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The Newsroom Recap: If, Then

Whose inner self is more hollowed out: Will’s or Jerry’s? We know Will’s affliction — a seemingly unending need to be loved, unless that love is coming from the people he loves himself. That emptiness leaves Will feeling like his focus-group graphs look — but for Will the ups and downs don’t end when News Night does. His trauma lingers, and even though he’s spent the last two years of News Night time talking about it, his relationship to the trauma doesn’t really change. He’s still haunted, he’s still searching, and he’s still acting out because of it.

What, then, to make of Jerry Dantana? What is this guy up to? With things like The Wire and Shattered Glass, we’ve seen movies and TV shows depict what drives plagiarists and fabricators to become journalistic pariahs. We’ve been told that reporters who commit journalism’s cardinal sin are erring because of their own psychological weaknesses. What makes the journalistic transgressor’s narrative so fascinating is that he tries to fill his private shortcomings in public.

But is that what’s going on with Jerry? It’s tough to know. The Newsroom has been judicious in its use of Jerry this season, keeping him on the sidelines of the core News Night group and never following him home from the office. To my recollection, we’ve never seen Jerry at a bar, which is telling on a series where any important interpersonal development happens with beer, wine, or Charlie’s whiskey in hand. Until last night, we had never even seen Jerry alone; he’s a cipher with a Jimferiority complex.

The facile interpretation of Jerry’s mistake is that he’s a troubled soul like The Wire’s Scott Templeton, Stephen Glass, or even Will. But that requires a soul. Jerry doesn’t have one. He has no depth beyond Genoa; he does nothing else but Genoa, he talks about nothing else but Genoa; and, one would assume, he thinks about nothing else but Genoa.

So, what if, instead of seeing a man on the verge of a breakdown, we’re seeing a man fulfilling his mission: to take down the American military. He hates drones, he’s screaming about how “We have a moral imperative to question the flagrant disregard with which the president and the national-security establishment treat the constitution and international laws,” and his focus is singular. He’s News Night’s suicide bomber.

As Jerry edited out General Stomtonovich’s “if” in “If we used sarin …” I was reminded of Maggie’s debacle with the George Zimmerman 911 tapes last episode. After her mistake was discovered, Jim asked if Maggie was sure that she wasn’t trying to see justice done by editing out the 911 responder’s question about Trayvon Martin’s race. Maggie says no, it was an honest mistake.

But we cannot say the same about Jerry. In his fog of war he’s lost the line that separates journalism from fiction. Now all that Jerry and the News Night team whom he’s snookered have left is Jerry’s warped reality.

***

An announcement before we continue: Our excerpts of Pride Goeth Before the Fall: An Oral History of News Night were originally intended to be a limited-time offering, to help build publicity for the book. But despite extensive focus-group testing, the book has not sold well. Nina Howard Press has told us it’s the fault of a promotional campaign that focused too heavily on cringe-worthy morning-show appearances by former News Night staffers. And so after extensive negotiations, Nina Howard Press has agreed to let Vulture run the rest of the book as an online serial.

Don Keefer: When the blue team — or whatever they were calling themselves — showed us that PowerPoint of all they had on Genoa, I remember thinking, who makes a PowerPoint about a top-secret story idea? Then, a year later, I saw the NSA’s PRISM PowerPoint, and realized I was naïve.

Maggie Jordan: As somebody who already knew all the Genoa details, that hours-long meeting in the conference room felt like one giant “Previously on News Night” recap. I wish somebody did that, actually — recapped our lives. I bet they’d be too snarky, though.

Neil Sampat: After I left News Night to go work for Al Jazeera America, I realized that normal workplaces don’t spend their time diverting themselves from actual news by talking about mystical creatures that are more legend than fact.

Sloan Sabbith: I’m still wondering how many reindeer Santa has.

Neil: I mean, we might as well have been talking about Bigfoot in there.

MacKenzie McHale: Looking back, yes, I guess we should have realized that whenever we raised doubts, Jerry would overzealously knock them down.

Rebecca Halliday: In the CCTV footage we unearthed during our deposition, someone doubts Cyrus West’s bona fides in that conference-room meeting. But Jerry is quick to hit back. Something like, “His crime was not being good on television, but he led us to Eric Sweeney, so who cares.” Nobody flinched.

MacKenzie: It was hard driving that rental car to General Stomtonovich’s house. The Avis tag hanging off the rearview mirror was so big I couldn’t see out the windshield.

Charlie: You expected me to tell you MacKenzie was a good driver? Have you seen her do any other basic life function without being a klutz?

MacKenzie: When Stomtonovich didn’t remember who we were, even though we called ahead of time, I was spooked. Later, after the lies were revealed, I called a military source to check on the reason Stomtonovich retired. “Senility,” my source told me.

