I’ve written in length about this before but I have a lot of feelings about The Newsroom and not all of them are coherent so here we go *spoilers ahead* up until the series finale you’ve been warned ready OKAY.
Let’s start with Season 3 as a whole. A truncated season was never going to satisfy anyone and we all knew Sorkin would tie everything up with a pretty little bow (see Season 2 finale) but even expecting that, I have to admit that for a season that started out above and beyond, the last two episodes left me feeling empty.
But all that just makes me even more mad because of the missed potential this season could have been had it been allowed to run its proper course. Full disclosure: I am a fan of Sorkin, I am a fan of The Newsroom. Which isn’t to say I don’t have my issues with some of his writing or direction (plenty more on that later) but I’m done being frustrated with critics who go so out of their way to find the negatives in this show when this show was never intended for them to begin with. I can understand the show ending, despite how badly I wished it wouldn’t, but the unwarranted brevity of this season ensured it wouldn’t even be able to make a fully-rounded exit and yeah that will always make mad.
Anyway. Most people seem to agree that the first three episodes were rock solid, pointing to a more sophisticated show with each character finding their groove and the plot revolving around a fascinating arc (leaked documents, whistleblowing, journalistic integrity, etc.) It’s episode four that things seem to fall apart but in my opinion, I didn’t fully feel the effects of the truncated season until episode five, “Oh Shenandoah.” To refresh, this was the so-called controversial episode that sent the Internet into a mass frenzy due to a sexual assault story line and the unexpected death of Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).
Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of the episode. That is the beauty of television after all, how we can all watch the same exact thing and come away with completely opposing conclusions. BUT. I do take issue with those critics (not all, just some) who jumped on the bandwagon and ripped the episode (and the show and Sorkin) apart without providing any context to their arguments.
The sexual assault story line was a risky move, especially for a show that is already so polarizing. However, I felt the episode portrayed both sides of a complicated argument pretty well. There were things that made me uncomfortable like Don saying he was “morally obligated” to believe the accused. That’s bullshit. Yes as a journalist, you are obligated to get the facts and not let your opinion affect your attempt to uncover a story. But as a person? Like Mary said, “This is not a courtroom.” What Don is saying is he lives by the law and the law says innocent until proven guilty. Which as a journalist, fine great. But as a person, yeah I had a major issue with that exchange.
The thing is I don’t see that as Sorkin personally telling me I should believe in innocent until proven guilty and I should disregard every rape survivor until I have cold hard proof in front of me. It’s just crazy to me how Sorkin’s work gets put under such a personal microscope more so than any other writer. I don’t see anyone accusing Matthew Weiner, writer of Mad Men, of blatant sexism and supporting infidelity. Yes Sorkin has a tendency to use his characters as mouthpieces. I don’t think anyone can deny that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he personally believes every word he writes.
People were quick to jump on the whole “Don as Sorkin’s mouthpiece” trope but let’s remember the guy wrote Mary’s lines too. And by the end of it, I honestly didn’t feel that Don had “won” the argument. In fact, I was pleased to see an exchange that I had so often been a part of (on Mary’s side) be shown on television, knowing Mary’s message would reach countless viewers and hopefully continue to encourage open dialogue and debate.
Where I believe Sorkin made a mistake (and here I can understand the critics because in my opinion this mistake set everything off), is in failing to show that there were more than two sides to the argument. The Internet lashed out at the fact that Don told Charlie that he couldn’t find Mary, depicting him as the “White Man Savior” making the decision for her against her wishes. But in my opinion, that is an example of an argument taken out of context. I felt that Don didn’t want to do the segment because it played into sensationalized journalism (“It’ll be covered like sports,” he said) which is what he had spent two whole seasons fighting against. Had it been another time, in the pre-Pruitt Leona days, I think this would have been a story Don would have been proud to cover and done it well. He would have given Mary the platform she deserved. He just simply didn’t want it done that way. Whether he was right or wrong in making that decision isn’t the question because there are more than two sides. You can agree with Mary and advocate for her to get her moment to tell her story on TV while at the same time agreeing with Don that what Pruitt wanted to see would not have been the best way to do it.
I can’t speak for characters who aren’t mine but I have a feeling that had it been Mac or Sloan, they might have been against throwing Mary to the wolves like that too. Though the pre-interview exchange definitely would have been drastically different.
ANYWAY. That is enough of “Oh Shenandoah” though believe me, I have plenty more to say. Essentially though, episode five was when I realized the series story line, once so promising, would not be having a fully rounded ending (Flag one: the casual mentioning of Lily the whistleblower’s suicide AND THEN WE NEVER MENTIONED IT AGAIN like what).
But that brings me to the finale. “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” Fun fact: same exact title as the finale of season one of The West Wing. And we all know how well that one ended. Oh Sorkin…
Okay so the finale. Every character happy? Check. Every character background explained? Check. Cheesy garage band music video? Check. Like I mentioned before, I always knew the final episode would end this way but I wasn’t expecting it to completely ditch the entire storyline of the previous five episodes. Watching it just made me wonder why exactly go through all the trouble of creating this fascinating story arc if it was just gonna fizzle out in the last moments of “Contempt” and then disappear completely.
And again, nothing to blame except the stupid truncated season. The finale felt like a stitched together fairy tale ending that could have been tacked on to the tail end of virtually any season because it literally made no reference to anything we had been watching for the past month and a half.
Biggest gripes: Maggie + Jim, Neal’s return.
I knew after the big Jim and Hallie blow-out that Sorkin was actually going to try pair him and Maggie back up. I mean it was probably really obvious from before but I was just in deep denial. Season two saw Jim and Maggie drama take a backseat to the far more interesting Genoa saga. Even the beginning of season three seemed to happily focus on their friendship which as characters is so clearly where they belong. Honestly, I blocked out their whole ending from my brain. Too forced, too awkward, so ridiculously unnecessary.
And let’s talk about Neal. Yes his comeback was awesome. His speech hit me hard. I mean we had actually seen the guy struggle for three seasons to build ACN Digital. It was so genuine and so necessary and I’m glad we got to see that.
BUT. I cannot believe that that is all we got. I cannot believe that after a whole season on the run, after Will went to jail for him, after everything… We didn’t get to see Neal reunite with his team. No slow pan across the ACN newsroom as he walks in, traveler bag slung over his shoulder, faces suddenly look up from phones, computer screens. People start laughing, hugging him, shaking his hand. And Will slowly comes out of his office. Eyes meet. Walk towards each other. The cool guy nod. The mentor hug, the clap on the back, speaking the words unsaid. A moment of solidarity between the two reporters who represent completely different worlds yet will fight for the same thing.
HOW DID WE NOT GET ANY OF THAT HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!?!
Yeah I really needed that catharsis and I can’t believe nothing happened and I’m really bitter about it and I’m going to complain about this for weeks.
The finale had its good moments though. Some real nice laugh out loud moments. The scene in the church when Will remains standing with this goofy smile after Mac tells him she’s pregnant killed me. Jeff Daniels is a brilliant actor and his comedic chops didn’t get used often enough in the first season so I’m glad he gets those moments to shine.
So the finale got perfectly wrapped up just in time for Christmas as all the main character backstories were explained and immediate futures told. I’m glad we got that I guess. Even though it read like premature fan-fiction (an ending before the story was finished) it’s comforting to know that somewhere in my imagination, the ACN team is still pushing ahead in their fictional Don Quixote quest. That the higher standard has been set and the fight will continue on. That the news will be told.
That the show will go on, long after the studio lights have been turned out.