'The Newsroom' season finale review: All's well that ends where it all began

The Newsroom wrapped up its first season with a timely nod to Republican voter suppression laws and a whole lotta symmetry to bring the finale full circle, back to the key events of the series pilot.

SPOILER ALERT HERE. Creator Aaron Sorkin must be a very big fan of New York Magazine, because the profile of Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy written for that publication by MacKenzie McHale’s ex-boyfriend was so spot-on, so filled with damning quotes from Will’s colleagues, that the poor big guy recognized the basic truth in it and did so much self-medicating to numb the pain, he wound up hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer. This, in turn, led to a lot of wacky hospital slapstick courtesy mostly of Emily Mortimer’s Mac.

Mac also kept Will up to date on what she knew he was really interested in — whether Maggie was going to move in with Don, or finally express her true feelings to Jim, who in turn would have to break the bad romantic news to Lisa. Much finale time was spent stringing this out, and it took some major plot jiggering to get Jim on one of those Sex and the City bus tours to set up a Jim-Maggie kiss moment.

Sorkin is truly every bit as invested in making those Jim/Maggie, Will/Mac flirty scenes work as he is in working out the stuff he wants to say about how terrible he thinks the Tea Party has been for America, which I guess is one measure of a craftsman. By now, I’ve pretty much gone over to the side of viewers who aren’t troubled by implausibilities such asĀ  (to take one example from the finale) the notion that Neal, as a new organization employee, would not be allowed to impersonate someone else on the internet — that is, I believe, a fire-able offense.

On another show, such as Sorkin’s West Wing, the real meat of the hour would have been the way Sorkin folded in the true example of 96 year-old Dorothy Cooper not being allowed to vote for the first time in 75 years until she obtained a voter ID card in the state of Tennessee. This was accomplished on The Newsroom by having Will’s nurse be Cooper’s granddaughter and bringing the story to his attention, the way, you know, so many TV news anchors get story ideas — from citizens they interact with on a daily basis.

Or, on another show, the center of the drama would have been the showdown between Will, Mac, and Sam Waterston’s Charlie Skinner versus Jane Fonda’s ACN CEO Leona Lansing and her blustery son Reese (Chris Messina), during which Will was fired until the Lansings were made aware that Charlie knew Reese had hacked into the phones of Will and Mac (as well as Howard Stern and Casey Anthony’s attorneys, among many others). The momentum of this scene almost, as we say in the newspaper business, buried the lede, which was that Charlie’s NSA source, Stephen McKinley Henderson’s Solomon Hancock, committed suicide, largely because — correct me if I’m wrong — he didn’t think Charlie was going to use his intel and he was very lonely because his grown kids didn’t come to visit him and eat his beef stew.

But The Newsroom gives the romantic slapstick, the Serious Subplots, and Will’s big speeches — excuse me, his newscasts — expounding upon the true nature of Republicanism equal weight, thereby, depending on your fondness for The Newsroom, either reducing everything to the level of screwball comedy or raising it all to the level of an artfully assembled musical-without-the-bursting-into-song. (To make this clear, every single episode has cited musicals, including the finale, which invoked Camelot a lot.)

Viewers frustrated by The Newsroom as a drama or as an example of realism must realize that what the show really is is a farce — by which I mean not the word as an insult but as a genre. In farce, doors are slammed, wisdom is revealed through foolishness (thus the episode title “The Greater Fool,” whose meaning was defined by Olivia Munn’s Sloan), and loose ends are tied up in a neat bow. And so it was that Will finally learned that it wasn’t an hallucination — Mac really was sitting in the college audience with the pieces of paper that said, “IT’S NOT, BUT IT CAN BE.” And so it was that The Newsroom circled back to the young woman Will insulted as “sorority girl” in the pilot, having her show up and apply for a News Night internship and get the job, because this time Will’s answer to her “dumb” question, what makes America the greatest country in the world, was, “You do. Hire her.”

All problems in the Newsroom universe solved, until next season.

Twitter: @kentucker

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