Spoilers Ahead: If you haven't seen last night's episode of HBO's The Newsroom and plan to, come back to this later. As usual, these are just some observations, not a beat-by-beat recap.
John Gallagher Jr. is 30-years-old, therefore you have to imagine the character he plays on The Newsroom is somewhere around that age. And yet that character, Jim Harper, delivers impassioned scolds of internet media and in defense of old school journalism like he was a pompous 53-year-old curmudgeon. The reason for this, of course, is that he is a pompous 53-year-old curmudgeon: he's Aaron Sorkin, or rather a surrogate for Sorkin, one of the many people on The Newsroom who function as a Sorkin Belief Delivery System.
Last night, Jim's role was to articulately speechify -- while supposedly drunk -- against the scourge of Gawker-style websites and in favor of "professional" journalism to his now-ex, Hallie, who on the show just so happens to work for one of those kinds of sites. While I happen to agree that click-bait sucks, it still came off as Sorkin at his most sanctimonious -- and it provided a perfect snapshot of all the ways Aaron Sorkin squandered the momentum he'd built over the previous three episodes of the final season of this maddeningly inconsistent show.
If there's one thing last night's episode got right, it was its title: "Contempt." Not only is Will McAvoy now facing a contempt of court charge that could keep him behind bars indefinitely, there's the contempt Charlie has for new ACN owner Lucas Pruitt -- who last week came off as an Aspergerian tech genius but this week was revealed to be nothing more than an arrogant douchebag -- and of course the contempt Jim has for Hallie's job. But the real contempt on display was Sorkin's ongoing disdain for the "digital revolution" that's replaced good, old fashioned journalism as practiced by the relentlessly principled staff of "News Night."
A couple of shots here and there are to be expected since the entire raison d'etre of The Newsroom is to bemoan the state of journalism by holding up a fictional news operation as something to which all modern press outlets should aspire. But when a term like "epic fail" comes from the mouth of a seething Charlie Skinner -- or a Millennial actually references Penthouse letters in his excoriation of first-person writing -- the only takeaway is how painfully out of touch Sorkin is.
None of this would be a problem if it were at least in the service of good television, but this week saw Sorkin giving in to his demons and returning once again to all the familiar tropes that have hamstrung The Newsroom since day one. The interesting storylines that have kept this season aloft in a major way all kind of came crashing down. And from what it looks like, the next two episodes -- the last of the series -- will be going off in an entirely new direction.
The "News Night" team lost the story Will is willing to go to jail for; ACN is sold off; it turns out the only reason the HR guy was pursuing Sloan and Don is that he was bored; Sorkin seems to actually be setting up the possibility of a torturous Jim-and-Maggie coupling; and despite the team's world collapsing in on itself, Will and Mac still manage to find time to stage an impossibly elaborate wedding at city hall, set to a Julliard quartet's version of Ave Maria. Sorkin just can't help himself and once again we're brought back to the central question of The Newsroom: Is it a good show that makes a lot of missteps or a bad show with occasional flashes of greatness?
Sorkin looked like he was well on his way to ending on a high note. Maybe it wouldn't have erased the mistakes of the past two seasons, but it at least may have left us with some fond memories and not as likely to speak ill of the dead. Now? Who knows. We'll see where the next two episodes take us.