This episode continues the final major arc of the series, and as such, the time has come to bring the plot and character threads closer to resolution. As such, it’s not particularly surprising that the major relationships would be inching towards a sense of closure. What is surprising, under the circumstances, is how well this arc is pulling together all the pieces and giving the entire series a feeling of planned cohesion.
While it should have been obvious that Matt and Danny left Studio 60 in the fall of 2001, it was never emphasized. Yet taking that into consideration explains so much about the tone and topicality of the series, including its constant focus on political, social, and religious issues. Matt and Danny’s exit from Studio 60 was tied into the conflicting demands of the post-9/11 world, and that changes the context of their return. If, as hinted in this episode, they were forced out because of tensions over content related to politics and religion in the wake of the beginning of the War on Terror, those thoughts and memories would be inexorably tied into the circumstances of their restoration to the show.
It’s hard to say if that was always something in the back of Sorkin’s mind, but if it was, it’s a damn shame that it was never apparent at the very beginning. There were some indirect comments regarding Matt’s religious humor being an issue, particularly “Crazy Christians”, but now the implications are a bit more accessible. The timing was always there on the page, but now that it’s been explicitly spelled out, I think it really paints the picture. It certainly made me appreciate and understand some of the subtext from earlier in the season!
The flashbacks also demonstrate how the series is coming full circle in terms of the story. Jack’s present actions are colored by his assumptions and errors in the past. Tom’s current crisis is seen as the culmination of six years worth of accumulated worry and family dysfunction. The montage of Matt and Harriet’s relationship over the years, all coming down and arriving at this particular point in time, is one of the most gratifying moments thus far.
As much as I found the initiation of the Jordan/Danny relationship to be forced, with the wrong message about Danny’s behavior being sent in the process, I couldn’t help but be pleased when Danny proposed. I still think it will be a contentious relationship, especially if Studio 60 pulls out of the ratings dive, but something tells me that will be directly addressed in the finale.
At this point, it almost feels like the series should end with Studio 60 being cancelled, Jordan fulfilling her “one year” prophecy, and the entire tale being about how this last-ditch effort to save a sketch comedy show changed the lives of those struggling to keep it afloat. It wouldn’t be the happy ending everyone expects, but it would give the audience one last chance at catharsis.