This is more like what we signed up for. Main characters revealing their psyche through small moments rather than grandiloquence; incredibly smart people doing their jobs well but still thwarted anyway; a vamping Jane Fonda; self-aware Deep Throat references — this is the show we were expecting. Over the past few weeks, The Newsroom has remade itself into good television on the fly. All it took was Jerry.
Before Jerome(!) Dantana was fired, he offered The Newsroom what it always lacked: a worthy villain. Jerry wasn’t evil because he was rich; he was evil because he was so similar to our heroes, just without the moderation. The first season of Newsroom pitched Leona and her son Reese as generic bad guys — the greedy executives who wanted to ruin the heroes’ fun, no matter what principles were sacrificed. But this only works if the hero is likable. By the sixth time Will snarled at his staffers, it was clear that label did not apply.
But Jerry was different than Leona. He was a journalist in the trenches, just like his colleagues. He believed in principles, in the journalistic method, and in the power of educating the citizenry. He just believed in them too much — to the point that he would lie for them. Jerry stretched Newsroom’s character spectrum so that our heroes were no longer the most overbearing people on the show. As a result, Jim, Maggie, MacKenzie, Will, and the rest weren’t as insufferable. It was Jerry who couldn’t keep his anger at the injustice of the world in check.
Jerry’s ascension to Newsroom villain was complete at the end of last night’s episode, as Jane Fonda ate her way through the scenery faster than Neil at a Shake Shack. Here was Leona, fresh off a Daniel Craig missed connection, defending the very team that she tried to fire last season. Now she’s not the villain, she’s the white knight. It’s a full reversal of character, just like The Newsroom’s.
For the recap of this all-Genoa episode, we turn again to the latest chapter from Pride Goeth Before the Fall: An Oral History of News Night.
Rebecca Halliday: I spent a total of five days with the News Night people. They didn’t like me by the end of it. Don told me he was ready to eat the table if it got rid of me.
Don Keefer: How many times can you go over the same information? I felt like we had spent weeks carefully explaining the various dominos that led to Genoa. And then I had to explain the sequence of events all over again.
Jim Harper: You don’t want me to go over how we — oh, God, you do. Fine. Here, for the final time, are the seven pieces of evidence we had on Genoa. (1) Cyrus West, the self-promoting fabricator. (2) Eric Sweeney, the brain-damaged soldier. (3) @Hamni8, the tweeting ghost. (4) Leon Deet, the deus ex occupa. (5) Charlie’s source, the guy who blamed Charlie for killing his kid. (6) Stomtonovich, the senile general. (7) Valenzuela, the mimic marine.
Neil Sampat: When Rebecca asked me if I thought the story was legit, I was so taken aback.
Rebecca: You could see that the kid was flattered that someone was asking his opinion, rather than just assuming he was too smart to have one.
Neil: I think I’m finally allowed to say out loud that I wasn’t qualified to judge the evidence.
Maggie Jordan: Yeah, in retrospect, we should’ve known. At the time, I was too busy daydreaming about cutting my hair to listen closely during those Red Team meetings.
Jim: Do I remember what actually caused Maggie to cut her hair … not really. I thought she did it after Africa?
Maggie: Since getting back from Uganda, I would wake up thinking I had already done it, but the blonde would still be there. I guess I was just waiting for the right moment, when I wanted my trauma to really show?
Neil: When Will first heard the word sarin, I saw him bat an eye. But that was about it. The only other time I had seen him that still was when he was high the night they killed bin Laden.
Will McAvoy: I was shocked when I found out Charlie’s source was the same as mine. No journalist wants to share his Deep Throat.
Charlie Skinner: To this day, I don’t know where Will met our guy. You think he ran into him at one of my a cappella shows? We have one tomorrow night at the Bitter End, by the way, if you want to come. Two-for-one whiskey special.
Jim: Jerry and I faced off at that third Red Team meeting. He yelled at me. “We’ve tortured, droned wiretapped, renditioned, and suspended due process. But you think we drew a moral and legal line some place. Are you one of the Andrews Sisters?”
Neil: The whole room was like, who are the Andrews Sisters?
Jim: Never trust a guy who name-drops forties doo-wop troupes.
Charlie: The night of the broadcast I couldn’t be in the studio. I was too nervous.