Retired Gen. Stanislaus Stomtonovich: Who are you? Why’d my nursing aides let you in here? An oral history project? What’s it about? Oh, I was hoping you were a college basketball — don’t interrupt me! You can’t touch a shooter while he’s in the process of shooting the ball!

Don: I’ll tell you what I told that lawyer woman — Mack had real doubts about Jerry and his story. She confessed it all to me at the bar after she got back from D.C. We had a real moment that night; I would have tried to seal the deal if I wasn’t so scared of Will.

MacKenzie: I still think God has Humpty Dumpty’d all of us on Earth. If you can’t put it back together, you’ve really been an immoral prat. One of the reasons I wanted to get back with Will was so that I could prove I hadn’t acted immorally. That there was a way for us to piece together what I pushed off the wall.

Maggie: After Mitt Romney cock-blocked Jim, he ran into me at the SoHo Grand bar. I was just thinking my thoughts, but Jim wanted to talk.

Jim Harper: Maggie was broken back then. Everything that happened with Don … and me … and Daniel had shattered her. I didn’t know how to help put her back together.

Maggie: When Jim asked me whether I was keeping the Genoa story a secret, it certainly didn’t make me feel any better. Who was I going to tell about Genoa?

SoHo Grand bartender: When I went home with Maggie after the bar that night, we did our thing, and she slept over. She said something about how she was basically homeless, even though she was paying rent to atone for hurting her roommate. Anyway, while she was sleeping she was murmuring and thrashing a little bit. I was a big fan of Homeland, so I thought she was joking about that scene where Brody has an Issa nightmare. (I like role-playing.) But she was murmuring something else. “Genoa,” she said, as she tossed and turned. “It happened. Genoa. Genoa.”

Maggie: I was pretty hungover when I got into D.C. the next day. It didn’t help that I hadn’t slept well.

Stomtonovich: Maggie? Who’s that? The woman who was with Jerry? Who’s Jerry? If I met somebody named Jerry, I wouldn’t talk to him about sarin gas. I’m not senile.

Maggie: As I’ve told the lawyers a dozen times, Stomtonovich said, “It happened.”

Stomtonovich: Now, I remember. I said Genoa happened, not that sarin gas happened.

Charlie: When we went back over the Stomtonovich footage, we saw that the college basketball game skips in the background. Exactly where Jerry edited the “if” out, the game takes a split-second leap.

MacKenzie: Americans and their basketball. You expected a British person to notice that a basketball game skipped? I thought that’s how people played — they teleported around the court.

Will McAvoy: If I was in the room, I would have noticed that the game skipped. I should’ve been on the red team.

Charlie: Then Herman Valenzuela called. When a voice speaks to you from the grave, you listen. I’m not even religious in my own way, like Don and Mack. (I blame Vietnam.) But I know better than to shoot down divine intervention like that.

Neil: Valenzuela calling was more miraculous than Shelly … Shelly … sorry, had to collect myself for a second … it’s just that, I miss her, you know? We could’ve been something. And then she just, she just disappeared. The last time I saw her was when the miracle happened and she led us to Deet, who had written the report about Genoa. I had bought her coffee that day …

Charlie: In hindsight, it’s easy to say that the Valenzuela call was too miraculous.

But at the time we had a half-dozen sources verifying the same information, along with several people connected to the government hinting that we may have used sarin. I trusted Jerry.

Jim: I never trusted Jerry.

Don: I trusted Jerry only when I was drunk at bars talking to Mack. When I was sober, the guy wasn’t smug enough to earn my respect, let alone my trust.

Will: The irony was that the thing that fixed my ratings was as hollow and desperate as my quest to fix them. There are no easy fixes for our insecurities; no superglue that can put us back together again. Sometimes you just have to come to grips with being broken. The world is imperfect — that’s something that Jerry helped me realize. Too bad he couldn’t come to that conclusion himself.

***

Cut for narrative:

  • Nina and Will are still dating, months after we first saw them get together. Cute for now, but doomed in the end. MackAvoy cannot be stopped. In the meantime, keep on drinking orange juice right after wine, Nina. It’s endearing.
  • Is any privileged, white-collar American under the age of 35 still excited when video chat works? Then why is Hallie? Vassar must have forbidden Skype on campus when she was there. Did you know she went to Vassar?
  • Faced with the contradiction of Taylor being a likeable character and working for Mitt Romney, something apparently had to give. Out she goes, for the most Newsroom reason possible: She spoke too much truth to power. She and Jim have something in common after all.
  • Very excited for the Newsroom sequel that stars Sloan as Will’s successor. Sloan’s the only person that loves Will out in the open. It’s touching.
  • Will throws his money around even more than Jesse on Breaking Bad. This week, he’s writing a big check to Sloan-Kettering. Last season, he wrote a $250,000 check to help pay off a kidnapper. What a mensch!
Photo: HBO