There are many, many things to be said about last night's season finale of The Newsroom, but I'm going to lead off with the thing that it did best. It settled things. Even if it didn't always settle them in ways that were particularly enjoyable to watch, nor particularly sensible, it still settled them. The Newsroom is now at rest, and while there are certainly loose ends to tie up come next season, the biggest, and arguably many of the most annoying plot points have been put to bed. What it needed to settle, "The Greater Fool" did, albeit in the typically elephantine way this show tends to go about doing things.
Without turning this into a lengthy, repetitive missive on the entirety of The Newsroom's first season—presumably, you've already read enough of my ramblings to know where the problems typically lie—I'll simply say that "The Greater Fool" often embodied many of this show's least endearing qualities. Its propensity for melodrama in place of reasonable thought, its inability to make its female characters seem like anything other than ridiculous, flailing cartoons, its narrative dissonance between the brilliant news broadcast the characters seemingly think they're doing, and the Tea Party bash fest they're actually doing—all of it was there, front and center. But in tying up its loose ends, "The Greater Fool" managed to, at the very least, turn those problems into reasonably entertaining television. Even when I knew I was watching something kind of stupid, I usually laughed. I suppose that's better than nothing.
What we knew from last week's episode preview was that two things in particular would happen. One, Will would experience some kind of medical emergency, possibly of the self-inflicted variety. Two, we knew that the big conspiracy against Will would come to a head, with AWM head Leona Lansing at some point firing Will. Of course, there wouldn't be much of a Season 2 if Will were just kicked off the air—unless of course Season 2 was going to be all about getting Will back on the air, but I don't think anyone wanted to see that. Fortunately, things didn't go that way.
Starting with the aforementioned medical situation, we thankfully didn't have to sift through a big old suicide plot this week. As it turned out, a despondent Will simply accidentally took too many of his prescription antidepressants. He did so while drinking, and lamenting the hatchet-job cover story about him and News Night 2.0 in Newsweek. The same article Will commissioned to have written by Mackenzie's ex-boyfriend, in the hopes of having him become the young boy who told all the people about the valor and majesty of Camelot. Camelot is News Night, in case you missed it. You probably didn't, though, since Will spelled that metaphor out at least three times this week.
That all backfired, Will became depressed, and essentially gave himself a bleeding ulcer. Will spent much of this week recovering in the hospital and debating whether or not he should even bother to come back to News Night. He felt like the "greater fool" that the Newsweek article called him, and it took a rotating volley of News Night staffers (mostly headed up by Mackenzie) to eventually push him back to the news desk. But before he got there, he spent more time talking about Camelot, and Don Quixote, and basically feeling sorry for himself while bickering back and forth with a sassy nurse.
I don't mind saying that these sequences were, by and large, the funniest things in this week's finale. As much as Will continues to be a petulant dick in most situations—especially at the end of this week's episode—Jeff Daniels is why I keep coming back to this show outside of just having this assignment to write about it every week. No matter how many times Aaron Sorkin debases the character (last week's pants-putting-on debacle immediately springs to mind), Daniels sells this character far better than he has any right to. Even when I think Will is an abhorrent asshole, I still kind of love watching him be an abhorrent asshole. With perhaps the sole exception of Charlie—who really didn't have enough to do this season—I think Will is the only character on this show that truly, consistently works.
Which leaves us with the rest of the ensemble. I've been as critical as anyone about the Jim/Maggie/Don/Lisa quadrangle of idiocy, but I'll admit that even in spite of last night's ludicrous coincidences and moronic character behaviors, I breathed a small sigh of relief. To quickly recap, Maggie knew that Jim had come to her apartment last week to talk to her, not Lisa. Maggie told Lisa this, which Lisa was not happy about. Meanwhile, Don was considering inviting Maggie to move in with him, which Sloan halfway recommended he seriously, deeply consider, and not just because she apparently has a thing for him. Yes, now Sloan is even in on this nonsense, which came mostly out of nowhere and ended just as quickly, after Don ultimately invited Maggie to move in anyway. I don't know why we needed to toss yet another sexual complication into this office, but there we have it.
It's a shame, because Sloan has been one of the more intriguing, if underutilized characters this season. Olivia Munn has given Sloan a dignity that I'm not sure is even on the page, so it's troubling to see that she was mostly an afterthought late in the season. This week there were allusions to her leaving to work at some equity firm, but that was all abandoned at the end of the episode with one casual remark. Why even insert the tension if you're barely going to address it?
