Aaron Sorkin's much-maligned HBO drama signs off for good, but not without an overdose of idealism.
“What Kind of Day Has It Been,” the episode that serves as The Newsroom’s farewell, can best be described in a Stefon-inspired rundown: “This series finale has everything: Flashbacks, funerals, the naval hymn from “Titanic,” a jam sesh featuring Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher Jr.” Thing is, most of it was completely unnecessary. In actuality, The Newsroom ended last week: Charlie Skinner died, Will McAvoy got out of jail, Jim and Maggie got together—and Aaron Sorkin permanently alienated whatever audience he had left by featuring a controversial college-campus-rape story line.
Sure, there were a couple of loose ends to tie up: Neal Sampat returning to the U.S. from his exile in Venezuela; figuring out the journalistic future of ACN with a new-media guru like Lucas Pruit at the helm without it descending into a version of Access Hollywood. But those relatively important elements of the narrative were swallowed up by a distended, heavily padded 60-minute-plus episode that, when it finally ended, had us going, “Thank God that’s over.”
Since no one wanted even one Newsroom episode without Sam Waterston’s Charlie, Sorkin provided us with a harsh trade-off: We got plenty of Waterston, but in the form of tiresome flashbacks that documented how Charlie—along with a bit of MacKenzie McHale’s added muscle—masterminded News Night 2.0 three years earlier. The big “reveal” was that Charlie had been planning a News Night overhaul well before Will had his cathartic breakdown at Northwestern—a breakdown, it’s subtly suggested, that Charlie was kinda-sorta the puppeteer on. Charlie sought out Mac during her weekly 11am-on-a-Monday drunken bowling workout (hey, she was wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt), and offered her the executive producer gig with choice flattery like the fact that she brings out the best in Will.
Next thing we know, Mac’s heading into the auditorium at Northwestern and promising to show Jenna Johnson (a.k.a. “Sorority Girl”) how to be first in line at the microphone. And, because we know Sorkin couldn’t bear the idea of a woman being the brains behind News Night‘s quixotic quest to “reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession,” he threw in a scene where a jacked-up Mac implores her pal Jim Harper to join her in New York as senior producer. What’s behind this sudden motivation? Well, Mac’s just read this amazing book by Miguel de Cervantes that was a gift from, who else? Charlie Skinner.
Back in 2013, the ACN crew is officially mourning Charlie—first at his funeral, then at a gathering at the Skinner home in Westchester—but in reality, they’d all moved on to their own issues before rigor mortis even set in, because, first-world problems. Mac’s pregnant! Maggie Jordan’s got a shot at a field-producing job in Washington, D.C., which immediately puts her relationship with Jim Harper in peril! (file that one under: Who Cares?) Don Keefer and Sloan Sabbith think they killed Charlie with their insubordination! Hey, has anyone even mentioned Neal?
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Somewhere in the middle of all this, Leona Lansing swoops in and single-handedly fixes the Lucas Pruit vs. ACN conundrum with a heavy-handed dose of business-savvy wisdom. In addition to being a tremendous dick, Pruit has a massive image problem, due to ownership of a company called Kwench (#ewwww) that’s been called out for paying its women employees less than their male counterparts. Not helping matters is the news of his hiring “models” to decorate his recent 35th birthday party (“living art,” is the term Pruit uses). The solution? Make Mac ACN’s news director (sadly, the series ends before we get to see Pruit’s reaction that his news director is preggers). Because, as Leona schools both Pruit and Mac with this nicely tied-up-in-a-bow thesis statement for Charlie’s legacy: “If you’re not fighting with your news director, you’re not doing your job. If they’re not fighting with you, they’re not doing their job.”
And since this is the series finale, and because in three seasons of The Newsroom Jeff Daniels and John Gallagher Jr. only got to show off their music skills once (season 1, episode 7, “5/1”), there is a fun little vanity scene during the post-funeral gathering where Will cheers up Charlie’s music-prodigy grandson, Bo, with a rendition of country singer Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” The song is tied to a flashback between Will and Charlie (where Charlie talks about how much Bo loves the tune, etc.), but it’s really just part of a series wrap party disguised as a poignant moment. Daniels takes lead vocals and acoustic guitar, but once Bo joins in on stand-up bass and his younger brother, Ned, on wooden-crate percussion, it’s only seconds before Gallagher picks up a second guitar (“Jim Harper’s here!”) and starts harmonizing. Only real bummer about this scene is that Daniels and Gallagher weren’t singing live—the difference in timbre going from spoken-word dialogue to studio-recorded song is pretty stark.
