Ten weeks, ten episodes, and the sand has ran out of the hourglass, meaning the HBO’s TV series The Newsroom, had run out of time. Season One came to a close. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the season. This episode was called The Greater Fool, and it should have been terrific, in fact some of it was terrific, albeit with some heavy blemishes. The same could be said about the overall series too.
Rather than doing only a straight linear recap, I’ll close my series of posts about The Newsroom with a different kind of ‘End of the Season’ recap by using Random Thoughts about things in this episode and some overview of the series in general.
The episode was built using a flashback/flash forward structure. It began with McAvoy doing a broadcast on August 8th, 2011. His topic – and it took him a while to get to it because he first told us what stories would not be the number one news story of the day. But he did get to it, and ‘tonight’s top story is about Dorothy Cooper‘, But just after introducing the topic – we flashed back to eight days prior.
Will hadn’t shown up for work, and so Mackenzie and Lonny the bodyguard arrived at his apartment to find out why. It took them a few minutes to discover Will unconscious, and bloody, on the bathroom floor. As it turns out, Will had mixed antidepressant drugs and bourbon, which impacted a bleeding ulcer. Not good. Cue flash forward to the news broadcast.
Will: Dorothy Cooper is a 96-year-old resident of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has been voting for the last 75 years. This year she’s been told she can’t. There it is. With Cooper being the sub topic, the main topic is new voter registration laws in a number of states requiring a government issued photo ID. Will used a film clip of Texas Governor Rick Perry, and then showed us some stats (about voter fraud) which yielded a number that was .0004% of the number of voters. New laws were enacted in 33 states to protect against voter fraud. In 32 of the 33 states, the bills were introduced by state legislatures that had a Republic majority, and signed in to law by Republic governors. The concept?
If you can’t get people to vote FOR you, then reduce the number of people who would likely vote AGAINST you. Time to flashback again, this time to 7 days prior.
Jim Harper enters the daily news pitch meeting but chooses to ask if anyone here is an expert on Sex in the City (the TV show). Neal, as usual, has a plethora of knowledge about almost anything, and this time he points out to Harper, that there is a Sex in the City open air bus tour that goes around the city making stops at famous locations from the show. This doesn’t resonate with me but the key element is that Harper needs a crash course in Sex in the City because that show is something that Lisa is interested in.
Yes, we are back to that again. The adventures of four people who I’ll call the DMJL quadrangle is still with us. Never mind that it almost always breaks the momentum of the news, or the news show by stopping us dead in our tracks, requiring us wallow into its depths every week. Whether we want to or not. It is inescapable, unavoidable, and ridiculous.
Fortunately, we cut to Will in the hospital, where he is about to be harangued by Mackenzie. She asks why is Will still upset about the Brian Brenner article in New York Magazine. She says, Stop, it’s been two weeks, get up off the damned mat.
Nobody’s brought you down. You’ll get back in your chair, the red light will go on, and you’ll go to that place you go to every time…
Will interrupts to say – I don’t think I’m coming back, I don’t think I am…
Now this catches Mackenzie totally by surprise. She’s speechless but in a moment or two she says, You’re coming back, if I have to chop you up, put you in a duffel bag, and reassemble you at the anchor desk – just then Mack gets a call.
Nina Howard, the gossip columnist for TMI, was the caller. She meets Mackenzie at Columbus Circle for a walk and talk heading east on Central Park South towards Seventh Avenue. Nina says she has a source reporting that Will was high on the night of May 1st, the night of the news of Bin Laden’s death. Mackenzie doesn’t believe her, but Nina says the source is good, in fact unimpeachable.
Mack meets Charlie Skinner in his office, and together they are confident that no one leaked the story to Nina Howard. It WAS true that Will was high, but no one leaked. This will be just what Leona and Reese need to fire Will. But Charlie wonders why it hasn’t already happened. What are they waiting for he asks. Mack says, A second source. While that hovers above us – Charlie goes to meet his source, Solomon Hancock. Charlie tells him, he’s not going to use him, as it is possible that Hancock lacks credibililty.Charlie tell Hancock, If you’re the face of the story, you’ll contaminate it.
