Season finale review: ‘The Newsroom’

A review of “The Newsroom” season finale coming up just as soon as I get the Allman Brothers back together…

Though Jeff Daniels tweeted a couple of weeks ago that HBO had renewed “The Newsroom,” this turned out to be premature; “We are excited about proceeding to a Season 3 and are continuing our conversations with Aaron about schedules,” HBO said in a statement the next day. And Aaron Sorkin is indeed a very busy man, going through the most prolific and acclaimed stretch of his screenwriting career. Unlike NBC and Warner Bros. with “West Wing,” this isn’t a show that’s going to continue without him, and it’s an enormous time commitment for a guy who’s beloved elsewhere and catching a lot of grief week in and week out for this show. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that these delays are part scheduling, part Sorkin wondering if he needs the hassle.

And parts of “Election Night, Part 2” played an awful lot like Sorkin wrapping up various bits of business in a neat bow in the event he chooses not to continue the show. Will and Mac hash out all their old issues and get engaged, Leona and Reese put the full weight of the company behind the “News Night” staff, Sloan kisses Don, and Jim brokers a peace between Lisa and Maggie. There was even a meta moment where Taylor invited Will to respond to the charges the show often gets in real life: that Will claims to be a Republican so he has easier cover to attack the right. (And let me remind you of the No Politics rule here; we’re not going to get into the substance of Will’s reply to that question, nor to the show’s general portrait of Democrats vs. Republicans.)

There are still personal stories for these characters Sorkin could tell in a third season and beyond (the inevitable Jim/Maggie pairing, for one, though keep in mind that Josh and Donna didn’t hook up on “West Wing” until long after Sorkin was gone), but that episode felt like an attempt to give the characters, and the show, a happy ending.

Unfortunately, much of the “Election Night” two-parter felt tin-eared in the way that “The Newsroom” too often has.

After attempting in “Red Team III” to suggest that Mac, Charlie and others shared some of the blame for Genoa, “Election Night” went back to piling all of the blame on Jerry Dantana, which may be accurate but again isn’t dramatically compelling in the slightest. A story about our noble heroes making a huge mistake because they were blinded by their idealism (or ideology) is interesting; a story where they are hustled by two characters (Jerry and Shep) we’ve never met before and are never given any reason to care about is simplistic and free of both tension. Having the Lansings pull a Monty Burns and have one of their unpredictable changes of heart pulled whatever teeth remained in the story in favor of making sure all’s well that ends well.

Sloan’s obsession with the autographed book was terrible on several levels: 1)It made her look like a clown that she was fixated on it on the biggest news night of the year (and in a two-parter where her clumsiness on live TV was a running gag); 2)There was no way on Earth it was ever going to belong to anyone but Don; and 3)Don and Sloan is not a thing that the show ever needed to make happen, nor one that it ever successfully made interesting.

Still, that was a minor problem compared to all the Will/Mac interplay over these two episodes. Let’s just say that whatever you feel about Will McAvoy’s virtues as a newsman or about his political ideology, the guy is a sexist, narcissistic jackass whose sins the show keeps trying to absolve or ignore. Mac agreeing to marry Will is about as far from a happy ending as I can imagine for this show, and virtually every second of the two of them arguing about their tortured history was unpleasant to sit through.

And yet Will’s proposal wasn’t even the worst scene of the finale. No, that honor goes to Jim’s encounter with Lisa at the party, where Lisa once again expressed her crippling fear of being too stupid to date the great and powerful Jim Harper, and where Jim – in a moment designed to seem sweet, but which instead came across as gross and condescending in the extreme – tells her about how “authentic” she is.

There have been periods in these two seasons of “The Newsroom” where it felt like Sorkin’s conception of what the show was best at was in tune with what it was actually best at. The mid-section of season 2 felt like a series I was never going to love, but where it was easy enough to shrug off the stupid and tone-deaf parts as the cost of doing business with this great wordsmith and these actors reciting his words. But these last two episodes were so oblivious to their own shortcomings, and so irritating in so many different ways, that I’m more than fine with the idea of this being the end – for me, at least, even if the show comes back.

What did everybody else think? Did you enjoy the finale more than I did? Do you feel the show did a good job of depicting Election Night itself (without a single mention of Nate Silver: Wizard, no less)? Are you happy that Mac and Will patched things up? Would you have preferred that Sorkin go full Dad Rock and play the Pete Townshend version of “Let My Love Open the Door” (either the fast or slow one), or was the Luminate cover of it a good compromise of old and new? And if Sorkin does decide to continue, what would you like to see happen – whether fictional or Will commenting on a real event – in season 3?