This season of The Newsroom may as well have been its apology tour. After a flaccid first season, the show copped to some of its problems straight out of the gate: Instead of last season’s ADD, this one offered a season-long arc; rather than just calling old college roommates to report the news, this season showed its characters taking weeks to report a story (except for that one deus ex occupa); and it even tried to give Maggie something to do (with mixed results). This was a show that, despite its protests, had obviously heard its critics. It was trying to be better.
That made last night a fitting, if uneven, end to a season of mea culpas. News Night was determined to get back the public’s trust, Will was determined to patch things up with Mack so radically that she’d want to marry him, and Jim was determined to remake himself into a saint. After a season where nothing seemed to go right for News Night, the finale was all apologies and happy endings, however improbable they may have been. “Election Night Part II” showed that Sorkin ultimately sees Newsroom as not just a comedy of errors, but also a Shakespearean comedy—there’s even going to be a wedding in the end.
But before we get to Will’s absolution, let’s focus on News Night’s. The episode opens where it left off — with News Night, thanks to Maggie’s “prayer and clean living,” given early access to the David Petraeus scoop in exchange for laying off the story of a California congressman’s controversial rape comments. But which story will they choose? The one that will set the agenda in Washington for weeks, or the one that may influence a few hundred people’s votes in the waning hours of a congressional election in California?
They choose to do the California story. Why? Democracy! The citizenry doesn’t need to be educated about the sex scandal of the most famous, influential general in a generation — they need to make the most informed vote possible. Charlie Skinner would’ve sat on the Monica Lewinsky story if there were a school board election that needed to be reported on first.
Charlie seems to think that the producers’ choice showed how much progress Will, Mack, and he have made since installing News Night 2.0 last season. And that’s true — they have remade the newsroom in their image. But that doesn’t mean it’s a decent one. Leona tasked Charlie to win back the trust of the public — to do that, he’s going to need more than principled, quiet decisions. He’s going to need scoops that last longer than two hours; he’s going to need a scalp.
Taking down Petraeus would have kick-started News Night’s redemption narrative — a key component of any public comeback. But instead they chose the California story, sticking to internal principle rather than publicly broadcasting strength. Passing up the Petraeus story is worse than Jim passing up the Romney interview. News Night is in the business of news, not democracy-building.
Speaking of that Romney interview, Jim is feeling strong. Emboldened by his boss telling him he doesn’t have to go work for Taylor after all of News Night falls onto the same crammed sword, he sets about trying to put the women he’s Humpty Dumptied back together again. Tipped off that Lisa is catering the party upstairs, Jim goes to talk with her about the center of gravity of Champagne glasses. One thing leads to another, and soon they’re talking about how Jim ran over Lisa’s heart with a Sex and the City bus, and how the problem was that Lisa was too good for Jim, not that Jim was too good for Lisa. Why? Because “You’re working two jobs, you’re thoughtful, and you’re authentic.” Sorkin must have watched a screener of Blue Jasmine when he was writing this script.
With one woman healed, Jim cues the Coldplay and sets about fixing Maggie. Lisa admits she didn’t know about Maggie’s Uganda trauma, Maggie admits she cut her hair to honor the Ugandan child shot off of her back, and Jim admits he wouldn’t have done any of this without Hallie’s prodding. That leads to Maggie and Lisa hugging and making up, Jim feeling like he’s vindicated, and Alison Pill burning that red wig on Jerry Dantana’s funeral pyre (using Pride Goeth Before the Fall as kindling). Could it be that this is the end of Jiggie, the relationship that never made any sense to begin with? That final shot of Maggie clicking on a news alert, mimicking Jim’s click two years earlier, suggests that their connection may be more mentor and mentee next season. The Newsroom would be better for it.
But will The Newsroom be better for Will and MacKenzie’s union? Those kids got engaged faster than Jerry Dantana could edit out a general’s equivocation. Seriously, who goes from wondering whether the love of her life is a “natural bag of douche” to saying yes to his proposal within fifteen minutes? Such is the power of Chekhov’s Ring.
