“The Newsroom”: It’s all over but the 2012 election

"The Newsroom" gives us election 2012, women's love of shoes, and odd capers in the season's penultimate episode

Topics: The Newsroom, will mcavoy, Aaron Sorkin, jeff daniels, Emily Mortimer,

"The Newsroom": It's all over but the 2012 election (Credit: HBO/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)

In his review of this episode, my colleague Neil Drumming praised the degree to which the election-night ACN team spend their time “fixating on minutia and personal quibbles while paying little or no regard to their actual responsibilities.” Sorry, Neil, but in this recap I’m going to have to disagree. It’s definitely clear that, to a point, the show has abandoned its season 1 premise — the series that was infused with humorlessness to its core, a fictional series about how Aaron Sorkin really believes news should be made.

But as we wait to hear if the series has officially been renewed for a third season during which it may be whatever it may ultimately be, it’s clear that “The Newsroom” hasn’t shed old, bad habits — its attitude toward women as perpetually the object of action rather than the subject (and dumb, to boot), its counterfactual and shaming insistence that the ACN team’s superior abilities help it nail down news that was gotten by other outlets in this real world in which we live, and its stentorian despair at the state of things in a world where Great Men no longer rule all are very much still with us in this, the penultimate episode of season 2.

The episode begins with Jim Skyping with his girlfriend, whom he met on the campaign trail, covering Romney. He insists upon keeping her off-the-record and tells her that Charlie, Will, MacKenzie, et al. all tried to resign but Leona would neither accept their resignation nor settle the lawsuit over the cooked Genoa story. Right, because none of that makes sense. She immediately tries to get him as a source on the story even though she is a politics blogger? I suppose it’s a good story, but: nice, ethical girlfriend, Jim.

Charlie, Will and Marcia Gay Harden fight for a while. According to my notes, Charlie called Will “Father Flanagan” and Marcia Gay Harden described herself, twice over, as “liquid sex,” but none of that makes sense. (Later, Marcia Gay Harden is told she’s part of a “godless, soulless race of extortionists” when she attempts to help Don defend himself against a tortious interference lawsuit from old Genoa producer Jerry Dantana, whom Don allegedly slandered in a job reference interview at Kickstarter [?!]; she doesn’t fight that.)



Another nonsensical thing: Sloan stealing a story Elliot describes to her in the makeup room because, even though he found it and has done research on it, Elliot didn’t “call” the story. The surly Romney flack played by the surly journalist from “House of Cards” is also in the room; she has evidently quit the Romney campaign pre-election to serve as an on-air commentator for a network she specifically and with prejudice stonewalled during her brief time with the candidate. OK! When Sloan tries to be friends with alternate-universe Nicolle Wallace in the makeup room, Elliot tells her, “Be less desperate for female friends.”

Anyway, it ends up not working out for Sloan, because she doesn’t bother to even learn the basic facts of what Elliot was talking about and ends up sputtering key nouns and adjectives on-air, later, until Elliot saves her. Never send a woman to do a man’s, etc., etc.

But before we can go on-air, Neal sputters at Sloan for a while about “Social media determining the election” and Sloan cuts him off literally mid-word. At last, something she knows how to do! It turns out he knows something about a book Sloan signed that was sold at auction, but she didn’t actually sign it? She needs him to use social media to figure out who bought it. This was not resolved in this episode, and I do appreciate the irony of a critic of this show’s gravely serious approach ignoring a light subplot, but there’s got to be a middle ground between “The fate of the world resting on Will McAvoy’s shoulders” and “Neal-y Drew and the Case of the Missing Tome!” Moving on.

Will and MacKenzie act like weird teenagers throughout this episode. MacKenzie burdens poor Neal, already burdened with so much light-opera faux merriment, with trying to change her Wikipedia entry to say that she went to Cambridge rather than Oxford. Never mind that this sort of flat factual detail is actually the sort of thing about which Wikipedia is most reliable, and that the degree to which errors sneak in come in faulty contextualization of facts or framing of quotes, or very obvious and lewd pranks on public figures much more famous than MacKenzie. Let’s presume Aaron Sorkin’s Wikipedia once said he went to Swarthmore instead of Syracuse — or someone who cares more than do I can look into the bizarrely contentious “Talk” section of his Wikipedia entry. Anyway, Neal says he can’t do it and MacKenzie is deeply befuddled that a person can’t provide their OWN point-of-view on their Wikipedia page. Maybe she should take up writing hourlong TV dramas?

There’s also the matter of Will and MacKenzie fighting over their since-concluded relationship. Will says the following things in their argument which is about everything (MacKenzie’s lack of sleep, her desire to be fired, their history) and nothing at once:

  • “You’re the most attractive woman I’ve ever seen in real life and I’m sticking by that, but right now, you’re making it hard for me.”
  • “You look like you were grown in an environment where it’s dark and damp.”
  • “You know what hon, can I just say ‘Fuck you’?”

I couldn’t parse this one, but he also encourages her to imagine she lives in a forest of Christian Louboutin shoes to calm herself down. He’s little better on-air, devoting airtime during election night to a debate over whether or not the media is too liberal. Save it for Wednesday, chief?

Leaving aside for space reasons the ultimate fate of MacKenzie (per her request, in an act of mercy from Will who keeps insisting he is a “good guy,” she is fired), let’s move on: A fictional congressman, the ACN team has found, condemned Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” despite having said far worse in college. Don tells his press shop they have until 8:30 to respond or he’s running it. Meanwhile, Jim has written down the decision desk’s call in a congressional race improperly — they called Mississippi’s first district for the Republican, but he pushed to air that they called Michigan’s first. Rrr! [shakes fist] Those crazy M-states! Anyway, he begs the on-air people to pull it from the crawl only after Charlie repeatedly yells at everyone not to get anything wrong and after a decision desk employee (blindfolded with a tie so as not to see what’s happening in the newsroom) tells Jim that she’s certain the Republican will win, it’s just too early to call. Hrmmm. The exciting conclusion to “Why can’t Jim read postal codes” coming in the season finale…

At 8:30, the piece of news that the fictional congressman’s office had to offer Don is revealed. They have two on-the-record sources willing to confirm the David Petraeus story — the whole thing! Paula Broadwell, everything. (If only major media outlets had had access to the press shops of fictional congressmen looking to fight made-up allegations — this story would have broken sooner. Aaron, back to your old ways!) Charlie lets out a disgruntled shriek-cum-F-bomb that is either the worst acting I’ve ever seen on a television series (Melissa George from “Alias,” you’ve been on the hook for some ten years, but all’s forgiven now) or a perfect evocation of the great white man’s disgruntlement that nothing — nothing! — is as it seems, that no hero can stay. Given that Don pointedly refers to Petraeus’ status in the U.S. military, I’m guessing the latter!

See you next week, and then either next year or never again, “Newsroom” denizens!

Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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