Any talk of “News Night with Will MacAvoy’s” credibility hurts The Newsroom’s credibility. Because the series takes place in what is basically a vacuum, connected to the outside world only through cameras, the Internet, and the occasional white-guilt trip to Africa, any plot device or emotional stake that hinges on how the fictional program is perceived by those outside its self-contained universe is difficult to care about. Charlie and Will can bemoan their show’s falling polls and the petitions demanding its cancellation all they want, but those threats have all the significance of a Sloan non sequitur. The only thing that apparently matters is that “News Night” stays in Leona and Reese’s good graces, and since Leona’s had a personality transplant and Reese is getting laid by a Rockette, “News Night” is in luck.
That’s why the second season of The Newsroom, while being an improvement over the slapsticky first, has been such a disappointment. Watching the elaborately structured Operation Genoa storyline – which was hinted at from the season premiere – play out was like looking at a garden maze you later realize is made of plastic trees. Its intricacy is admirable, but there’s something off-putting about its artificiality. All the horrific consequences Charlie alluded to – falling ratings, angry letters, the airing of ACN’s dirty laundry – is about as dangerous as sarin gas to that polyurethane labyrinth.
Compounding the tonal problems with the season-long mystery was the show’s frequent suggestions that Maggie had been sexually assaulted: Will saying she’d been through a special hell, her new hobby of drinking until a man picks her up, the attractiveness-annihilating clown hair. Misdirection is one thing, needlessly twisting the knife another. (Take note, Will.)
In “Election Night, Part II,” the Genoa plot ends quietly (and smugly) with a change in Charlie’s heart, and his warnings that the sky is falling has been downgraded to a rain advisory. This is part of what’s so frustrating about The Newsroom’s sitcomish world: all of “News Night’s” foes are only as big as Aaron Sorkin needs them to be at any scene. It’s like watching a flashlight behind a cardboard monster retreat and advance, making the shadow bigger or smaller depending on how much yelling Jeff Daniels or Sam Waterston need to get done to fill the Sorkin quota of screaming per episode. (Seriously, Sorkin could write a book about his favorite rhetorical device: “Persuasion Through Loudness”. As a favor, Daniels or Waterston could crescendo through the audiobook.)
So the “News Night” employees will face no consequences for accusing the U.S. government of committing war crimes. (Sorry, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden – I guess the key to criticizing Big Brother is by lying; actual truths will land you in jail or exile.) The rest of the news-related parts of the episode is made up of more mindless chatter about who’s winning which state by how many percentage points. That’s the kind of dialogue that makes you feel bad for actors who have to memorize such inconsequential details.
But more importantly, it’s highly revealing of one of The Newsroom’s biggest flaws as a media critique: Sorkin might have gotten more smartness mileage out of, say, the characters having a meeting on how to cover an election – should cameras enter the Stat Cube to bother poor mathy Kathy? Would it be a good idea to get a Republican with a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore to come on the air and criticize the show during its airing? – instead of just simply having a bunch of meaningless numbers thrown in our faces between Charlie and Will’s tag-team tantrums.
When Sorkin isn’t yelling self-righteously on behalf of idealism, he dives right for the schmaltz. Thus we end the season with three happy couplings. Jim and Hallie (Mamie Gummer) seem like a mild inconvenience on the way to Jim and Maggie (Jiggie?), but they seem happy enough, especially after humiliating Lisa once again so Jim can learn a lesson. Sloan brusquely pulls Don into a kiss when she realizes that he rigged a charity auction to inflate the price of her autograph. (Aww?)
But of course, the most important development of the episode is Will’s surprise proposal to MacKenzie. The episode began with the “revelation” that Will’s intentions to marry her were a “practical joke,” a confession that was then later revealed in the episode to be pure emotional abuse, as Will only told her that to make Mac feel unwanted. Needless to say, it bothered me, then, that MacKenzie said yes, since so much of their relationship is based on him browbeating her.
Also, it’s been about, what, five years since they last dated? I look forward to finding out whether they stay engaged by the beginning of next season.