Hancock is angry and deflated – even more than we can imagine. Hancock asks Charlie, Do you like beef stew? This too, seems a bit improbable, and lacking in value – but hey, this is Sorkin – so you must pay attention – and take note of everything.
Time for another flash something – I can’t tell if it is backwards or forwards. I’ll guess – we were back six or seven days, and next, we will be only 5 days prior (to the news broadcast which opened the show – in case you’ve lost track while reading this).
Sloan does her financial segment and then has a talk with Don. Sloan also has a job offer. Don has asked Sloan in for some advice. He says he’s going to ask Maggie to move in with him.
Sloan readily admits that she’s not the best person to ask as she is socially inept. But she does manage to tell Don that he’s not really the bad guy. And that he’s really a good guy. Don is taken aback, and when he recovers, he asks Sloan, Why are you still single?
Sloan: Because a lot of men are intimidated by my intelligence..
Don: No, seriously…
Sloan [taking a moment to gather herself] Because you never asked me out.
Whoa! Where did that come from? Like out of left field, Or is it thin air. In short, Don, AND WE VIEWERS, are stunned.
Sloan: Caught you off-guard didn’t I?
Don: Yeah you really did…
Just then Jim walks in. Don can’t remember why he asked Jim to his office. Sloan tells Jim that Don and Maggie are moving in together. Naturally that catches Jim off-guard too. Don: I still have to ask her. Jim: Seriously? And after a few moments of awkwardness, Don still can’t remember why he asked Jim to stop by. Jim leaves.
Don: You’re wrong, I do want to commit to Maggie
Sloan: Well, that’s what a good guy would do.
Sloan leaves, and for a while the DMJL shuts down – with the key operative being – for a while.
Next we are back in the hospital and Mackenzie is talking to Will while fiddling with his intravenous drip. She unintentionally knocks it apart. This requires a nurse to come in. This is Nurse Cooper, and she will have a bigger scene later. On a side note, when we first saw Maggie and Will in the hospital it was during the ‘7 days prior’ flashback. Now we are in the ‘5 days prior’ flashback, and Maggie is wearing the same beige silk blouse and brown skirt. Not that it matters – I just happened to notice it.
Jim enters the hospital room. Which leads to a recount of office gossip which includes that Don and Maggie are going to live together. That leads to a verbal recap of the ‘gather ye rosebuds‘ segment between Mack and Jim. Jim leaves, and Mack and Will discuss Brian’s article, which leads to Will referencing Camelot as the reason for the article. King Arthur dispatched a young boy to go from village to village to tell them about Camelot. Will envisioned the article as something along the same lines.
Next Jim comes into Charlie’s office. With bad news. A man rode his bicycle to the middle of the Queensborough Bridge, and jumped off the bridge killing himself. The body has been identified as Solomon Hancock. As we can imagine, Charlie feels guilty.
Flash forward to the broadcast. Will calls himself a RINO – Republican in Name Only. Will discusses the Tea Party and says, The Tea Party loves America, but hates Americans. Then we get a triple serving of some of the Tea Party’s public speakers like Republican Congressman Allen West from Florida, and like Conservative activist Grover Norquist, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader from Kentucky.
The long and the short of it is that Will McAvoy has just selectively chosen quotes that were inflammatory (and quite possibly taken out of context) to demonstrate the declining Republic values. Said another way, this was Sorkin taking a stick in hand and metaphorically beating and whipping the daylights out of the Tea Party.
Of course, this is just another instance of Sorkin via McAvoy knocking down some straw men. It may not have been fair, but it certainly had impact.
Flashback again – this time we are four days prior. Charlie meets with Neal and Lonny to discuss Neal’s trolling for the one who threatened Will. Neal has a plan to smoke Charizma out, and it is risky, but Charlie says, Do it. A guy from the mailroom arrives with an envelope from Charlie. The return address says The East River. So Charlie knows it is from a dead guy, the recent suicide, Solomon Hancock. He opens it but we don’t see the contents, as we cut to the hospital where Will is watching a replay of his speech at Northwestern University which opens the series.
