Oh, where does one begin with a Newsroom episode titled “Contempt”?
Sure, it’s the thing that gets Will sent up the river at the end of the episode, but it’s also an emotion a lot of the characters bring toward each other. Charlie and Lucas (whose Asperger’s-ish behavior from last week’s ep has now been replaced with pure arrogance) barely hide their contempt for one another and their ideals when they have their Correspondents’ Dinner throw down. The same goes for Jim and Hallie when they have their long-overdue breakup/blowup. Mac and Lilly show their contempt for each other’s actions while they’re in the goddamn rain. Reese can hardly conceal his contempt for Lucas when he signs the papers for control of ACN. (I also think that has something to do with Lucas sleeping with Reese’s girlfriend in college.) Even Sloan has a bit of contempt for Will (and Don, who comes to Will’s defense) when she fails to see the logic in Will reporting on documents from a leak while not condoning leaks as sources.
And let’s not forget the various people that Aaron Sorkin is personally charging — and has always been charging — with contempt: captains of industry, network suits, authority figures, and other people of power who choose to pacify the public; the public who is quite okay with the pacifying; and, of course, people who don’t do hard news.
Even the most hard-core Sorkinoids have to admit how condescending Sorkin can get when it comes to that last one. For some reason, Sorkin practically refuses to acknowledge there are other sections in the newspaper besides the front page (with the exception of maybe the sports page, which could explain why “So help me, Hannah,” apparently an ol’ baseball phrase, came out of Sloan’s mouth this week). So, when media outlets report on other things besides hard news (like, say, this very site, which got a verbal shout-out in this ep), no matter how well written or well reported it is, they are personally responsible for dumbing down the nation.
Jim and Jack Spaniel (a.k.a. Maggie’s new squeeze) see eye-to-eye on this, with Jack accidentally comparing Hallie to a drug dealer to her face at the Correspondents’ Dinner. But, as Jim later reminds her, she’s not like a drug dealer. Drug dealers, whom Jim has been in the company of, know that they’re not peddling medicine. As much as Hallie tries to convince Jim that she’s not the enemy, she pulls a couple of bone-headed moves that further proves Jim’s suspicions, such as telling her new bosses where to look as they report on Will going before a grand jury and angrily writing a first-person piece about dating a disrespectful, old-school journalist named “Tim.”
However, as much as Sorkin tries to paint Hallie as a callow young pup with a naïve idea on how to inform the public, Jim still ends up looking like a deluded, bitter dick (“Dear Penthouse” — really, man?) whose grand concept of How Journalism Works costs him a relationship with a smart, beautiful woman.
Basically, while most of these characters are exhibiting contempt, it’s their stubborn egos that are taking them down in the process. Will keeps a stiff upper lip — “Irish stoicism” is what Mac calls it — as he refuses to give up his source and goes to the big house for it. (Since Mac informs Will that she’s been in contact with the source, who’s not a “he” as he mentioned, there’s a good chance Will never knew who the source was at all and is going to jail for nothing.) Mac’s so dead set on getting the Kundu story out there, refusing to tell Don or anyone why it has to be done immediately, it never crosses her mind that the story could be shot down if the higher-ups fear crippling criminal fines, which is exactly what happens when Lucas kills the story before he buys ACN. Charlie’s so afraid of Lucas and his crowd-sourcing news methods, he gets Sloan to convince rich girl Toni Dodd (Talia Balsam, who I was so happy to see I wrote “JOHN SLATTERY’S WIFE!” in my notes) to buy ACN. Unfortunately, Dodd was circling around ACN so she could buy up another company, which resulted in Charlie busting in the boardroom to prematurely tell off Lucas, and Sloan and Don coming in seconds later to basically tell him he just made an ass out of himself.
So, ACN gets bought by Lucas, the story gets killed (the documents do get sent to one of Don’s old Columbia professors, who now works at the AP), and Will goes to Oz for contempt of court (but not before making a big speech that even rivets the judge). Things couldn’t be bleaker for the ACN gang — so let’s close things out with a wedding! Yes, before he gets the shackles slapped on him, Will makes an honest woman out of Mac and marries her at City Hall, with the whole crew getting dispatched to pick up the essentials (rings, cake, a music ensemble complete with a vocalist singing “Ave Maria”).
This would’ve been a pessimistic-but-operatic way (director Anthony Hemingway definitely threw in a lot of sweeping, overhead shots) to end the show: The bad guys win, the old guard gets pummeled by the new guard, the hero takes a fall, the future is uncertain. It definitely would’ve fallen in line with every other HBO drama that has gone off the air, including one that just left the channel mere weeks ago.
But since this is an Aaron Sorkin show, and his shows always end on a rousingly positive note, we've got two more episodes to turn this thing around. So what Hail Mary pass, what last-minute twist, what 4 a.m. miracle will save ACN in the final two hours? Will Neal and Lilly actually switch places as Mac suggested, leaving Neal free to return, Mac free to give up the source, and Will free, period? Will Reese and Leona reconcile with the twins and form a united, family front, pulling their resources together to get ACN away from Lucas’s grip? Will Lucas pull a Sam Donovan and turn out to be not only the douche bag everybody thinks he is but the person who gets ACN out of this rut?
THINKING AND DRINKING
- Neal is in South America, and Hallie has been fired. So, who the hell is running ACN Digital? Considering how digital-phobic ACN is, does anyone care?
- You kinda went overboard when you played “Hallelujah Chorus” on your phone (and kept it playing during the scene), Gary Cooper. Love those fist-pounds on the table, though.
- Is there a character in the history of television who has gone from unsympathetic to sympathetic to utterly sympathetic with a quickness like Reese Lansing? There isn’t a character I feel for more on this show (and currently on TV) than him. Tell me you couldn’t feel his pain when you first saw him with his head laid down on his desk, about to break the news to Mac about nixing the Kundu story.
- So, Mac has been shot at and stabbed — yeah, I can see that happening.
- While kudos go to Jack for calling out Maggie on overly siding with Hallie so she doesn’t look like she’s still hung up on Jim, I can’t believe Sorkin is STILL trying to make Jim and Maggie a thing. I thought that ship sailed a long-ass time ago.
- Wyatt Earp Geary was harassing Don and Sloan for no other reason except that it was fun. Shouldn’t Don and Sloan complain to HR about that?
- And while much of the Don and Sloan Show was preempted by Sloan helping Charlie find a new buyer for ACN, it’s always fun seeing Waterston and Munn together, whether they’re bickering or conspiring. Also, watching Waterston get all giddy, almost ready to skip down the street after the Dodd lunch, made me all warm and tingly inside.
- If you want that singer to perform “Ave Maria” at your wedding, her name is Katie Boeck and you can contact her at her website.