While Mac’s busy getting a promotion and Will is perfecting his soon-to-be Daddy skills with Bo and Ned, Neal has arrived back on American soil. But instead of a big welcome-home contingent waiting for him at the airport (apparently Neal’s colleagues felt acknowledging his text that he landed safely after a two-month-long exile in South America was sufficient), all Neal gets following his international run from the law is a Sorkin-ologue directed at ACN Digital’s resident pompous ass Bree Dorrit. Yes, Neal gets the distinction of chastising Bree for turning his baby ACN Digital into BuzzFeed (or, rather, Carnivore, to use a Sorkin-universe term), but the character’s series-finale return is more of an insult than an honor. Dev Patel doesn’t even get a scene with Jeff Daniels after all they’ve both been through?
Plus, the Sorkin-ologue is redundant given the on-camera decimation Bree received from Sloan last week. Then again, Sloan doesn’t have the technical prowess to shut down ACN’s website from her phone, like Neal does, which is arguably a more powerful tool than public embarrassment: At least now no one will ever have to read that awful Bree-penned listicle “The Nine Most Overrated Movies of All Time” (props to Neal/Sorkin for calling out so many of those millennial-generated online lists that deem “all time” as spanning a total of 14-15 years).
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Back at the Skinner estate, Will gives his own belated Sorkin-ologue, where he eulogizes Charlie as—surprise, surprise, Don Quixote—and makes an announcement that is sure to give Pruit an ulcer for the foreseeable future: No, not Mac’s ascension to the news director job, but that while Charlie Skinner may be dead, his legacy will be kept alive every day by every person working at ACN.
“This fight is just getting started—because [Charlie] taught the rest of us to be crazy, too.”
And since The Newsroom can’t end at a funeral, the entire team then head back to the studio to produce that evening’s News Night. There’s some drivel about Jim becoming News Night‘s executive producer, Maggie choosing to go to D.C. and then Jim declaring his love for her with his back turned, but that’s all quickly forgotten once we approach the final minute of the series (marked by one of the tech guys announcing Will’s 60-second call before going live) and the camera pans across the ACN studio to show everyone getting back to work. No witty remarks or rapport, just prep for the June 26, 2013 live news broadcast (Maggie gets word that Nelson Mandela has been put on life support less than a minute before Will goes on the air). There’s a typically idealistic series-finale stretch of the camera hitting all six major still-alive cast members until it finally lands on Will, who closes out The Newsroom with a predictable “Good evening,” fade-to-black shot, but then again, would we have expected any less from this show?
Now that it’s done, the best method of walking away from The Newsroom is just that: Walk away and don’t look back. We’ve spent too much time and energy ranting about its missteps, poor portrayal of women and flat-out misguided story lines (see: Newsroom penultimate episode, “Oh Shenandoah”). Sorkin is indeed guilty of all three of these infractions, but let’s instead rejoice that now the cast (which was always the best part of the show) can move on to other projects—putting in my vote now to have Gallagher show up in HBO’s upcoming Mick Jagger-produced series about the 1970s New York music scene. The Newsroom is over. Let’s not dwell on its failures any longer.
– Is there anyone who has a better theory for the Charlie’s-wife-gives-Don-Charlie’s-bow-tie scene other than it’s the Skinner family’s way of absolving Don of any guilt he may have had over helping to cause Charlie’s heart attack? When Nancy Skinner (Hi, Baker’s Wife 1.0, Joanna Gleason!) admitted that Charlie was hoping Don wouldn’t do the campus-rape story, it seemed as if she and Charlie were passing the latter’s news-director-sensibilities torch over to Don via the signature bow-tie. And then Don presented the tie to Sloan as reassurance that Charlie didn’t harbor any ill will against her either. No clue if that’s right or not, because both scenes were a strange combination of maudlin and plain weird.
For more Newsroom, EW.com news editor Ashley Fetters and EW.com intern Jonathon Dornbush discuss the series finale,”What Kind of Day Has It Been,” and its role in wrapping up a troubled, occasionally riveting three-season run here.