Actually it isn’t the speech itself, which was 13 months ago, but it where the young sorority girl Jenny, asked Will that fateful question. We don’t know why Will is looking at this on his laptop – but this is Sorkin, so for sure, we will find out . Mackenzie comes in with Charlie.
They discuss the article by Brian. Charlie says, Hell hath no fury like the second-rate. Will says It doesn’t matter. Charlie says, Right it doesn’t matter, but I want you to hear something that does matter. Charlie calls in Nurse Cooper, the tough one that we met before. She tell Will about her Great Aunt, Dorothy Cooper – how is it that after 75 years of voting she suddenly can’t vote because she doesn’t have a car. Nurse Cooper wants to know why this isn’t the first story on the news every night. She says she wants to see this story on the news. Charlie says, I kinda want to see it on the news too…
Just then, Will asks Mackenzie about the voice mail message he left on her answering machine on the night of the Bin Laden broadcast. Mackenzie hasn’t a clue. She never got it and what is he talking about. Will tells her how the message began,
Hey listen it’s me, I’m not just saying this because I’m high right now… that message.
Mackenzie says she never got the message, and then with emphasis, I never got it!
Charlie: Nina’s first source was you. [Baba O’Riley by The Who begins playing right now under the conversation but clearly audible].
Mackenzie: I never got it!
Charlie has mentally connected the dots.
Will : Yeah..
Charlie: That’s why TMI’s waiting for a second source, they can’t reveal how they got the first source.
Mackenzie: There was no message…
Charlie: Because your phone was hacked. And they deleted it….
Silence (except for the music). That news gets Will where he lives. He pops out of bed ready to tilt against all the windmills of the world. He’s a bit shaky on his feet…
Nurse Cooper comes running in. I’ve got all sorts of alarms going off at the nurses station. Who pulled out the IV lines?
Will: [pointing at Mack] She did, I need to get some information about your Great Aunt…
With Baba O’Riley still playing we fade out and then fade in…to Will entering the news room. For the next two minutes we watch as the story is assembled: Quotes from Romney, biblical quotes, Presidential quotes from Washington, Jefferson, Adams etc along with recent Presidential vacations days, and a host of other items are pinned to a board divided in to blocks of time for the broadcast. It is still shapeless, but remember, we’ve already seen at least two segments of the broadcast. The pace has quickened, as does the heart beat of everyone watching. It is truly exciting.
Of course that means the show must come to a screeching halt – and this means DMJL must come into play. First, Maggie and Lisa are having dinner before Maggie is supposed to head over to dinner. Lisa brings up ‘swing by around midnight‘. Maggie brings up that Don thinks that Jim came over that night to talk to her, Maggie, rather than Lisa, and that sends Lisa packing off to points unknown. Maggie hits the street just in time to get splashed by a bus. Not just any bus, but the Sex in the City Tour Bus. Maggie hears the guide giving a speech about that particular restaurant where she and Lisa had just met in. This sets Maggie off on a tirade to the open air bus that Sex in the City is nothing like real life. Real women don’t wear high heels to work, and real jobs for real women don’t include gallery openings, and then the killer line – about how she had a crush on a guy that she works with who his now dating her best friend and roommate, and what a mess that is.
Of course, all together now – Jim is on that very bus, and has heard every word, and demands to be let off the bus. Maggie runs off with Jim in pursuit.
Now wasn’t that unbelievable, and gimmicky doesn’t even begin to describe how bad this whole thing is. Could it be even more contrived, false, and cringe-worthy? I think not.
Jim chases down Maggie. They rush into each others arms and kiss. Just about then, since Jim has already heard that Maggie is going to be asked by Don to move in, and this is Don’s neighborhood, Jim backs away. Walking away from the one he loves. Please.
Fade into Will’s broadcast. This is when Will will us tell all about the statements made by our earliest presidents about the separation of Church and State which is in direct conflict with present day claim by the Tea Party that America was founded as a Christian nation. There’s even a tiny clip of John McCain making that same statement. Fade out.
