The notion of “doing the right thing” appears to be the ongoing undercurrent in the final season of “The Newsroom.” Last week’s “Boston” took the media and the internet to task for rushing to judgment in reporting the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing, and in this week’s “Run,” Aaron Sorkin presents a trio of story lines that find the moral and legal ethics of ACN’s staff tested in situations as serious as protecting a source from the FBI, or as trivial as bending the truth for readers in a Shape magazine Q&A.
We’ll start with the most serious, as Neal’s (Dev Patel) trove of stolen documents highlighting a secret military PR campaign gone awry, have landed him in hot water. It’s not just possessing the files that has put him in the crosshairs, but accidentally inducing his source to commit a further crime, in procuring more documents to prove the validity of the rest, could have Neal facing felony charges. As Rebecca Halladay (Marcia Gay Harden, always terrific) makes it painfully clear, Neal is facing a raft of charges including espionage, violating the Patriot Act and more. But Neal isn’t concerned about the crimes, and he wants the story to go to air, but just by taking that step, it will put him directly on the FBI’s radar. If ACN chooses to run the story (which Will is strongly against doing), they’ll have to go to both the Department Of Defense and the PR company for comment, which will immediately make them aware of the leak, and federal agents will be at Neal’s door before his next mouse click.
But when MacKenzie arrives after meeting with her FBI source, she has some information that changes the stakes. According to her contact, no journalist has ever been successfully prosecuted under the Espionage Act, and the most harm Neal might face is a contempt charge, and a sentence with a maximum of ten days. (It should be noted, that since Aaron Sorkin penned this episode, New York Times reporter James Risen might be the first journalist to face prison under the Espionage Act — he has exhausted all of his legal options and could be behind bars this fall). And so, the decision is made to put the wheels in motion and run the story, with MacKenzie stating plainly: “A PR company killed thirty-eight people, and if we do nothing, the thirty-ninth is on us.” But that decision won’t be made without a debate.
Soon, Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Charlie (Sam Waterston) join Will, Neal, MacKenzie and Rebecca in the conference room to hash out what their next move is, but Neal has already forced their hand to some degree. Pulling him aside, Will learns that Neal has already called the PR company for a statement and given them his name, taking his own fate out of the equation of whether or not to run the story. Will is proud of the young reporter, and decides to put himself on the line too. He gets Neal to share with him the name of his source, putting a more famous name in the mix for the FBI to tangle with, and advises the tech kid to plan to leave his phone at home, and start figuring out where to go where he can’t be tracked. And like clockwork, the FBI arrive shortly thereafter, informing MacKenzie, Will and the staff that all the hard drives will be taken, and that Neal could potentially be headed to Leavenworth. They want to question him immediately, but they’ll have to find him first. Will, anticipating the arrival of federal agents, has managed to get a message to Neal just in time, scrawled on the inside of a take out menu, and passed along by his assistant Jenna, and it says: NEAL RUN. And the last we see of the well-tailored Neal, he’s smashed his cell phone and dropped it in a dumpster, with the menu lit on fire, and following it into the bin.
On the more white collar crime level, Don and Sloan (Olivia Munn) have arguably committed financial fraud. Acting on a tip he heard from Sloan, Don bought stock in Chipotle before she went to air to advise her viewers to do the same. But the act doesn’t concern them as much as the status of their relationship. It’s not the most compelling of subplots, but the underrated Munn and Sadoski make it work, with their two characters, allergic to commitment, finally committing to one another by episode’s end.
Meanwhile, Maggie (Alison Pill), taking the train back to New York City after making her successful broadcast debut in Boston, has stumbled across yet another story. Sitting a few seats away from Richard Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein aka Toby from “The Office”), the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA, he’s been in the midst of a very loud, potentially incendiary phone call, which Maggie intentionally overhears for the purposes of getting a hot scoop. But a meet cute with a law professor, Jack (Jimmi Simpson), prompts her to give the flabbergasted Richard a fair shake — Maggie tells him what she’s done, and promises she won’t run the story. Richard isn’t quite sure what to make of it, but he decides to give Maggie an exclusive on an EPA report about the shocking levels of carbon dioxide in the air, along with an on-the-record interview. And his opening statement is terrific: “There hasn’t been an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for a while, because Senate Republicans won’t confirm one, and the President doesn’t want to waste political capital, though I’m not sure what he’s saving it up for.” So, a great story and a potential new boyfriend? Maggie is kicking ass and taking names this season.
But things are going in the completely opposite direction for Hallie (Grace Gummer). Taking over for Neal on social media, she’s made a horrible mistake. Wrapping for the day from the Boston coverage, she sent out a tweet on ACN’s account in the middle of the night, saying the following: “Boston Marathon. Republicans rejoice that there’s finally a national tragedy that doesn’t involve guns.” Then she went to bed. Less than thirty minutes later she woke up, regretting what she had done, and deleted it. But tweets don’t disappear forever, and she spends “Run” waiting anxiously for her tweet to be reported on the blogosphere, and when it does, Hallie fully expects to be fired. And she is. And when an exasperated Charlie asks what she was thinking when she was typing up the tweet, Hallie responds honestly and sadly: “Retweets.”
Lastly, we finally meet Blair (Kat Dennings) and Randy (Chris Smith), Reese’s step-siblings who are trying to take over the company. And no amount of reasoning from Reese or Charlie will get them to budge from their intention of taking over AWN. So in storms Leona (Jane Fonda, fierce) and she makes Blair and Randy an offer they can’t refuse — she’ll give them $2 more per share and buy out the 45% stake they want to sell to Savannah Capital. But just one problem: it means Leona has to come up with $4 billion dollars. And, unbeknownst to her, with the FBI set to raid the newsroom, it might make raising that capital all the more difficult.
This was another solid effort in the very brief six episode finale of “The Newsroom,” even if the Don/Sloan thread seems a bit like filler. But overall, we’re seeing the best writing and performances the show has given so far. If only it had been like this from day one… [B]