My computer was having technical difficulties yesterday so apologies for being a day late, but you know how the overall deal with this semi-regular column works: You’re about to hear spoilers for this week’s episode of The Newsroom, so if you haven’t yet seen it and plan to, you might want to come back later. As usual, I won’t be recapping every second of the episode, titled “Run”; I’m just giving you some perspective on it as a former cable news producer.
I used to be a lot more idealistic. You don’t get into journalism without believing you can make a difference and without wanting to stick your thumb in the eye of authority and that was me all the way. In fact, I used to look at journalism as one of the few safe havens in polite society for the utterly misanthropic and willfully unmanageable; it was a place where misfits could thrive and, on occasion, even be rewarded for qualities most of the world looked down upon. I still think this, but there’s no doubt that the older you get the more your idealism gets beaten out of you. It’s simply a fact of life. When you’re young and you think you know every fucking thing on the planet — and I absolutely did at, say, 22 — you can learn a lot from those who were once where you were, people who’ve since learned to slow it down a bit and think things through. But by the same token, when you’re older you can learn from those who haven’t yet been fragged into submission by cynicism and the knowledge that you’re not actually making the difference you once thought you could.
This week’s episode of The Newsroom was all about this dynamic: youthful certitude in all its beauty and ignorance coming up against age and experience and the sometimes necessary, sometimes counterproductive prudence that comes with it. The story that provided the spine of the show continued from last week and involved Neal’s determination to protect a leaker/whistleblower who was feeding him classified documents. Neal knows he’s in trouble but he doesn’t really understand how much until Rebecca Halliday — the always brilliant Marcia Gay Harden — shows up to once again clean up one of the “News Night” team’s legal messes and informs him that he could be charged with espionage for hiding his source. The dichotomy between how Will wants to solve the problem and how Neal wants to serves as the heart and soul of the episode. Neal believes that the way out is through — that running the story is the only journalistically responsible thing to do — but Will believes that walking away completely is the answer since it saves Neal from prison and protects the organization from federal intrusion. Will’s conversion at the end is genuinely one of the best moments the show has ever given us, as he suddenly realizes that Neal’s willingness to take the fall to do what’s right is a quality he might have lost somewhere on the road to the comfortable, if conflicted, life he now leads.
Elsewhere, there’s another debate over journalistic ethics quietly happening on a train from Boston to New York City. That’s where Maggie records one-side of a phone conversation one of her fellow passengers is having, a guy who happens to be manager for the EPA (a fictionalization of the Michael Hayden/Tom Mazzie incident). When she reveals herself as a producer for ACN, she gets a lecture — from the EPA guy but really from the almighty voice of Aaron Sorkin — on engaging in duplicitous tactics to get an unguarded moment and turn it into news. Sorkin says that when he originally pitched the debate over whether Maggie would be right or wrong in going with the story she surreptitiously recorded, the highly paid journalistic consultants on his show all agreed she’d be crazy not to run with it. Sorkin says this is why he made the character Maggie enlists to help her pull off her scheme a professor of legal ethics. (If it made you roll your eyes at the fact that the guy was both hyper-articulate and, eventually, revealed to be exactly the guy Maggie needed to talk to at the moment, you’re not alone.) The debate, regardless, is a good one and it was once again nice to see Maggie grow as both a character and a journalist by making the decision to be above-the-board. While it’s absolutely true that a journalist can take advantage of an unguarded moment and report it, it’s also true that far too much of our news product seems to be predicated on these kinds of “gotcha” moments nowadays. (By the way, if Maggie winds up dating the professor, played by Jimmi Simpson, it’ll mean she’s had sex with two of Jason Biggs’s douchebag roommates in the 2000 movie Loser while on The Newsroom.)
It seems that Sorkin’s loathe for privileged, disinterested Millennials hasn’t abated, given the pounding Kat Dennings’s Blair character and her idiot brother take at the hands of Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner and, in a triumphant return, Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing. Charlie outlines for Blair a battle that’s raged in television news for close to four decades now, ever since corporations began buying up media outlets and expecting them to turn a profit. The fact is that news generally doesn’t make money and to expect it to is to interfere with and damage the journalistic credibility of the organization. In a perfect world, editorial wouldn’t answer to corporate — this is where I remind you to go back and watch 1976’s Network — but of course we don’t live in a perfect world. It’ll be amusing to see where Leona is going to come up with the cash to keep Atlantis Media in her possession, but as long as it means we see a lot of Jane Fonda in this role, the audience wins.
Rounding out the episode, Sorkin did a play on MSNBC’s Republican tweet fiasco from last January. Hallie winds up getting fired by Charlie when she tweets out a joke aimed at Republicans and incurs the wrath of the RNC. “I don’t get to make up my own mind now; the RNC’s making it for me,” he says just before giving her the axe. It’s kind of noteworthy that last season the entire “News Night” team ran a story falsely accusing the U.S. military of using chemical weapons and nobody got fired but one “low-level staffer” sends out a bad tweet and is gone in 60 seconds. It’ll be interesting to see whether Hallie will seek revenge on ACN now that she’s outed herself as the tweeter; given the current luck of the network, I’d say it’s pretty likely. Meanwhile, Don and Sloan’s relationship is admittedly getting a hell of a lot more fun, with their little “I love you” moment landing as one of the episode’s biggest chuckles.
After two uneven seasons I didn’t think it was possible to actually care one way or the other that these final six episodes would be the last for The Newsroom, but if the show continues on this path I’m going be sad to see it go. It seems like Sorkin really has saved the best for last and maybe with that in mind it’s unfortunate that his oh-so-close-to-prestige HBO dramedy isn’t going to get a chance to develop much beyond where it is right now. (Although who knows? Maybe that’s for the best.) If you, like me, found this week’s episode ridiculously entertaining you’ll get where I’m coming from with this sentiment. What this week proved is something most people have known for a while: The Newsroom is at its best when it detaches itself from real news stories and concentrates on the fictional narratives Sorkin excels at penning. He showed his stuff this week — and produced a really good hour or TV.
RELATED: You can find last week’s “Newsroom Notes” here.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.