Then Maggie tries to put together some notes as she heads towards Don’s apartment. As Lisa reminded her, it’s been over a year, and their relationship is still at the same place as when it started – midnight booty calls. So as she approaches Don’s apartment, she has a speech semi-prepared, but so does Don. He also has about 100 candles lit. And he asks her to move in. Just then Maggie gets a call from Jim. Which she doesn’t take. Fade out.
Now do you recall the scene at the news pitch meeting when Jim asked about Sex in the City, and Neal told him about the tour bus. It wasn’t cute or believable. Sorkin now is facing a possibility of DMJL becoming DMJL and possibly Sloan will be squeezed into this as well. Right? Thankfully that’s next year.
Back to the newsroom.Will and Mackenzie are watching something on a tv. Charlie pokes his head in the door. Are you ready? he asks.
All of us know where they are heading. Right – to Leona’s office where they will meet with Leona and Reese. We have a pretty good idea of what will happen at the meeting. Will will be fired.
We also know that Charlie is well armed and fortified for just this probable event. After some small talk, Leona says, Reese tells me you were high on the air while reporting on the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Will avoids answering and Leona again asks, You were high on the air?
Charlie intervenes: How would you know that Reese?
Leona asks for a third time: Were you high on the air the night we killed Bin Laden?
Will: I was.
Leona: You’re admitting it..
Will: Could not feel my face…
Leona: Well, you were very good…
Will: Thank you
Leona: You’re welcome and you’re fired
Charlie: You can’t fire him…
Leona: Yet I just did…
Charlie: But if you do, your son is going to jail for a little while.
Boom! Of course Reese denies hacking Mack’s phones, more specifically he denied having ordering phones to hacked so TMI could turn a profit.
There it is. The threat that has been hovering over Will for most of the year, that Leona would be able to fire Will. And she just canned him.
Mackenzie: You hacked my phone
Reese: I did not
Charlie: You hacked her phone and deleted the message
Reese [sneering]: Ya got proof?
Of course, Charlie has two cards to play. Charlie says, Solomon Hancock, the NSA source who provided me with the reports and information about the illegal domestic surveillance (wiretaps). He jumped off the Queensborough bridge and took his own life four days ago, but he sent me this. With this, he lays the envelope on the table.
Leona now has to question her own son, but he’s a jerk and after just a little prodding from Leona, who demands the truth, he admits it. Which is when Charlie plays his second card. The recorder he had in his breast pocket.
Charlie tells them to kill the TMI story, and let Will and Mack do the news, and they won’t turn in Reese. Leona says we won’t negotiate. Charlie says, This isn’t a negotiation. They’re going to do their show, and what ever happens next, happens next.
With that Charlie gets up and leaves.
To be honest. I was disappointed in how this played out. Reese rolled over in a minute and half. Charlie dictated the terms, and really it went down far too easily. Leona and Reese were beaten. Maybe Sorkin was trapped by own his plot. We knew the ammo that Charlie carried with him and Leona didn’t. So there wasn’t any suspense to the scene at all. Nor where there any histrionics.
We waited seven weeks for this. Beyond that, Leona saying to Will, ‘You were very good and you’re fired,‘ was in the previews all week. So they went public with their own spoiler. There was one gimmick – the contents of the envelope. After Will, Mack, and Charlie left, Leona opened the envelope. Inside was Solomon Hancock’s recipe for beef stew.
I didn’t expect that, and that was a nice surprise. But, I should have known better. In A Few Good Men, written by Sorkin, the lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise, waved around a tower log book of incoming flights at Andrews Air Force Base. The log book contained no facts about the flights in question, and the two airmen that Kaffee brought into the court room, ostensibly to testify about the incoming flights, had no information that was reportable or damaging either. It was just a charade by Kaffee. And Charlie Skinner played the same one.
Back in the present, Sloan does her piece. During the broadcast break, Sloan tells Will about The Greater Fool, which was the name of Brian’s article about Will, Actually the term The Greater Fool is an economic term. It describes a guy who will buy long and sell short. For the rest of us to profit, we need a greater fool. And most of us spend our entire lives trying not to be The Greater Fool. The Greater Fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.
Will now sees the article written about him in a new light. As do we.
