In recapping the final season of The Newsroom these past few weeks, I feel I’ve found myself in the middle of a volatile war. It’s between the Sorkinoids, the diehard fans who feel Sorkin is their leader and can do no wrong (and who leave a litany of comments whenever I make the least bit of criticism about the man and his work) and the hate-watchers, who proudly admit they experience the show mainly because it’s a trainwreck (many of these hate-watchers are professional TV critics).
I don’t consider myself a hate-watcher; in fact, I detest the term. (Why the hell would you watch something you don’t like? I gave that shit up a long time ago when I came to the conclusion that Two and a Half Men was always going to be awful.) But I also think Sorkin is just a mortal who can exhibit a lot of flaws in his work, which Sorkinoids do not want to hear. I’m somewhere in the middle which, as a friend pointed out to me recently, you can’t be when you’re publicly discussing Sorkin. “Either people defend him blindly,” he said, “or they wonder why he’s not in jail.”
After the penultimate episode, “Oh Shenandoah,” it seemed a lot of my fellow recappers definitely wanted to put him in some sort of holding facility, away from a laptop. This is mostly due to how Sorkin handled a storyline involving campus sexual assault. Considering how Rolling Stone recently spent the past weekend under fire for its mishandling of a recent story on a horrific gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity (it looks like Rolling Stone has its own Genoa on its hands), this episode can either be seen as eerily prescient or horribly ill-timed.
The storyline had Don getting forced by Charlie (ordered by Lucas Pruit) to report on a campus rape at Princeton and get the accuser and accused for a sit-down, in-studio interview. Yes, it’s an horrendous, offensive idea – but, in Sorkinland, that stuff happens.
Don meets up with the accused, Mary (played by Sarah Sutherland, aka Kiefer’s daughter and Julia Louis Dreyfus’s daughter on Veep), at her dorm room. Openly apprehensive about talking to her alone in her room (a really bad first impression, Don!), he nevertheless gets her to talking about being raped by a couple of attackers, how no one has been charged and how the experience inspired her to start a website for other victims of unreported rape.
But Don is not there to get her to do the interview. He’s there to beg her not to go through with it. For starters, he’s afraid her website would falsely accuse men of rape by vengeful women. Secondly, Don doesn’t want to see Mary eaten up by the carnivorous news media and an even more unforgiving World Wide Web. (“The law will acquit,” Don tells Mary. “The Internet never will.”) Even though Mary still wants to do the interview, Don eventually nixes the story, later telling Charlie he “couldn’t find her.”
Now, for me, I thought the lengthy back-and-forth between Don and Mary was well-acted and well-written, one of the few shining examples of what happens when the show gives two characters two separate points of view and actually let them debate instead of one person making a big-ass speech and the other person just sitting there, engulfed by it all. Unfortunately, the whole sequence carries a lot of baggage, for both Sorkin (who’s been chided over the years for how he doesn’t know how to write women) and the viewers.
With the Rolling Stone debacle (not to mention Bill Cosby’s continual accusations of sexual assault) still lemon-fresh in our minds, I can see how a guy telling a girl maybe it’s not a good idea to tell the world she’s been raped would be seen as condescending and downright unbelievable, especially by viewers who see the show as nothing but. But, once again, we’re in Aaron Sorkin territory, where being condescending and unbelievable is usually seen as being well-intentioned and idealistic.
As much as Don’s attempt to talk Mary out of going on TV – as well as him vetoing the story altogether – was well-intentioned but patronizing (since Don is a guy who could never understand being raped but still wants to do what’s best, wasn’t that the point?), remember, this is ACN. People looking to get their voices heard get shot down by the gang — for their own good, of course — all the time. Remember when Mac put a kibosh on that college kid’s on-air, coming-out party last season?
Ultimately, this part of the show didn’t enrage me as much as other reviewers. This is because 1) I got problems of my own and I don’t have time for some show to offend me (especially this one!), 2) as someone who’s followed Sorkin for years, I’ve gotten used to this type of stuff from him and 3) as ill-conceived as it may be perceived, it nonetheless showed how rape continues to be a continuously complex, always explosive issue that needs to be discussed but also needs to be handled with the utmost delicacy. And if you’re a man, especially the Oscar- and Emmy-winning creator of a TV show, you better come correct or else those Internet savages you talk about so much are gonna come after your ass!
