The Newsroom recap: 'Contempt'
My name is Sarene Leeds, and I used to hate on The Newsroom. And I’m here to encourage all of you, whether you watched the first couple of episodes of season 1 and gave up or have been a devoted viewer through all three seasons (even if you continued to question why this show popped up on your DVR week after week), to watch the final three episodes of this series—which includes tonight’s installment, “Contempt.” Whether it’s because Aaron Sorkin decided he wanted to end The Newsroom without pissing off what audience he had left or it was all part of his master plan to leave the TV industry while on top, the last leg of this troubled HBO drama is going to tug at your heartstrings—even those of certain jaded recappers who have had more criticism than praise for the series up until now.
Whatever tedium that plagued episodes as recently as last week’s has now faded into the ether. And while the members of the Atlantis Cable News team have a good way to go until each employee reaches resolution in his or her respective story, it’s time to just sit back and enjoy the ride that Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, et al. have prepared for us.
The episode begins approximately five seconds after last week’s “Main Justice” ended, with Will McAvoy and the entire ACN staff—still at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—gaping at his grand jury summons for refusing to reveal the name of Neal Sampat’s source of 27,000 stolen Department of Defense documents. The music from The Newsroom‘s opening title sequence hasn’t even finished ringing in our ears when Will’s attorney, Rebecca Halliday, launches into an expository speech about what this episode the next week is going to entail: Will is going to make multiple appearances in front of a grand jury and a judge over the next few days, and in each instance he will remain tight-lipped. At the end of the week, he’ll be sent home because, like he said in the last episode, he’s “too big to jail.”
Almost all of Rebecca’s predictions do come to pass, which is why we’re able to put our concerns about Will on the back burner until the episode’s climactic scene and let a bunch of other story lines take the stage between the Saturday-night start of “Contempt” and its conclusion the following Friday. But before everyone can head back to New York to get cracking on Neal’s big scoop (reminder: his source, Lilly Hart, made herself known to MacKenzie McHale at the Correspondents’ Dinner last week and gave her a 96-hour deadline to get the story on News Night), Will, Mac, and Charlie Skinner have one more piece of business in Washington: Meeting with prospective ACN buyer, Wi-Fi guru and pomposity personified, Lucas Pruit.
It’s easy to immediately despise the-voice-of-a-millennial-generation Pruit (and you should, because he’s a douche) for the way he dismisses Charlie’s years of experience and devotion to hard news. But at the same time, his character serves as both a worthy adversary to the ACN team, as well as commentary on the direction journalism is going in the 21st century. Case in point, B.J. Novak’s Sorkin-ologue that lays out Pruit’s plans for ACN:
“The newsgathering of our newscasts will have tentacles in every reach of the Internet. Interactives, podcasts, live streams, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter. We’ll make our audience reporters in the field, through Instagram and Vine, Snapchat and blogs. Our users become the audience and our audience becomes the contributors.” The crowning touch here? Pruit delivers this mission statement while checking his phone. His attention span is no different from that of the viewers he seeks. But, despite Charlie’s own rock-solid argument against Pruit’s “patronizing” of a younger audience, given the network’s floundering status, the billionaire’s offer to “infuse ACN with tens of millions of new dollars in [its] budget,” as well as “get 18-to-25-year-olds to watch the news” cannot be ignored.
NEXT: Sloan Sabbith pulls a Tess McGill Still, Pruit’s digs at Charlie, calling him “Grandpa Joe” and “delusional,” are uncalled for, and Charlie has every right to declare that “We’ve got a problem now, you and me,” before exiting the Correspondents’ Dinner and enlisting Sloan Sabbith to help him find a new buyer for the network. But the secondary-buyer subplot, in which Sloan and Charlie try to persuade Talia Balsam to acquire ACN, should really be subtitled “Charlie’s Last Stand.” He knows he “won’t win” against Pruit, and it’s a bit of sad foreshadowing because Pruit ends up buying ACN, and Charlie is well aware that he’s living in a millennial world—where the ramblings of a pre-Baby Boomer fall on deaf ears. The subplot was good for a few things though: We got to see Sam Waterston do an incredibly GIF-worthy strut-jig, watch Olivia Munn recite the greatest Working Girl-related monologue ever written in history, and have an excuse to watch the “Let the River Run” video for the first time since the late 1980s.
In the days following the Correspondents’ Dinner, Jeff Daniels spends his time showcasing 461 different ways he can say “No, sir,” while Mac leads the News Night crew in a race against the clock to get Neal’s story vetted and on the air before Lilly dumps the documents onto a website of her choosing (last week she threatened Gwyneth Paltrow would be the lucky recipient). With the unreasonable deadline looming, Mac hops a flight to D.C. for a quickie thunderstorm-soaked meet-up with Lilly (neither thought to bring an umbrella?). But the government source will not budge, and the two women part on tense terms with Mac vowing to quit her job and give Lilly’s name to the FBI if ACN isn’t allowed ample time to get the story reported.