Of course now we need one more round of Mackenzie and Will doing their dance. Mack wants to know what was on that voicemail. Will says nothing. In 10 seconds he will be back on the air. Mackenzie leaves without an answer.
Will launches his closing speech of that nights broadcast. The one that began earlier about Republican values. Will trots out a lengthy laundry list of how he views the Tea Party. This list is frightening and I’m not going to recap the list for you. But Sorkin wrote a forceful few lines to close the speech.
Will [Referencing the Tea Party Republicans]: They can call themselves the Tea Party. They can call themselves Conservatives. And they can even call themselves Republicans, though Republicans certainly shouldn’t. But we should call them what they are – The American Taliban, and the American Taliban cannot survive if Dorothy Cooper is allowed to vote.
A quick cut to Leona and Reese, to Charlie, and to Mackenzie. I guess you could call these – reaction shots. And then back to Will for his sign off. Terry Smith is coming up next. This is Will McAvoy. Good night.
I would have ended the show on that note. But this was just the first of many closing scenes. The show rang long – close to sixty-two minutes, and at this point there’s still more than eight minutes remaining. Lets call Will’s attack of the Tea Party Ending Number One.
Ending Two has Sloan telling Don that a) she’s staying, b) since she’s staying – she’s mortified about what she said to him earlier, and c) they will never speak to each other again or make eye contact starting now. Don says, that’s not realistic. Sloan says – I just turned down 4 million dollars a year to stay here and try to do good by reporting the news. Does that sound like a girl who is living in a world of realistic. Don starts to say something, but Sloan says, STARTING NOW, and walks off.
Ending Three: Maggie and Jim. We find out that Jim lied to Lisa about who he was really going to see that night. Maggie says Lisa is very happy. She tells Jim he’s a good guy. Jim says, So is Don.
Ending Four: Will and Mackenzie. Mack again asks Will about the message. Will says it was about a hallucination. Way back at that speech at Northwestern, Will thought he saw a girl holding up a note pad. He thought she looked like Mack. Only he didn’t really think it was Mack.
Guess what folks. It was Mack, and on this night, and right now, she just happens to have the same note pad with her. She opens it to the exact notes that she had held up that night 13 months ago.
Will: So it was you. Why the fuck didn’t you tell me.
Mackenzie: I was waiting for the right time.
Will: Thirteen months ago was the right time.
Mackenzie: No … what did the rest of the message say?
Will avoids answering that and asks about a girl sitting outside in the newsroom. She’s been waiting all day, why does she look familiar?
Just then. in come Neal and Lonny. Mackenzie leaves saying she’ll be in the conference room. Neal and Lonny have news. There’s been 100 new death threats made against Will. This isn’t an ending but it does tells us what we can look forward to begin Season Two.
Sorkin chose to have a character that we knew only as ‘Sorority Girl’, a young college student whom we met 10 weeks ago, only a few minutes in to the series, and hadn’t seen since, return near the end of the final episode. She was the one who asked Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy that fateful question, Why is America the greatest country in the world? At that time, 10 weeks ago, McAvoy launched a classic Sorkin soliloquy, and the show took off. This time, when McAvoy speaks to the girl, he asks why she is here, and applying for an internship.
She says, I watch the show. And I read the article. I know what the Greater Fool is, and I want to be one.
Well that puts a whole different spin on things.
Will requests that she repeat the same question that she had asked before. ‘What makes America the greatest country in the world? Only this time, McAvoy’s answer was short and succinct, “You do.” Then McAvoy turned to his Executive Producer, Mackenzie McHale, and said, Hire her. Mack is smiling and suddenly says, What did the rest of the message say? But Will is already out the door of the conference room. Mackenzie says to the girl, Welcome to News Night. Maybe we can call this Ending Five.
But it we can’t as there are still two minutes left. So what’s next? Will and Lonny are exiting the building. They talk about the new death threats. Will asks, What do you get for protecting me. Lonny: $1700 a week plus health and dental. Will: I wouldn’t take a bullet for $1700 a week. Lonny: Neither would I pal, which is why I learned to duck. As they hit the street, the street becomes Nina Howard’s apartment.
