This year, Aaron Sorkin has managed a feat that, in 15 years and four television series, he has never managed before: Aaron Sorkin wrote a good season of television. Sorkin at his best (West Wing, Sports Night) has written many brilliant, inspiring, and crowd-pleasing episodes of television, and he has strung together very successful multi-episode story arcs, but he’s never created nine hours of television that work together better as a whole than in individual installments. Some episodes of The Newsroom season two have been better than others, and most of us can agree that the Africa episode was a disaster, but taken as a whole, it has been an increasingly successful season, with each episode building upon the last, all leading toward a finale next week that will hopefully put a button on a strong overall, excellently cohesive season.
This week’s first part of a two-part season ender, “Election Night Part I,” was a great hour of television: Fast-paced, entertaining, funny, and quick-witted. It was heavy on the banter, and spare with its smugness. Like most of the season’s episodes, it did not turn on a big human interest story designed to manipulate our feelings. This season of The Newsroom is much less driven by the news stories, and far more driven by the characters, specifically how they came together to build a giant story — Operation Genoa — and now, how they’re coming together to deal with the consequences of having published that fake story. Most importantly, however, this week’s episode did it’s most important job: It got us excited for the finale.
Because of the character-driven nature of the episode, the plot details were not particularly meaty: Basically, it boils down to the fact that Will and Charlie want to resign, that Leona will not let them (and in fact, will sue them for breach of contract if they quit), and how they’re trying to find a way to escape before Jerry Dantana files his wrongful termination suit, which will highlight the mistakes of ACN and further damage the network’s reputation. With one hour left, I have no idea how Sorkin will manage to redeem Charlie, Will, and Mac, and given the factors stacked against it, I fear one of two outcomes: A Deus ex machina or Will, Charlie, and Mac actually do resign (season three of The Newsroom has not been officially renewed, despite what Jeff Daniels has tweeted).
There was also an election to report, and it was there that Sorkin best demonstrated the difference between season one of The Newsroom and season two. Last year, the election would’ve been front and center. It would’ve been used a an excuse for Sorkin to get on his bully pulpit and rail about the Tea Party, or — if it were to take a page from Sports Night — laser its focus on a county election in some no-name city in Middle America, which would’ve been used to demonstrate the rousing powers of democracy. Instead, the election coverage provided some amusing background noise to help move the characters around, as well as allowing Taylor Warren and Sloan Sabbith TO BE WONDERFUL.
The episode could be boiled down to essentially three key scenes. In the first, Charlie gave another one of his outstanding “I’m not f*cking around” speeches, explaining to Rebecca Halliday why Leona should accept their resignation.
“We aired a doctored tape in support of a fake report. The guy who doctored the tape is suing us,” Charlie raves. “The woman who has always wanted to fire us won’t let us resign, and the unhappiest guy in the building is in charge of morale. WE HAVE GONE TO THE ZOO.”
(I choose to ignore Rebecca Haliday’s use of the term “liquid sex,” just as I choose to ignore than Jane Fonda’s character used the word “hizzy” in the last episode. Sorkin should never try to sound hip. It does not suit him.)
In the second key scene, after a frustrated Mac waited around all night for Will to blow up at her for ruining his reputation, Will finally gave Mac what she wanted. He fired her, not because he wanted to, and not because it was the best thing for the show, but because it’s what Mac presumably wanted.
Finally, the episode’s greatest moment came when Charlie went bananas because Don and Maggie delivered a huge story that he knew the network didn’t have the credibility to air.
Don: “If we agree to hold off on reporting the story, he’ll get us two on-the-record sources.”
Charlie: “As long as its not a potentially libelous story about misconduct in the armed forces, I’m listening.”
Don: “David Petraeus is about to resign over an extramarital affair with his biographer, a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve. And the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan will be investigated in regard to a relationship with a Florida socialite who is receiving harassing emails from General Petraeus’ mistress.
Charlie: (LOSES SH*T)
I don’t know how long Sorkin has had that in his back pocket, but given the fact that the Petraeus story broke three days after the election, I could not think of a better, more ironic consequence to the Operation Genoa scandal. In fact, if the entire season were one long, elaborate, eight-episode joke working up to that single punchline, it might have been worth it for Charlie’s reaction alone.