The Newsroom Series Finale Recap: Back to Normal

Photo: HBO
The Newsroom
Episode Title
What Kind of Day Has It Been
Editor’s Rating

Here’s a little story:

I was working for a daily newspaper several years ago, doing film reviews for the features department. One Monday afternoon, the features staff threw a dessert-filled gathering where all of the other editors and reporters in the building could attend. So I was hanging with this circle of people and, at the time, I was tired and my back was hurting and I wasn’t in the mood to write. When I said out loud I didn’t feel like writing anything today, one of the female news reporters jokingly said, “Oh, don’t worry — you’re in features. You don’t write anything important.”

It took everything in my being not to curse this woman out and make sure she left our floor running and crying. The automatic belief that what she felt she was covering was more important than what I was covering incensed me. I may not be doing hard news, but people still read me. My department and I believed we were just as integral to people’s daily news intake as the hard-news side of the building. Plus, we were proud of what we were doing — why did she think we were celebrating with a sugar-fueled soiree?

For the past three years, I’ve felt Aaron Sorkin has been constantly echoing the sentiment that ignorant/arrogant reporter hit me with so long ago with The Newsroom. Riding a horse so high that he can only get off it with a fire-truck ladder, Sorkin came galloping in to let us know that the fourth estate has failed us. No longer are we well-informed Americans. We’ve been besieged with propaganda, tabloid sensationalism, and click bait. News is dying — and, goddammit, Aaron Sorkin is here to save us.

Anyone who watched CNN’s coverage of Ferguson knows that he isn’t completely off base. But much like when he went on a season-long ego trip with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, blasting both television and the media for not being on his Level of Excellence, Sorkin wagged his finger to the point where I thought dude was going into spasms. He made the Atlantis Cable News team a rogues’ gallery of dedicated, passionate newsmen and women. Unfortunately, they all thought they were the only dedicated, passionate newsmen and women on the planet. Their noble, ambitious attitude regarding their work and how journalism should be handled often verged on being egotistical, narcissistic, and just plain self-centered. 

Fortunately, Sorkin realized he made a lot of mistakes while running this show, which it appeared he was trying to rectify this past season. However, I can’t help thinking Sorkin had a screw-it moment while writing the finale. After five episodes of dipping into some bleak (and, in the case of last week’s episode, polarizing) territory, he realized he can’t end a show of his so grimly. So he did exactly what I said he would do a couple of recaps ago and ended everything on an utterly uplifting note. Sure, Charlie’s dead. But as the ACN gang buries their grand poobah, they all remember how this old son of a bitch stuck his neck out for all of them, in the hopes that they'd get their acts together and save journalism and puppies and Christmas and all that stuff.

Considering how preachy and sanctimonious the show has been from the jump, it’s almost fitting that “What Kind of Day Has It Been” begins with everyone in church, singing a hymn at Charlie’s funeral. But once Mac notifies Will that she’s with child, that’s when memories from three years ago start to flow.

Oh yes, News Night with Will McAvoy pre-Mac was a shell of a show, with an audience-friendly (and audience-pandering) Will interviewing Kiefer Sutherland about the series finale of 24 instead of hipping people to what’s really going on. This was before Will’s Northwestern appearance lit a fire under his ass to do the news again.

As I mentioned before, “Day” shows how fires were lit under several asses, mostly thanks to Charlie’s prodding. He tracks down Mac, still smarting from the shootings and stabbings in Afghanistan, while she’s day-bowling (and day-drinking) in an Army shirt and sweats and proposes she take over News Night. But before she does, she attends Will’s Northwestern panel and bumps into Jennifer, who notifies Mac of the dumb question that will send Will into a meltdown. Mac gives Sorority Girl tips on how to make sure she gets on the mike and asks her question. Yeah, I don’t know how Mac would’ve assumed Will would flip out and change his life around either. But it happened, and that’s how The Newsroom was born, kids.

I’m sorry, but can I just stop this recap to talk about what kind of sorry-ass welcome-back Neal got? After spending several weeks in Venezuela, Neal’s return home gets briefly announced at the funeral. But instead of Neal visiting his crew at the funeral, as well as paying respects to his deceased boss, he heads back to the bullpen. He manages to shut down the ACN website from his phone while his fill-in team was in the middle of writing a silly listicle on the most overrated movies (they were right about Avatar and The Descendants), so he could berate them about how embarrassed they’ve made him for turning his site into a click-bait junkyard. Do we even have to discuss how this is just Sorkin chastising the Whole Damn Internet one more time before he wraps this up? Let’s move on.