And now, let’s go on to the other stuff that happened.
Poor Charlie. His last days at ACN definitely didn’t look like his best. His talk of being “sworn enemies” with new boss Pruit seemed to have subsided as he turned into the beaten-down, company man he spent his entire life trying not to be. Ordering Mac, Don and others to take on stories that are either sensationalistic or (in the case of hard-news-or-no-news-at-all Mac) utterly beneath them because Pruit said so, certainly took the fighting fire out of the old man’s eyes.
Be honest: you kinda sensed that Charlie was headed for some sort of breakdown, either physical or mental, especially as he spent his last moments yelling at Mac, Sloan and Don for their insubordinate, mutinous actions and trying to calm down Pruit as he ordered for Mac and Sloan (or “Thelma and Louise,” as he called them) to be fired. Before Charlie could talk to Pruit alone, he stops in the middle of the newsroom, bangs and bloodies his head on a desk and goes out as everyone rushes to his aid (in slo-mo to the titular song!).
I’m sure most of you thought like I did, that good ol’ Charlie would pull through somehow and be around for ACN’s glorious comeback in next week’s finale. But, damn – Sorkin really hit us with that whopper, didn’t he? As Will finally gets out of prison for contempt-of-court for 52 days – where, as we find out, he’s been getting his Maziar Bahari on and talking to his dead, wife-beating, anti-Semitic old man while he was on lock – Mac hits him with the bombshell that his friend and mentor has died.
So, with Charlie deceased and ACN in charge of Pruit, who despite his horrible ways to attract viewers (ACNgage – man, that’s so 2007!) has taken the network from fourth to third, it actually looks ACN will not be the beacon of true journalism it hardly was but wanted to be and Don Quixote will get his ass kicked. The writing couldn’t be more sadly on the walls, which are apparently closing in on the gang. If last week’s sweeping wide-shot filled episode was Sorkin and company having the ACN gang getting things out in the open, this episode (claustrophobically directed by Paul Lieberstein) has them stuck in close, tight places — jail cell, dorm room, airplane — where they can’t get out and they have nowhere else to go.
- Well, Jim and Maggie are finally, officially a couple. As they were trying (and, eventually, failing) to track down Edward Snowden at a Moscow airport, they once again copped to their feelings for each other. I also have this unfortunate feeling this is the last time we’ll see New, Confident Maggie, and the final episode will have her back as the Neurotic, Insufferable Maggie we all know and can’t stand. (She was already in-between and mostly acting like Nosy, Intrusive Maggie for most of the episode.)
- Considering how they were portrayed either as shakedown hustlers or just straight-up petulant, does Sorkin have a problem with Russians I don’t know about?
- Sorkin gets a lot of crap about how he writes women. But, as both Charlie and Will were trying to hang tough throughout the ep, I found that it was mostly the women who had the stronger dispositions. It was Sloan who eviscerated that Josh Gad-looking dick of a digital editor on the air for his awful ACNgage app (and, of course, it was Mac who let her). Even Maggie let Jim know perhaps he should’ve been more forward with his feelings for her before she eventually laid a big smooch on him. Speaking of female characters …
- So Constance Zimmer’s Romney-loving spokesperson-turned-pundit/Jim Harper foil isn’t gonna show up at all this season? I loved the hell out of her last season. Sorkin found something for fellow House of Cards player Jimmi Simpson to do; he couldn’t throw Zimmer a bone as well?
- Wasn’t that prison guard THE most positive, reassuring prison guard ever? For a minute there, I thought it was his first day. Then, he talked about the previous contempt-of-court inmates he watched over. I’m guessing Sorkin is not a big Oz watcher.
- “You hit a woman, man!” I love it when Jeff Daniels gets all Jeff Bridges in the middle of a performance.
We got one more episode to go, people. Whaddya gotta say about it?