You know the drill: spoilers are ahead so don't read if you haven't yet seen last night's episode of The Newsroom, entitled "Red Team III," and plan to at some point.
Finally, the episode of The Newsroom I've been waiting for, one that comes very close to reminding us all what Aaron Sorkin is truly capable of by recalling at least a little of his West Wing/A Few Good Men heyday. This little project of his has always been flawed in the most frustrating of ways, with a very good show lurking just beneath the surface of a lot of missteps and even more sanctimonious hubris, but last night gave us almost everything we'd ever want in an HBO drama. In short, I could honestly say that it was really good TV, beyond the interest it held for me as a former television news producer. Watching the season-long "Operation Genoa" story arc come to the ugly head we all knew was inevitable and watching the staff of "News Night" deal with wave after brutal wave of confirmation that something had gone horribly wrong in its reporting on a massive story was immensely satisfying. The writing was damn good; the acting was stellar; and in the end, the episode succeeded almost fully.
As usual, I won't recap the episode blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say that The Newsroom has always worked best when it concentrates on the professional rather than the personal or the romantic. One of the things Sorkin was so good at in showrunning The West Wing was conveying to the audience the importance of the work being done by the characters who populated the show; you really understood what often hung in the balance whenever these people made one decision or another. Last night's episode of The Newsroom made it clear, even to the layman, the enormity of what's often at stake when a national news outlet reports a story and how dire the consequences can be when a very big scoop falls apart. I loved (and hated, because I've been there) the feeling of dread that ratcheted up and the pit that opened in the bottom of the characters' stomachs as they began to realize, ever so slowly, that they had made a terrible mistake -- one that would likely ruin their careers and, as Don Keefer said, bring the entire network to its knees. You felt what they felt and you fully fathomed how, despite the best of intentions and a rigorous, months-long vetting process, a story can go from a sure thing to a cataclysm within a period of 24-hours.
Yes, the collapse of Genoa was hyper-dramatized, but that's to be expected -- it's a TV show after all. But the scenes within the "News Night" newsroom, at the final "red team" meeting leading up to the decision to go with the story, and as the details of the disaster they'd created started to trickle in -- all of this was handled expertly. I particularly liked Jim's willingness to come right out and say that much of his hesitation in approving Genoa was based on a simple lack of trust in Jerry Dantana. Anyone who's worked side-by-side with a group of people for an extended period of time knows that you form a bond that can't really be put into words. This is especially true when it comes to working in a newsroom. There's a reason newspeople often refer to outsiders as "civilians": it's because you figuratively and sometimes literally go to war every single day with the people at your side and the relationships you form often feel like battlefield brotherhoods. Bringing in new people isn't always a huge deal, but Jim's concern over the outsider Dantana's single-minded tenacity on a story that he felt was still iffy was to be expected. Dantana's snotty, condescending reaction to Jim's reluctance to go along with Genoa didn't help things. Their interaction and the team's trust of Jim's gut was one of the best professional and human moments in the entire show.
Considering the amount of shit Leona Lansing has given the "News Night" team in the past, her sudden passionate defense of it seemed oddly out of place -- although that was mitigated somewhat by Leona's comment that if anyone was going to fire Will and Charlie, it was going to be her, for her own petty reasons -- but honestly, who cares? That last five minutes with Jane Fonda absolutely chewing up the scenery, with Sorkin's spectacular dialog firing out of her mouth like a machine gun, was awesome. Just awesome. Fonda killed. Between her and Marcia Gay Harden stepping into the room to grab control of the entire situation, I kept thinking that some of Sorkin's male characters may indeed be sexist shitheads, but damn if the strong women of The Newsroom aren't herculean. Somebody just give Fonda an Emmy for that one scene alone.
Next week, Mac, unfortunately but somewhat understandably, goes to pieces and the "News Night" staff tries to claw its way back from the catastrophe Jerry Dantana created and it allowed to happen. Stay tuned.