And so it ends, not like “Don Quixote,” but also far from “Camelot.” One could argue of the two works oft cited by Aaron Sorkin’s ACN crew, the latter is a more apt comparison for “The Newsroom’s” final hour. After all, Will has a baby on the way, a possible messenger who can carry his father’s torch — or, to mix metaphors slightly, continue his “mission to civilize” — to the next generation of the under-informed electorate. Until then, Will, the newly-promoted Mac, and the rest of the ACN crew will continue to do what they’ve done for the last three years.
While the finale is certainly hopeful, and I respect it for that, it didn’t satisfy the one question I’ve had since I first heard “The Newsroom” would be ending after Season 3. Why now? At the start of the truncated season, it seemed ACN and its employees were headed for a fall. Will was threatening to retire after finishing fourth in the ratings. Sloan (Olivia Munn) was in a panic because ACN was about to be sold out from underneath Reese (Chris Messina) and Leona (Jane Fonda). Neal was about to go on the run from the feds and Mac was trying to plan a wedding ceremony that would never happen. Things weren’t right with the alternate reality created by Aaron Sorkin, and things still aren’t right now.
As heart-warming as it was to see everyone move up a peg at work — other than Sloan, who’s pretty maxed out, and Don, who was offered a promotion — tonight’s episode didn’t provide enough closure to a story many feel is ending too soon. As much as I didn’t want to see the ACN crew get their “ass kicked” like Don Quixote (though we fans of the show sure have for the past three years, when defending it) the back-to-business approach of the last minute or so wasn’t as reassuring as I’d hoped. Knowing they’re out there, keeping the round table in order, wasn’t enough for me to look past the inherent problems they’re still facing (ratings, an awful boss, crumpling attention spans, etc.). “The Newsroom” was never a show built around reality, even when it was dealing with real events. Sorkin’s creation harkened back to the day when idealism overshadowed cynicism, and it wasn’t “unrealistic” to expect a happy ending. For a show built around the fantasy that this kind of journalism could exist and be supported in the modern age, “The Newsroom” didn’t provide the “happy ever after” finale, even if tears were streaming by the time Will said “Good evening.”
Best Ping-Pong Dialogue:
Ping Pong Ball Word or Phrase: Kwench; Yeah; No; Mac stating she doesn’t know why she’s here.
Meta Sorkin-ism of the Week:
The most meta interpretation of the episode didn’t come from Sorkin trying to speak through any of the characters, but rather what the writer was trying to do with the episode as a whole. By employing the flashback technique to reestablish the origin of News Night 2.0, Sorkin basically gave himself a free pass to rewrite history — similar to how he does with the “breaking news” depicted in most episodes. Any errors or gaps in a story or character development could be filled in for the ACN team just like any holes in news coverage could be corrected by the ACN team.
Did you not think it was believable for Mac to be at Will’s fateful Northwestern speech? Was it a little too easy for her to have a seat right in his eye-line, etched message in hand? Did Sloan’s seemingly random confession of love for Don in Season 1 seem way out of left field? Was Jim’s obsession with Maggie simply insane? To the last question, yes, and not even a recently broken heart can make me reconsider Jim’s state of mind when he decided to heed Mac’s advice and relentlessly pursue someone so exhaustingly inept.
Of course, the flashbacks also helped bring Charlie back into the story, showing rather than telling how he engineered the modern day savior of broadcast news. While one could argue the bows were tied a little too tightly around this already well-wrapped package, the fact is it worked. Whether Sorkin was covering his ass or simply utilizing a tried-and-true structure, these flashbacks gave the finale a poignancy that paid off when we saw Charlie tell Will, “…we did the news well. You know how? We just decided to.”
Though this week was a little light on real-world news, “What Kind of Day Has It Been” did highlight a few key differences in new coverage itself. By flashing back to when Will was more of a ratings whore than a news man — or, to be more blunt, when he really was just doing “a little news anchoring on the side” — Sorkin illustrated just how much “News Night with Will McAvoy” has changed since being rebranded “News Night 2.0.” Gone were the stories pampering to the masses. Never would you find an interview with Kiefer Sutherland focusing on the “24” finale on MacKenzie’s rundown sheet. Nor would Will be given time to speak at length about the weather.
Yet there were slightly more subtle alterations as well. When introducing the show, Will, well, introduced the show. It took him maybe a minute, but he didn’t “report” any hard-hitting news. Rather, he teased information soon-to-come. Only if you watched the whole show and sat through those all-so-important ads would you benefit from hearing the vital knowledge he wasn’t yet ready to share. On the current “News Night,” we’ve seen Will briefly mention a few upcoming reports, but he always cuts straight to the chase with the night’s top story. He’s not going to hope you wait through a commercial. He’s going to do his duty and inform you straight away.
The language he used also struck me as particularly self-serving. In the first few lines of his show, Will asked the audience to “stick around” and promised them they’d “be glad you landed here.” Though they may appear harmless, this kind of casual banter undermines the urgency with which the daily news needs to be shared. People aren’t tuning in to have a good time, or at least they shouldn’t be. Will’s catering to the public rather than serving them, and frankly, it was harder to watch than any of the many jackass statements he made to his staff. Hopefully the lesson sticks, and we won’t settle for anything less from our real-world reporters.