Which honestly speaks to the same problems I had with how the big honking conspiracy against Will played out. I think we all knew that Will, Mac, and Charlie would get the best of Leona and Reese somehow. Things looked a tad grimmer when Charlie's source decided to take a header off the Queensboro bridge, but a mysterious envelope sent to Charlie after his death seemingly put all the pieces together to let the News Night team blackmail AWM's higher-ups into letting them do the show their way. And Charlie even got their whole conversation—Reese admitting to phone hacking and all—on tape for posterity. Or, actually, because they never had the evidence at all. The envelope just contained a beef stew recipe, a callback to Charlie's last conversation with his informant. Oh, those sneaky News Night rapscallions!
With the Lansings in check and Will all hellfire and brimstone again, News Night did the show it'd been aching to do for 15 months. And what did that show amount to? A lot of intense, utterly unfocused bashing of the Tea Party.
Here's my thing. I don't care for the Tea Party one bit. I share nearly all of Sorkin's views on the subject, and in my own mind, hearing Will call them the American Taliban during his show resonated in a way that made me go, "Huh, yeah, there's maybe some truth to that." But the problem is that no "serious" newsman worth his salt would use such inflammatory language during a broadcast, unless he was just looking for quick, easy headlines. This is not discourse. This is exactly the kind of sound byte-y trash-talking that ideologue news anchors like Sean Hannity and Keith Olbermann use to whip people into a frenzy.
I see why Sorkin is going this route. He's essentially turned The Newsroom into a kind of political comfort food for those who find the Tea Party rhetoric deplorable. But therein lies the dissonance. Will and Mac want to make a real news program about real issues, but they're still talking in the same kind of incendiary platitudes everyone else uses. At the beginning of the broadcast, Will's takedown of voter ID laws passing in predominantly Republican-controlled state governments was absolutely brilliant. It was focused, tight, and broke down exactly why the laws are complete and utter nonsense. But then the broadcast just devolved into a long laundry list of why the Tea Party is a bunch of lying jerks, with no particular focus on any one subject matter. It was more rant than news broadcast.
That's too bad, because there are so many good ideas in The Newsroom. Rarely has a show with so much potential seemed so unable to completely make good on that potential. It will be interesting to see what criticisms Sorkin takes to heart when writing the next season, and which ones he chooses to ignore. It'll give us some insight into what he actually believes this show needs to be, versus what it ended up being as he attempted to lay the groundwork for the series.
For all my complaints about this episode, this season, and this show, I'll say this much for The Newsroom: It was never boring. Wary as I may be, a part of me is genuinely looking forward to Season 2 to see where things head. I don't know if that makes me an idealist, or a masochist. Maybe a bit of both.
What did you think of the finale, and the first season as a whole? Will you be tuning in for Season 2?
– I guess I'm not terribly surprised that Aaron Sorkin seemingly hates Sex and the City's idealistic portrayal of female single life in New York City. I just kind of wish he hadn't dragged Maggie into that whole thing, so as to maybe, just maybe, spare her the indignity of having to scream at a bus full of silly women (and Jim) about how messed up her life really is. But it happened, so there's nothing else to say except to at least compliment Alison Pill on making that cringe-inducing scene slightly less cringe-inducing. She's a wonderful actress, and I really hope Maggie sucks a lot less next season. I want her to be fun and likable, not insane and, well, more insane.
– Also, anyone else notice how quickly Maggie's hair dried from the moment she got splashed by the bus, to the moment where she and Jim finally kissed? Even with a hair dryer, I don't know any women whose hair dries that quickly. Hell, my hair doesn't dry that quickly, and I barely have any.
– So, does the semi-predictable return of sorority girl mean that we'll get to watch Will yell at her every week next season? That should be fun.
– Hope Davis's reappearances haven't lived up to her first interaction with Will, which is unfortunate because there's a potentially interesting character there. But with TMI now apparently being shut down, I'm not certain we're ever going to hear from her again. That's a shame.
– Neil is still alive, and at no point was assaulted by hordes of online trolls. Dammit.
– On the positive side, Terry Crews will apparently be back next season, which is great. He, like Sam Waterston and Olivia Munn, just didn't have enough to do this season. Maybe next year, we'll get the Terry-heavy episode the masses are clearly demanding.
– For what it's worth, it's been a pleasure writing up The Newsroom each week for you all. I know many of you out there have lamented my sometimes decidedly negative tone, and I hope you know that I haven't been ignoring the feedback. Positive or negative, I'm just glad people read my stuff and feel compelled to comment, and I do take your criticisms at face value. By the same token, I'd be remiss if I didn't give my honest opinion on the show week after week. We're not always going to agree, but, perhaps a bit like Will himself, my hope is that the conversation can remain respectful and thoughtful. Mostly it did, and I'm thankful for that.
Anyway, I had a lot of fun, and hopefully I'll be back around for the next season. Until then, I'm Alex Navarro. Good night.