This is the middle of a trilogy, and as such, the name of the game is escalation. Situations need to get more and more complicated driving into the conclusion, and that thought process drives both time periods explored in this story. In fact, the stories are so compelling that I was screaming at my television in frustration at the end.
Some found my comments in the previous review somewhat naïve and ridiculous. After all, they said, “we already know how Matt lost his job, why would you need more context”? At it turns out, there’s a lot more to it than supporting Bill Maher, and we’re getting to see that process unfold. In fact, this time around, the writers beat the audience over the head with the message: this is not going to end well, because it didn’t end well last time, either.
In the past, Matt and Danny were left with the burden of doing something they didn’t want to do: put on a season premiere right after the initiation of the War on Terror and with their writers’ hands tied behind their backs. Matt wants to play it safe, but as reinforced on many occasions, he also recognizes when a sketch will work and should be allowed to happen. This was the case with “Crazy Christians”, as seen earlier in the series. That brings everything to a head, with Matt allowing the “wrong” content to leave the writers’ room and Danny in charge when it’s about to happen. We already know how the story will end, but now there’s a lot more context.
The situation in the present is not quite a parallel in terms of putting on content that Jack doesn’t want on the screen. It’s tonally parallel in that Matt and Danny are in charge when the situation gets beyond Jack’s control. Like Wes in the past, Jordan is in the hospital, so there’s nothing between Jack and Matt and Danny. Both of them are distracted by so many personal issues that they miss the crucial matter of keeping Simon away from the press. And considering how hard Jack was trying to keep the network and Studio 60 from being even more of a target, that’s really the final straw.
The connective tissue is the war, which again helps to place the series in a more consistent context. This is interesting, because while some fans probably caught the undertones from the very beginning, this trilogy makes it abundantly clear. This was never a show about how television works. This has been a show about how television works in wartime. And that adds a sense of nuance to every episode, every scene, and every line. It compels the audience to go back and watch again from the beginning, because placed in context, scenes that once sounded like Sorkin ranting to the audience now sound like characters speaking from the heart.
The inevitable effect of this trilogy, and the series-capper that will follow, will be the acknowledgment from many of the critics who dismissed the series in the first place. The series still has its flaws, but looking back, this “Lost”-esque look at how the characters have come full circle is more than worth the effort.