So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night...
Sorry to be cribbing from musicals, but it can't be helped as we close the books on the first season of this most show-tune-obsessed of series. For some, the end of "The Newsroom" will come as a blessed relief. For others, it will be a time of mourning.
I'm somewhere in between. It's pretty clear that I'm not a fan of the show, but it's never been less than perversely fascinating to watch. Still, I think we could all do with a break until we can see if Aaron Sorkin has gotten his act together in Season 2.
On the evidence of "The Greater Fool," there was no last-minute turnaround in quality on the show. Instead, it's a relatively subdued, relatively middling episode of the show, bringing the better plot threads to a resolution and stringing the bad ones sadly along.
"The Greater Fool" is the name of the scorched-earth article Brian Banner published about Will in New York. When he reads it, Will OD's on anti-depressants, gives himself a bleeding ulcer, is rushed to the hospital and thinks about quitting the show. (This also gives MacKenzie a chance to be typically bonkers — will Sorkin never give her a moment's peace?) I'm never one for floating plot points that will obviously never happen, but Will's self-doubt is a chance for many wide-eyed "Please no!" moments from the cast as they contemplate the end of it all.
Luckily, though, we learn that a "greater fool" is also an economic concept — a metaphor for a quixotic dreamer. Sloan informs Will of this by saying, in part, that America was "built by greater fools," thus continuing the show's streak of making "Newsnight" seem slightly more important than it actually is. Sorkin, never one to shirk driving an analogy into the ground, makes this the centerpiece of Will's spiritual revival. More on that later.
Meanwhile, Charlie continues his dalliance with Solomon, the NSA whistleblower. Along with Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston has been the best part of "The Newsroom," an ornery hoot to watch. In "The Greater Fool," he's rewarded with the best plot line. Too bad his is also the one that ends so quickly.
Charlie informs Solomon that he can't use him as a source for his story because of his checkered past. Solomon then kills himself, but he also gives Charlie crucial leverage against Leona and Reese in the phone hacking affair. Waterston knows how to play quiet grief, and does it nicely when he hears the news about Solomon.
Naturally, gossip columnist Nina Howard features in the hacking story. Now in chastened, self-flagellating mode, she tells MacKenzie she knows Will was high during the Bin Laden episode and begs her to prevent the story from getting out. "There's no such thing as a little girl who dreams of being a gossip columnist," she says with a straight face. Somehow it comes out irretrievably camp.
Anyway, Will et al put two and two together and figure out that Nina and Reese hacked into MacKenzie's voicemail and heard a message from Will. This gives them the means to catch Reese in an admission of guilt while Leona looks sadly on. It's a fun scene, though it's almost sad to see Jane Fonda so deflated, as Leona is forced to set Will free. Let's hope she gets more teeth next season.
On the news side, Will continues his tradition of being a Republican who disagrees violently with the vast majority of his party's current policy positions and wants a moderate, free-market kinda guy with a vague belief in the social safety net to be running things. (Hmmm, where can we find one of those people? ) Here, he devotes his time to the obscenity of voter ID laws, and — again — to the evils of the Tea Party, whom he calls the "American Taliban," thus making him possibly the only Republican to approvingly echo the title of a book by the founder of Daily Kos. For some reason, this show is treated like some radical departure from all of his other episodes, which also rail against the evils of the Tea Party.
There's a cringe-inducing scene where one of those black women whose only role in television life is to knock some sense into white characters and then recede into the background snaps at Will that he needs to cover the story of her 96-year-old great-aunt, who is being disenfranchised by one of the laws. She accomplishes the most important part of her task: getting Will out of his funk. Moved by the woman's plight, and armed with the phone-hacking knowledge, he bounds out of the hospital and returns to work, reassured that television needs fools like him.
Of course, there's still the matter of The Quadrangle From Hell. Sorkin seems determined to follow the classic TV template and keep Maggie and Jim apart until Season 15 or whatever. Here, though, he piles things on by turning the quadrangle into The Pentagram From Hell, by throwing Sloan into the mix. Sloan and Don have pretty good chemistry together — certainly they're better matched than Don and Maggie. How nice it would have been if those two had both acknowledged that they were better off apart, and Sloan and Don had gotten together, and Jim and Maggie could fulfill their destiny!
But, no. What we get instead is that Don asks Maggie to move in with him, but not before a series of excruciating scenes take place — like what must be Maggie's worst moment ever, a shrieking meltdown in front of a strategically placed "Sex and the City" tour bus that starts out vaguely feminist-ish but winds up centered right on Jim, the only thing that matters. It's not an episode of "The Newsroom" without a woman losing all control of herself over a man, so perhaps Sorkin wanted to go out on a high note. (Alison Pill, fire your agent! Then sue that agent.)
Sloan and Don admit their feelings for each other, but then Don still goes ahead and asks Maggie to move in with him, and Jim stays with Lisa even after he kisses Maggie, and on and on and on and on. Ten episodes in, and none of this has ever worked.
The final scenes also fail to tie a bow around what is supposed to be the great love story of the series between Will and MacKenzie. She reveals what we've known since the first episode: that she was the one in the crowd at Northwestern who held up those signs urging him to go on his infamous rant. "You're melting, aren't you?" she asks, and though we very much just want them to get on with it, they don't. Sigh.
Then, "Sorority Girl," the one who triggered the rant, also returns, asking for an internship on the show. "I know what the greater fool is," she says, violins swelling. "I want to be one." Nobody, it would seem, is ever immune to the nobility of Will McAvoy. Even the young women he shouts at come into the fold again, and close his metaphorical circles.
And so we depart, leaving this merry crew to their fairly uninteresting lives. It's too bad I couldn't care less about most of the unanswered questions left for Season 2, but who knows? It is possible, as they say, to dream the impossible dream — in this case, that Aaron Sorkin can turn things around.
Follow Jack Mirkinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jackmirkinson