MVP (Most Valuable Perfomer): Jeff Daniels
Daniels earns this title on multiple fronts, not the least of which was that he expanded the definition of the word “performer” to include singer and guitar player. Some may not have enjoyed the break-out-in-song interlude Will had with Charlie’s grandkids, but then I suspect those people weren’t watching because they’re fans of the show. It was a tad cheesy, cliched even — as the whole episode was, one could argue, since it used Charlie’s death as a metaphor for the death of the show as well as Will & Mac’s baby as a sign for hope in the future. But these cheesy moments aren’t faults in “The Newsroom.” They’re what make it great.
Daniels has always found a way to embrace them with a humanity that makes them stick without stinging. There were many moments on the show that, as written, could have become cringe-worthy with another performer. “How I Got to Memphis” is one of those moments. The script could have held back on the cheese-factor by keeping the moment a private one between best friend and grandchildren, rather than expanding it to a dual-guitar jam session with dozens of onlookers. Daniels, and the leader’s aura he’s cultivated over the years, held that scene together. It certainly helps he’s one of the few respected actors-turned-muscians, but he also knows how to make a big scene seem intimate even when the camera is showing us otherwise.
Many were surprised and even angered when Daniels won the Emmy for Season 1 of “The Newsroom” over heavily favored competitors Jon Hamm (who still criminally hasn’t won for “Mad Men”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”). He’s more than earned it over these three seasons, and he left us with a few remarkable scenes tonight. “How I Got to Memphis” was certainly one, as was his delayed speech to the funeral crowd. Daniels also flexed his comic muscles (fresh, I’m sure, from “Dumb and Dumber To”) when he dramatically quit smoking and outed his pregnant wife to a few staffers, while earlier he stayed standing far too long in church after learning he had a baby on the way. “The Newsroom” may not be the crowning jewel of its creators’ career — even he’s made sure of that — but it almost undoubtedly will be for Daniels. And for that, I will forever be thankful.
Most Inspirational Quote:
Will’s speech, as they have tended to be this season, was powerful in its combination of poignancy and brevity. This wasn’t an attempt to bookend the Northwestern speech with impassioned verbosity. It was a simple statement accurately remembering his friend, and foretelling the future we won’t get to witness.
Perhaps my biggest beef with the series finale isn’t what it depicted or how it went about doing so, but when it’s coming to us. Before Season 3 began, I got to ask Jeff Daniels why the decision was made to end the show now. He said, “It’s really difficult to do wellm” before chronicling the lengthy process of creating each episode and later stating it was better to go out before the story started to “deteriorate.” I can respect that, even if I don’t believe it. I’ll forever be frustrated the show’s faced such fierce hatred from critics who seem to go out of their way to find issues with a show they’ve known all along isn’t for them, and it’s them I’ll blame for the unwarranted brevity of this final season.
While I stand by my statement the finale didn’t live up to the grandiose promises of a drama constructed as a dreamer’s romanticized vision of what could and should be more than what is, it certainly didn’t disappoint me on the too-often overlooked emotional level. I love thinking about Will, Mac, Neal, Jim and Sloan fighting the good fight in that out-of-reach alternate reality. I admire Sorkin for leaving us with that goal to strive for rather than dampen anyone’s dreams by providing a more harrowing, “realistic” last word. Perhaps I just wish I could keep living the dream vicariously through them rather than be left in the cynical world outside “The Newsroom.”
• Neal’s return was one of the best moments of the finale. I love how he was revealed with such dramatic heft, reminiscent of the star turns of yesteryear. He really is a conquering hero returning to the fold, and his “you embarrassed me” speech couldn’t have been written or delivered in a better fashion. Bravo.
• Despite Jim claiming all his other long distance relationships failed because he “wasn’t in love with them,” I’m still going to go ahead and presume his relationship with Maggie failed. Why? I could argue because why else would Sorkin provide Jim with any background in failed long distance relationships, but it’s mainly because I want to, since their forced coupling was the most frustrating story to watch unfold this season.
• I’m not totally satisfied with Sloan’s send-off. I love that she got the last joke in of the series, prodding Will about her segment before the show started, but I wish she, too, could have somehow moved up in the world. I know her position at “News Night” is about as high as she can go without kicking Will out of his seat — and it was nice to see her as his acting replacement during Will’s jail stint — but as perhaps my favorite character on the show, I would have appreciated seeing something more paid to her. Maybe we’ll get a spin-off someday with just her and the Bloomberg terminal.
• Had “The Newsroom” lasted more than three seasons, I suspect Maggie would be the character to suddenly disappear without explanation, a la Mandy in “The West Wing.”
• “I’m seven weeks pregnant and there’s a five in nine chance it’s yours.”
“I don’t care if there’s no chance it’s mine, it’s mine now.”
(This is the witty banter I’ll dearly miss.)
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