What’s even more perplexing about Neal’s return is how NO ONE ELSE welcomed him back. After all, he spent most of the season as a fugitive from justice, so you’d think they’d throw a party or something. But alas, there was nothing. No hugs or kisses. No “Hey, Neal, how was South America?” or “Did you bring us back anything?” Apart from passing info to Kendra and the flashback scene with Will, Neal had no interaction with anybody else in the cast this whole episode. Was Dev Patel so wrapped up in making that Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sequel that Sorkin just wrote a couple of scenes before he left for India and inserted them in the finale? It certainly seemed that way.  

The finale was more offensive to me than last week’s rape episode. At least in that episode, Sorkin was trying to present dual, different points of view when rape rears its ugly head. Everyone was on the same accord in the finale. There was hardly any conflict. After a few eps of being the Big Bad, Pruit practically appeared docile, and for good reason. He’s been conveniently getting heat in the press for his treatment of women, not paying the women at a soft-drink operation he owns as much as the men as well as hiring girls for “living art” at a party.

With Pruit labeled as a misogynist in the press (man, it’s like Sorkin saw the outcome of last week’s episode way before anyone else did), Leona proposes a solution that’ll keep angry women at bay: make Mac the news director. So after being nearly shown the door by Pruit in last week’s ep, ol girl’s getting promoted!

Sloan almost got kicked to the curb last week, but it looks like she’ll keep her job, too. She plays heavily in the flashbacks, too, as they reveal how Sloan was sweet on Don (who was still dating Maggie) from the beginning, even when they were butting heads over a lousy interview Will did. Don and Sloan were butting heads in present day as well, as they were wondering who was exactly responsible for Charlie’s death. Fortunately, Charlie’s widow (Joanna Gleason!) soothes Don’s nerves by letting him know Charlie was already miserable and stressed out and hoped that Don wouldn’t do that Princeton story. She also gave Don one of Charlie’s signature bowties, which Don gave to Sloan to soothe her nerves.

Since we’re talking about nerves that need soothing, let’s bring Jim, Maggie, and their continuing, neurotic coupling into this. Although they’ve been having fun hitting it for a few nights, the whole is-this-a-relationship thing popped up when Jim told Maggie he recommended her for a field-reporter position she’s being interviewed for in D.C. Maggie, who appears to be New, Confident Maggie no more, was feeling a little agitated that Jim would ship her off right when they finally were together. But Maggie’s still gonna go for the job, even when Jim told her to turn it down and take his old job now that Mac promoted him to News Night EP. They eventually agree to a long-distance relationship, which Jim assures Maggie will work since he nonchalantly admits he’s in love with her. While we may never see Jim and Maggie again (and thank God for that!), we can obviously tell this shit ain’t gonna last!

And just when you thought things couldn’t get more embarrassingly sappy, Will has an actual, unplugged, garage jam session with Jim and Charlie’s grandson Bo at the wake. Honestly, who didn’t think that Tom T. Hall song would come back up in this episode in the most cringe-worthy fashion? But after all that fun, everyone returns to ACN and does the news, because it’s their job and it’s their responsibility and whatever the hell. “So, we’re all landing on our feet,” Sloan tells Don, almost as though she can’t believe it her damn self.

But really, did we expect anything else from Sorkin? The man refuses to leave things on a messy, unresolved, unhappy note. To tell you the truth, I always thought he and HBO were a bad fit. The premium channel traffics in shows that go against the grain, push the envelope, fuck up your day, etc. As much as he tried to make the show HBO-worthy, with the sloppy, grungy camera movements and excessive use of profanity (was there a show that used profanity more awkwardly than this one?) Sorkin is, and will always be, an old-school softy, better suited for the networks. I don’t know if dude is truly done with television. But if he isn’t, maybe he should see if CBS would want him in its corner.

Folks, there’s nothing more to say. There won’t be any stray thoughts this time, because I don’t have much. (I will say, didn’t you Mad Men fans wish Mac had gotten her Roger Sterling on and told Jim never to say “I won’t let you down” when he did?) I will say this has been one of the more peculiar experiences of my career, recapping a show so divisive and dealing with both the diehards (who thought I was too critical) and the detractors (who thought I wasn’t critical enough). I surely won’t forget y’all — and I hope I don’t run into any of you on the street. I also hope the next show I recap won’t be as brutal. Maybe that new rap-dynasty drama with Terrence Howard will be easier. See you later.