feel that way. ACNgage is citizen journalism.”
“Can you talk about the vetting process these citizen journalists undergo?”
“The vetting?”
“People can post more than locations. They can post observations.”
“That’s right.”
“I’m asking if those posts are fact-checked.” 
“Well, this is one specific element of the site…”
“For instance, in a post today a ‘citizen journalist’ tells us Jimmy Kimmel was visibly intoxicated last night at the SoHo House in Hollywood.” 
“That’s right.”
“Jimmy Kimmel was with his family in Pablo San Lucas, last night.”
“People don’t read this with the expectation of it being true…”
“Excuse me?”
“…everyone…”
“People don’t have an expectation that what they’re reading is true?”
“They reading it for the immediacy.”
“But you’re using the word ‘journalism’ which means there is an expectation that what they’re reading is true. But let me take it a step further. Let’s pretend it was true, that Jimmy Kimmel was intoxicated at the SoHo House in West Hollywood. It’s not true, but we don’t care, so let’s just pretend that it is since that’s what we’re doing anyway. Why does that belong on our website?”
“Honestly, I think there’s a shifting definition of what’s public and what’s private space.”
“There is and we should care about that, but my question is why we should care about a talk show host drinking at a bar?”
“Don’t you think it’s great that we’re not putting people up on a pedestal and worshiping them anymore?”
“I don’t think celebrities are one of the bigger problems facing us, but aren’t we the ones building them a pedestal? We’ve got a map that gives us their location.”
“The idea is that we’re acknowledging that they’re real people.”
“I wonder how many of us didn’t already know that, but you’re doing more than just acknowledging that they’re real people. You’re beating them up for it.” 

Ping-Pong Ball Word or Phrase: “Vetting,” “what they’re reading is true,” “true,” “journalism/journalist,” “pedestal,” everything about Jimmy Kimmel, including his name. 

Meta Sorkin-ism of the Week:

I may be blanking on any information regarding Aaron Sorkin’s father—or I may have officially avoided reading such things—but this week seemed rather light on parallels to the writer’s personal life. One could argue the discussion Will had with his imaginary father (played by “Friday Night Lights” veteran Kevin Rankin) while in jail was reminiscent of when President Bartlett battled his own patriarchal problems with Toby on “The West Wing,” but instead I think we should focus on why Episode 5 was superior to the more emotionally-satisfying fourth episode, as it relates to Sorkin’s penchant for writing about himself.

While “Contempt” featured not only Will’s wedding, but also his sentencing, one of his better speeches and the comically clever ending to Sloan and Don’s HR drama, it also featured a scene between Jim and Hallie that left neither of them unmarred. We got into the why and the how last week in regards to the scene’s Sorkin connections, but even without them it left an ugly tint to an episode otherwise about the best of those involved. This week, we can see why the breakup had to occur, if not why it needed to be so damaging to both parties. 

And Jim and Maggie got together. After three seasons of build-up, the two characters forced into compatibility hooked up on the long plane ride to Russia. Do we care? Not really. The best that can be said about the coupling is its timing spared us any blemish on the finale airing next week, as they got the first kiss out of the way now. Yet still, even though I was less than invested in the fate of Jiggie (their appropriately cute and stupid celebrity couple name), I still admired the way Jim finally said enough was enough and just said what he wanted straight out. It took him too long, but he did it, and without any other intent than what had been established by the story in Episode 1. Basically, even these awkwardly-contrived moments ring truer than when Sorkin puts his own agenda ahead of the show’s. 

Breaking News: 

Lady Gaga had hip surgery sometime in 2013. That’s all the news I garnered from an episode of “The Newsroom” whose priority was on its characters over real-world education. It’s almost wretchedly fitting, too, considering it’s something Charlie said as well as part of the reason he passed away prematurely. Reporting on non-news must have torn up our ACN President, and eventually his body couldn’t stomach what his mouth was spitting out. 

MVP (Most Valuable Performer): Sam Waterston

Rewarding the man behind Charlie Skinner is much more than a posthumous honor for the character himself. We all know better than to believe the network’s moral compass flipped so suddenly, with the only possible reasons being because a) his best friend was in jail, and b) Louis Pruitt was a more demanding boss than Leona Lansing. It was literally killing Charlie to do what he felt he had to, and Waterston showed that in every irate tirade and calm discussion he had.

You could see it in his eyes, when he told Don he’d have to find someone else to do his job if he couldn’t perform the assigned tasks. You could hear it in his voice when he informed Mac to leave a block open for Lady Gaga’s manager. Finally, you could feel it in your bones when his throat closed after defending his employees, remembering the boss he used to have and the fights that were worth fighting.

Sorkin’s penchant for old school dramatics aside—the song, as well as Mac’s slow-motion head turn, weren’t in line with the pacing up to that point—Charlie’s final scene was one Waterston should be immensely proud of and one fans will despondently watch again and again.

Most Inspirational Quote: 

“He got his ass kicked.” – Will McAvoy

One may not think Will’s adverse description of his hero and the inspiration for ACN’s moral resurgence as “inspirational,” but it’s what’s implied that’s more motivational than anything else in the episode. Will knew what happened in Don Quixote all along, yet he still used it repeatedly as his motivational tool (along with “Camelot”). Why? Because he didn’t let the misfortunate of the fictional character deter him from his own quest. Don Quixote may have gotten his ass kicked, but that doesn’t mean Will’s fate would be the same.

Of course, there’s always the off chance this is foreshadowing. If “The Newsroom” is “Don Quixote,” then it very well may end the same way for our favorite news anchor. Then again, it seems more like to me that in this scenario, Don Quixote is actually Charlie, an idea alluded to by the descriptors “old man” and “delusional.” “He thought he was a knight,” Will said to his imaginary father. “He took on a world that was bleak and morally corrupt.” The ass-kicking is, sadly, what happened to Charlie. He fought the good fight ’til he couldn’t do so anymore, and then lost the greater battle.

There is one bit of good news, though. This means Will is still “the greater fool,” and there’s hope for a happy ending yet. 

Grade: A-

EPISODE 4 REVIEW: ‘The Newsroom’ Season 3 Episode 4 Review

EPISODE 2 REVIEW: ‘The Newsroom’ Season 3 Episode 2 Review

EPISODE 1 REVIEW: ‘The Newsroom’ Season 3 Episode 1 Review

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