Who among you thought that ring, such a small subplot in season one that our recap barely mentioned it, would show its $250,000 self again? As a refresher, in the midst of a fight, Will trotted out the ring to prove to MacKenzie that Will was close to proposing, if only she hadn’t gone and slept with her ex. MacKenzie, mortified, forgot to ask why Will would keep it in his desk for five years, and Will, ashamed, decided to hang on to the ring as a masochistic symbol of his inability to let go.
It stayed buried until last night, when, in the midst of a blowout in the hair and makeup room, Mack brings it up, forcing Will to admit that it was all staged, as he put it, a “practical joke.” Our two leads move closer, their arms flying at one another with years’ worth of rage. And there, in the room where that Rutgers kid outed himself to MacKenzie, MacKenzie and Will finally have it out with one another. “I brutally hurt you and that’s a fact and facts don’t change,” MacKenzie says, ever aware of how precious facts can be after Genoa. “But in my lifetime, I’ve never done it intentionally.” Will, chastised, looks down and realizes that, for a guy trying to be Don Quixote, he left his honor back in La Mancha. MacKenzie, noting that she finally made Will recognize that he’s been as responsible for damaging their relationship as she was, can only muster a shrug. After all, she’ll be fired after the broadcast is over — her and Will are only hours away from being done.
Leave it to a journalist to only do a job with a deadline looming. In the midst of another Skinner lecture on the nature of cynicism in the modern age, Will has a revelation: MacKenzie tried her best with Will — “Except for the things she did wrong she did everything right” — just like the News Night team did their best with Genoa.
And so, with that, two years of sexual tension are released at News Night. There’s a stiff smooch, an awkward announcement, and a lot of popped bottles. Everything is right at ACN — not the least because Reese has decided to let Will, Mack, Charlie, and the rest of the gang stay in their jobs. All it took for The Newsroom to find a happy ending was for its characters to confront the most horrifying screw-up of their careers. They couldn’t have done any of it without Dantana. I hope he officiates at Will and Mack’s wedding. That’d be a real apology tour.
News Alerts Gone Unclicked
- We didn’t even get to the Don and Sloan affair! Vulture commenter MM3 predicted that Don would be the mystery book-buyer in the comments section last week, and Olivia Munn rewarded you by planting a big fat one on Keefer. May they have many happy nights where they sit next to each other, against a wall, staring into space, sharing their deepest vulnerabilities.
- In the absence of Dantana next season, I hope the antagonist becomes the D.C. bureau, and its continued attempts to hijack ACN’s flagship away from News Night. Terry Smith — still unseen, even on Election Night! — can be News Night’s mole on the inside.
- Loved how, fresh off of a journalistic scandal, Jim and Neal demanded that Hallie publish something they wrote on her blog (called “THE BLOG”) under her byline. Nothing like a plagiarism scandal to follow slander.
- Somebody said, “We know the truth and the mob doesn’t,” last night, perhaps the clearest distillation of the Aaron Sorkin ethos yet.
- If Sorkin believed in memes, I’d think he staged that Twitter giggle scene between Liquid Sex and Leona just so it could be turned into a GIF.
- Will screaming, “Has anyone seen Mack?” was a rare return to the public newsroom yelling that dominated season one, but has been oddly absent this season.
- My notes from the Will and Mack wedding scene feature this, in all caps: “WHAT ABOUT NINA HOWARD.” And, really, guys, what about Nina Howard?! Last we saw, her and Will were drinking wine and plotting morning show appearances. As Will is proposing to Mack, is Nina in Will’s weird modern apartment, watching him anchor the election night broadcast? Or has she already been dumped, and the only person she could call who knew how it felt was Lonnie? Either way, we know how she rebuilds herself: She becomes a publisher of hugely unpopular books like Pride Goeth Before the Fall: An Oral History of News Night.