She’s listening to the tape of Will’s message on Mack’s phone. Just as it gets to where Will is about to say what we haven’t learned yet, we listen as Will says, If the answer is no, then don’t call me back, or bring it up, or anything. Will says, I have to tell you, I mean after tonight, I really want to tell you that … I never stopped…
Cut to Will and Lonny on the street climbing into the Cadillac Escalade …
Cut back to Nina still listening. She drags the icon of the message to the trash bin icon, and we cut back to Will and Lonny driving. Finally Nina hits the yes button, and the message is permanently deleted. Another cut back to Will in the car; there’s a change of the camera angle so we now see the street lights. And fade out.
And this is the final and last of the endings. Season One has ended.
Random Thoughts –
I’m not sure why Sorkin chose this particular method (the young woman who asked the question) to bring the series full circle. Did he think that by doing so, this was the equivalent of handing over a nicely wrapped gift, or a way to bring down the curtain with everyone being so very pleased. I wasn’t pleased to see this girl. It just seemed too much of a dramatist’s gimmick.
Music: Will McAvoy was the central character and it should surprise no one that the series had musical references about him. His Exec Producer liked the analogy of Will as Don Quixote – you know, tilting at windmills and all that. She had claimed that she was the Quixote character, and Will was Sancho – but I never did buy into that. I don’t think we heard any music from the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha during the series, but in this episode, we certainly did have music to fit McAvoy. That would the classic song Baba O’Riley written by Peter Townsend of The Who. This song is often and incorrectly called Teenage Wasteland, but don’t these lyrics fit McAvoy:
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven
Maybe a better choice might have been The Grateful Dead singing ‘Truckin‘ because of these memorable lyrics;
Sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Now, don’t those lyrics also seem to fit McAvoy?
Female Characters: All were flawed to a degree. Sloan was socially inept. Maggie was flighty. Mackenzie who should have been a rock was the one female who was most often made to look silly. Now this wasn’t enough of an issue for me to stop watching the series, but it was certainly noticeable, and a definite shortcoming.
The DMJL segment. Badly overused. I’ll say it again OVERUSED. Lisa was fine in her limited moments, and I certainly think that Alison Pill as Maggie acted wonderfully, but it was just too much. Don began as a bad guy, but ended up as a good guy. However, this is quite likely to change next season. As for John Gallagher‘s Jim Harper. I wish we had seen more of him and his work. Instead we got the mopey Jim most of the time. He didn’t stutter, but it seemed that he was woefully inarticulate. Of course I lay this at the feet of Sorkin. Less DMJL next year please.
Leona and Reese – the villains of the series, only they had mere minutes, instead of hours. The firing of Will scene was lacking in heat, emotion, suspense, excitement, and yes, even passion. They should have kept the wraps on this scene, and then handled it differently. Like maybe Will is fired at the end of Episode Nine, and then Charlie gets it undone in Ten.
Speaking of Charlie – Sam Waterston was great in the role. I thought he over-did his acting in the shootout with Sloan, but that was the only scene I thought he didn’t do well.
Will McAvoy – a pompous ass or some one with a dead serious ability to care, and to wear this care publicly. Yes he was speaking in character but it was Aaron Sorkin’s demons that he was discussing. If any one is worthy of an Emmy from this show it is he, Jeff Daniels. His worst moment tripping while putting on his pants. His best moment – calling the Tea Party, the American Taliban.
Yes, I know. Those words came from Sorkin. And for me Sorkin played loose with politics and political truths throughout the series. I don’t pretend to know anything about politics, so no, I wasn’t offended by Sorkin using Will as his mouthpiece. If Sorkin is angry and has grievances, then at least we can say he got them out there. For the public to see and hear. Even if you don’t agree with the dramatic use of straw men, soft targets, quotes out of context, misrepresentations, allegations, or even incorrect facts – you still should be able to say, that as a piece of entertainment – this show had much to praise – despite its flaws.
Not sure what you think, but the comment box is open. I for one am looking forward to Season Two. Like you, I have a wish list for the second season, but I’ll keep that under wraps for now. But don’t let that stop you from sharing your opinions and your own wish list for The Newsroom.