When I noticed that this episode was written by Sorkin and directed by Whitford, I was well pleased. Both Sorkin and Whitford were two of my top reasons for watching the show in the first place, and while Tommy Schlamme would have been a good contender for the final director as well, this felt right. As did most of the series finale, for that matter, though I found it ever so slightly predictable.
It would have been hard for Sorkin to avoid the predictability, to be honest, and that’s why I can’t take too much away from him in that regard. I thought it would be satisfying on a metaphorical level for the series’ version of “Studio 60” to be canceled for low ratings, even as each character found peace with their respective demons. After watching the finale, I came to the conclusion that such an ending would only be satisfying in the short term. Taking the long view, Sorkin’s more positive and hopeful ending will stand the test of time.
After all, this series is about selling comedy in wartime, and more than that, the right and need to express irreverent perspectives and ideas during wartime. It strikes right at the heart of the cultural war spawned by the Patriot Act. It’s told from a perspective that is easy to dismiss as arrogant and privileged, and thankfully, Sorkin has taken on that notion directly in these last few moments. We’ve come to see that these “Hollywood liberals” are living and breathing the same struggles as the rest of the human race. And what we all need, in the darkest hour, is hope.
So “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”, within the series, had to survive. It had to endure, because if it endures, then free expression endures and our characters have a place to share their personal victories together. The ratings problem won’t go away, the couples will bicker and rage, but in the end, we know it will all work out. And that’s the message at the heart of the series, now that it’s over.
Thankfully, Sorkin manages to make the last steps of the journey to victory as difficult as it should be. We’re taken through hell and back with Jordan’s chance of survival (including one of the most evil act breaks in recent memory), and Whitford plays Danny’s angst beautifully. He’s very prominent in this episode, and that had to be a challenge. Tom’s situation was equally well done, including and beyond the moment where he unleashes a nickname for the Commander-in-Chief that could haunt him until the end of time.
The conversation between Simon and jack evolved almost perfectly, right up until the end, where Jack comes to his personal epiphany about Matt and Danny’s departure five years earlier. Had the series continued, this moment might have been more dangerous, since the character’s hard-line nature was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the character. This is one reason why the single-season lifespan of the series is ultimately acceptable: the character arcs were given enough time to come together in a satisfying manner.
If there’s one relationship that doesn’t quite get realistic closure, it’s the dynamic between Matt and Harriet. In the end, it’s a story that would have needed several seasons to evolve and shift towards common ground in the most satisfying manner, just based on the massive philosophical and ideological gap between them. Sorkin did his best to make it work, however, by turning to the universal truth of “love conquers all”. Knowing that this is the end, that this is the final statement on the relationship, I couldn’t think of a better way to bring their conflicts to momentary rest.
In short, despite all the flaws, I felt this finale (and the massive mini-arc that fed into it) gave the series a strong sense of purpose and relevance. Knowing the writing was on the wall, Sorkin took the time to give his story an ending that expressed, very well, why the series was such a great idea in the first place.