MacKenzie: I remember that nobody looked like they were having fun. We were all graver than when they pipe Coldplay in over the office speakers.
Jim: Watching that Genoa special report now, when you know we’re wrong, when you know we’re committing a historic journalistic screw-up — it’s perversely exciting. But don’t tell Mack I said that.
Charlie: Plenty of Will’s haters were rooting for us to fail. And we did. I hadn’t been that humbled since my wife slapped me in the garage.
Jim: When we blurred the basketball video so it wasn’t a distraction, the game still has a jump cut, but it’s so blurry you can’t tell if it’s a camera cut or a Jerry cut.
Neil: While we were waiting for the Pentagon response, I drafted a Powerpoint about why Mack’s conflation of Mordor and Dumbledore was so wrong. I called it “Lord of the Wrongs.” MacKenzie would’ve been a Hufflepuff, I think.
Charlie: When I told Will that we had 5.8 million people watch the newscast, I’d never seen him so happy.
Will: I could see how you think that my happiness and validation was predicated on hundreds of lost lives and an illegal breach of moral code by the U.S. government. I could see how you think that’s perverse. But that’s also journalism. You come to work every day with the hope that 5.8 million people might, just for one hour, remember that you’re alive. That you’re more than just a boy from the Midwest who could throw a football. That you can change the world, no matter what your father said otherwise. 5.8 million people! That’s bigger than Denmark! Imagine if all of Denmark watched Don Quixote ride out to those windmills. Man of La Millions.
MacKenzie: Then it all started to fall apart. I realized I had been overzealous in my questioning of Valenzuela. Stomtonovich called Charlie to complain. Charlie flew to D.C. just to get slapped by his source.
Charlie: Genoa didn’t start because Jim fell in love with Maggie, or because that embed broke his leg jumping out of a Holiday Inn in Nashua. The dominos started when I hired my source’s son before Mack even got to News Night. That’s what made Genoa happen.
[Name redacted]: Of course I was joking when I said I was going to kill Charlie. Rand Paul wouldn’t let me put out a drone attack on American soil, and Charlie doesn’t travel abroad nearly enough for me to get him while he was away.
Charlie: I’m sorry the guy blames me for killing his son. But if anything, a job at News Night would’ve driven him back to substance abuse. My whiskey, Maggie’s alcoholism, Will’s pot — this is not exactly a clean workplace. We did the kid a favor by firing him.
Maggie: As it was all falling down, Benghazi happened.
Don: At first I thought the protests were because of our revelations about sarin. I had warned everybody there’d be backlash. But it turned out to just be a terrorist attack.
The Intern: Can we just note, for a second, what was a bigger story by summer of 2013: Kate Middleton giving birth or Benghazi? Neil should’ve trusted my news judgment.
Neil: When I first saw Mack staring at that countdown timer, I was worried it was a bomb; somebody retaliating for Genoa. When she ran off to the editing bay with it, I thought she was martyring herself.
Mack: When I saw that the shot clock on the Genoa video went from 19 to 3 to 14, I felt more scared than I ever did taking fire in Afghanistan. We had been beaten. I needed to make sure it wasn’t with impunity.
Rebecca: As a lawyer, I recommend all my clients not fire their insubordinate employees in an elevator, at least without anyone from HR present.
Jim: I’ve known Mack a long time, and I’ve never seen her as upset as when she told us that we had to retract Genoa. She was quivering.
Will: I’d only seen Mack like that once, when I cornered her about cheating on me. You could tell Genoa had ruined her just the same. She had come to question the thing that she thought was most resolute: first, with me, her integrity; then, with Genoa, her news judgment. I would’ve given her a hug if twenty people hadn’t been in the room.
Charlie: The plan was to go up to Leona’s office and resign, the Three Musketeers laying down their swords.
Leona: I was listening to an Audible of a Katherine Graham biography on the cab ride over. It inspired me to show Will, Charlie, and McMack some leniency.
Will: After Leona decided not to accept our resignation, I sent her one of those life-size Daniel Craig cutouts to say thanks.
MacKenzie: I sent her an autographed Snoop Dog single. Snoop wrote a little note. “Ms. Lansing: You’re welcome under my hizzy anytime.” Then he drew a little pot leaf.
Charlie: I repaid her by earning back the trust of the public. And I knew we had to do it in just two weeks, because then I was taking a nine-month vacation.