Season finale review: ‘The Newsroom’ – ‘The Greater Fool’

Senior Television Writer
08.27.12 151 Comments

A review of “The Newsroom” season finale coming up just as soon as I show you my recipe for beef stew…

“Nothing’s harder than doing something for which you know you’re going to take shit.” -Charlie

This entire season of “The Newsroom” was in the can before any of it aired on television, and some critics of the show have suggested that if it hadn’t been, Aaron Sorkin might have had the opportunity to course-correct in response to some of the complaints. I don’t think that’s the case. First, “Studio 60” – for which Sorkin took nearly as much grief as he has for this show – was still in production when the response to it went south, and for the most part none of the things people were complaining about changed. Second, Sorkin respectfully but strongly disagreed with most of “The Newsroom” complaints when he appeared at press tour a few weeks ago.

And third, “The Greater Fool” suggests he knew in advance what many of the criticisms of this show would be(*), and he didn’t much care because he felt tilting at windmills was the entire point of the project.

(*) There were no meta responses to the complaints about sexism or clumsy romantic comedy, but those have been issues he’s struggled with on all of his shows, rather than being specific to “The Newsroom.” 

Brian’s cover story for New York feels very much like the coverage “The Newsroom” wound up attracting, accusing Will and “News Night” 2.0 of naivete, narcissism, condescension, and a host of other sins that the HBO show has been said to have committed. And at multiple points in the finale – when Lisa, for instance, is out to dinner with Maggie and tells her she’s gone nowhere in a year – characters suggest that for all of their idealism and virtue and hard work, they’ve accomplished precious little over the last year-plus. And that has to be the case, because this show doesn’t have the ability to change the history it takes place in. It can’t retroactively make the rest of the news media stop focusing on Casey Anthony. It can’t in hindsight lead all moderate Republicans to rise up as one against the Tea Party. It can’t change Arizona’s immigration law, can’t stop the flow of oil in the Gulf, can’t prevent Gabby Giffords from being shot in the head. Maybe Sorkin believes that the show’s mission to civilize can have an affect on the real world going forward – that perhaps if enough of what he considers to be right-thinking Republicans watched this season, they might finally start objecting to the Tea Party – and this will be reflected in the show’s third or fourth seasons. Given how dug in everyone’s position is on matters political and financial, I don’t see that happening – I can’t imagine anyone watching this show for very long if they didn’t already agree with Sorkin and/or Will McAvoy – and as a result, “The Newsroom” can’t be looked at as an agent of social change and entirely as a vehicle for entertainment.

And it’s there where the show was so often frustrating this season. As I’ve said, I agree with many of the points Sorkin has been making about how screwed up our political system is,(*) and how morally bankrupt the media that covers it is. But I also think “The Newsroom” has fallen down repeatedly on questions of characterization, narrative cohesion and other basic issues that are essential whether you’re telling stories about very real social issues or doing something like “Game of Thrones.”

(*) You guys have all been excellent at not turning the comments section for this show into political flamewars, and I am very grateful for that. Let’s try to keep things civil in discussing the finale, as well. I suspect going into any real depth in reacting to Will comparing the Tea Party to the Taliban will get ugly in a hurry, but we’ll give it a try and see what happens.

On the sexism front, I was relieved for about 30 seconds when it seemed like Sloan was telling Don exactly what was wrong with him, because the gender roles have gone almost entirely the other way throughout this season, and here finally was a woman wisely telling a man what was what about himself. But then it turned out that her speech wasn’t so much driven by a keen insight into Don’s character as by Sloan having an unrequited crush on the guy that will turn our irritating love rhombus into a pentagon. Oh, well. At the very least, her lecture to Will about the true meaning of the article/episode title wasn’t driven by any feelings of romantic longing. (That we know of, anyway.) And the love pentagon scenes also featured Maggie going on an epic rant about the utter lack of realism on “Sex and the City,” which, while true, is the sort of stone that the writer of this glass, proudly unrealistic drama probably should not be throwing.

And Jennifer Johnson, the stupid sorority girl from the pilot – who must always, always, always be referred to by Will as “girl” – has just been so enchanted by the work that “News Night” has done over the last year-plus that she wants nothing more than a job where she can learn from this great and important man, even though he’s also a colossal ass who publicly, nationally humiliated her.  

Because regardless of Will’s many, many, many character flaws, this work they’re doing – which, as Sloan notes to Don, has seemingly accomplished nothing – is just that important. It’s important enough that paragons of journalistic virtue Will, Mac and Charlie would be willing to cover up evidence of an incredible violation of both the law and journalistic ethics all in the name of continuing to do the show they want. Never mind that if Reese’s activities ever got out – and they likely would sooner or later, based on how the News Corp. scandal went down – then all of our heroes’ public credibility goes away forever, because they knew about this and didn’t speak out because it would be personally beneficial. Yes, they shut down the tabloid (and cost a lot of people jobs in a horrible economy, but based on the characters’ view of TMI, they probably don’t much care about anyone who would work there), but Reese goes largely unpunished and there’s no public accounting of the crimes committed.

As with every episode of this show, there were individual moments – Charlie’s reaction to Hancock’s suicide, Will finally getting out of bed and back to work, Leona’s reaction to realizing they were just bluffed – that lived up to the talent of everyone involved in making “The Newsroom,” and it’s for those reasons that I’ll come back next season despite all the agita so much of it gives me.

I understand wanting to believe in the message here. I just wish I didn’t dislike so many of the messengers.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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