Mac’s intimidation tactics worked though, because by Thursday afternoon, not only was GOOP bereft of 27,000 classified documents, but the News Night team was ready for the story to air that evening. Except a crestfallen Reese Lansing then has to put the kibosh on the report that had sent ACN Digital’s frightened Senior Editor into hiding in Venezuela and may very well put News Night’s anchor in jail. Why? Because Pruit won’t sign on the dotted line if the story runs. Apparently Pruit’s lawyers warned him that the Justice Department will most likely impose “crippling” fines on ACN because the information was gathered “illegally.”
So by the time Friday morning rolls around and the ACN staff is hanging around outside of a City Hall courtroom while Will stands before a judge, everyone is in a pretty sour mood. Daniels delivers his expected Sorkin-ologue, in which he dares the judge to give him a life sentence, because he will never, ever give up his source. The judge accepts Will’s challenge, finding the onetime prosecutor in contempt and ordering him to surrender himself to U.S. Marshals at 5 p.m.
NEXT: Goin’ to the chapel…
The rest of the episode is then filled with as many sappy-and-sweet (literally, there’s a scene at Magnolia Bakery) movie-and-TV-Let’s-put-on-a-show!-type tropes as Will and Mac move up their wedding date to 3:30 that afternoon. Sure, there was some practicality behind it—the night before, Mac let it slip to Will that she met with Lilly Hart twice, so they were kind of in need of some protection with regards to privileged conversations—but why not turn The Newsroom into a happy-dappy sitcom for a few brief minutes? Over a gorgeous acoustic-guitar version of “Ave Maria,” the ACN staff bands together in a tear-jerking montage to not only help Will and Mac get married, but also to make sure that Neal’s work and Will’s ethics have not been in vain: Crates upon crates of DOD documents are delivered to a silver-haired female reporter in the Associated Press newsroom. See, when Reese forced Mac to kill the story, Mac then asked Don Keefer for the name of the “most responsible reporter” he knew. Well, Don’s old Columbia professor who “mostly gets garbage assignments now because she’s in her 70s” just got the biggest scoop of her life.
Over at Tiffany’s, Don and Jim Harper try on rings, Maggie Jordan gets flowers at a Korean market, Sloan creates a red-velvet-cupcake topped wedding cake, and Charlie checks out the orchestral talent in Juilliard’s rehearsal rooms (which is where he stumbles upon the angelic Katie Boeck, who then brings her heavenly “Ave Maria” to the chapel at New York’s City Hall). Mac picks up a short, slinky golden cocktail dress that will be impossible to find in stores now that the episode has aired. Will even manages to convince a priest friend to abandon that whole Catholic-ceremony-has-to-be-in-a-Catholic-Church rule to officiate his wedding! Only thing not covered? Obtaining a Judicial Waiver allowing Will and Mac to tie the knot less than 24 hours after getting their marriage license. But because this is television, we’re going to let that technicality slide and instead marvel at this impossibly beautiful wedding that was hastily thrown together in a handful of hours.
Continuing with the recognizable TV-and-movie-trope theme, Will and Mac’s “I do”s are intercut with a posse of U.S. Marshals entering City Hall, which, at this point is bordering on melodrama: Will is going to jail for contempt, not murder. But, as the 5 p.m. witching hour approaches, there’s only time for Will and Mac to take a honeymoon-esque walk across the elaborately tiled City Hall lobby floor (it’s a breathtaking shot) before Will is arrested and their entwined hands are shown breaking apart as the groom is put into cuffs.
–Newsroom Couples’ Status Update as of episode 4, Sloan and Don Edition: Wyatt Earp Geary reveals himself to be both the world’s worst and best HR rep by saying that things get pretty boring in his department. For “fun,” he terrorized Sloan and Don for two weeks (he even interrupted a classified-documents-vetting meeting to insist Don that respond to his Instagram friend request, for chrissakes!) before admitting Sloan had written him a letter (that she had conveniently forgotten about) confirming their relationship.
–Newsroom Couples’ Status Update as of episode 4, Jim and Maggie Edition: What, you thought this show was going to end with Jim still dating Hallie “I want to be part of the digital revolution!” (Dear Grace Gummer, You are so much better than that piece of drivel. Love, Me) Shea and Maggie snuggling up to that meet-cute ethics professor? Nope, by the time Jim and Maggie were conveniently sitting next to each other at Will and Mac’s wedding, Hallie had—breakup symbolism alert! breakup symbolism alert!—already taken off her ACN security-card chain (anyone know how the hell she was allowed to keep it after getting fired?) and left Jim alone on the AWM roof after she published a blog about their relationship (“What happens when an old-school newsman has the hots for a new-media blogger?” or something to that effect). Or, as Jim so eloquently parsed it: “All you did was have a fight with your boyfriend and litigate it in public. Because I have spent time with hardcore drug movers, and they don’t pretend they’re selling medicine.” Burn! Oh, and Maggie’s alone because Professor Jack was sick of reading “I love Jim” all over her face whenever he tried to kiss her.