Here’s a technique that may help you reconcile any unsettled feelings you have about The Newsroom‘s Season 2 finale: Think of the hour as the conclusion to a musical.
Take a minute to let the idea sink in. In a musical – particularly the old-school ones of which creator Aaron Sorkin is so fond – it’s not weird when two characters who’ve done little but pester each other for hours on end suddenly have an over-the-top kiss.
When they propose (and accept!) marriage, you don’t think, “Wait, shouldn’t you slow things down a little?” When all of the leads come to a feel-good reconciliation just in time for the final number, you don’t shake your head and think, “Well, that seems unlikely.”
When the shy young ingénue finally finds her pluck, you don’t scoff at her mullet-in-the-making and come up with a ballpark total of her future therapy bills. You just sigh in contentment and hum along with the reprise.
So, consider the events of “Election Night, Part 2″ as a sweet (if improbable) coda to the HBO drama’s sophomore season. Otherwise, the episode seems like a too-neat tie-up of a season that was, at turns, wonderful and laughable. With that in mind, let’s raise the curtain on the major developments that took place in this week’s episode.
STAND BY YOUR MAN | We pick up at 9 pm on Election Night, with Will, Elliot, Taylor and Sloan on the air. A Genoa-shy MacKenzie, Don, Jim, Maggie and Charlie have decided that the Petraeus story raised in the previous episode is not as newsworthy as the story they were asked to hold in its place, so they’re running with the hypocrite who denounced Missouri Rep. Todd Akin. (At least Charlie has the good sense to feel bad about the cowardly call later on.)
Taylor takes advantage of some downtime to ask Will’s permission to approach Jim. “About what?” Will asks, oblivious. She’s setting up a media consulting firm, and she wants Harper to come aboard. Will’s confused; Jim just signed a new contract, he says, which means he’s going nowhere. Taylor apologetically replies that she heard the senior staff was resigning over the Genoa kerfuffle. “Where did you hear that?” he demands. “From the senior staff,” she says.
If I were Jim’s boss, he wouldn’t have to resign: I’d fire him for egregious newsroom Skyping with his girlfriend – who, by the way, works for a competing media outlet. In fact, he’s making googly cyber-eyes at her (doesn’t he have a race to call prematurely or something?) when Maggie summons him to a quick staff meeting. After the ladies exchange quick, fake-nice hellos, Hallie makes sure Jim knows that Maggie’s new ‘do is no Supercuts special. “Cutting off your own hair – that’s alarming,” she says, low-voiced and concerned. So is day-drinking and a complete change in personality, but neither of those changes in Ms. Jordan have lit much of a fire under Jim’s tush before now, have they?
In the studio, Will gathers everyone who was involved in the retracted story and forbids them to quit on behalf of Charlie, Mac and himself. “The whole reason we’re trying to resign is to allow the rest of you to continue to do what we started without the burden of Genoa,” he says, then adds that when he leaves, Elliott will take his spot, with Don will take Mac’s, Sloan will anchor the 10 pm broadcast and Jim will be her EP. Absolutely no one in the room is on board with that plan. After all, “There are principles of… principle here,” Don notes, passionately if not eloquently. “Who put all this in your head?” Will asks. “You did,” his former executive producer answers. Will’s totally going to cry but then makes a joke about how he’s not going to cry, then they all go back to work.
As the anchors prepare to go live once more, Sloan murmurs that Will insulted the team a little by assuming they wouldn’t stand by him. Why’s that? he wonders. “Because you insulted me a little,” she says. Aww.
DECISION 2012 | Upstairs at Reese’s schmancy elections-night viewing party, Leona is high again – and loving it. Charlie is neither stoned nor in a good mood as he tries to get his baked boss to agree to accept his resignation – so he’s immune to some of her other (awesome) ideas, like splitting a pizza and reuniting the Allman Brothers. Finally, she offers up some pertinent information: She’s left the decision about how to handle Jerry’s suit – and everything that goes along with it – up to Reese, who’s out for a walk while he decides how to proceed.
Charlie knows that Reese wants to settle out of court; you can see him slump a bit as he realizes that the resignation for which he’s so strenuously advocated is about to become reality. A bit out of sorts, he clumsily bumps into a cater waitress and knocks her entire tray of Champagne flutes to the ground. Oh hey look, it’s Maggie’s roommate/Jim’s ex Lisa! Of course she just happens to be there to drop wisdom on her former boyfriend… I mean, pick up a little extra money. (I’m getting ahead of myself.) Lisa nervously asks Charlie, who recognizes her, not to mention her presence to Jim. But when someone at the party tweets a photo of the sparkling spirits destruction, Harper finds out anyway.
JIM MAKES AMENDS | Jim flies upstairs, where Lisa greets him with an honest assessment of glassware (“The center of gravity on Champagne flutes is too high”) and a repeated plea to leave her alone. He ignores it, tailing her through the party and nearly getting her fired. Jim Harper: the greasy-haired gift that just keeps giving. Lisa breaks my heart a little bit when she says she’s “smart enough to know I’m not smart enough” for him – we are talking about the man who was physically bested by both luggage and a door (twice) last season, right?
Anyway, Jim’s slightly chagrined by Lisa’s estimation of him, but he’s got shaggier fish to fry: “Did Maggie cut her own hair?” he demands. Lisa says she isn’t sure (though the clipped locks she found on the bathroom floor were a tip-off), inadvertently revealing that she also doesn’t know what Maggie experienced in Uganda. Jim respects Maggie’s privacy enough not to spill all, but urges Lisa to talk to her roomie.
On another call to Hallie, Jim asks if he ever makes her feel stupid, if he’s blowing their relationship the way he messed up his with Lisa. “First of all, you’re not smart enough to make me feel like I’m dumb,” Hallie replies (heh), “and I really like you, too. You’re not blowing it.” The exchange is so cute, I’m just going to pretend that Jim doesn’t ask her to tweet a story Neal wrote as if he were Hallie (it’s related to MacKenzie’s Wikipedia freak-out from last episode), and I’m really not going to get into the fact that Hallie eventually rewrites the puff story under her own byline and tweets it as a thank-you for the Romney interview early in the season.
Later, as Jim and Maggie are monitoring the election he accidentally called too early, he mentions her hair and she admits to hacking and dyeing because the cut and color reminded her too much of little Daniel. Jim goes all Good Will Hunting on her with the “It’s not your fault” stuff, but she’s not comforted. “There’s a difference between being tough and wanting to be,” she says, using him, Mac and Don as examples of the former. “I wanna be,” she says. “You are,” he replies, and I know the moment should feel uplifting… but it feels overwrought or set in the wrong place or just somehow off to me. (Tell me I’m wrong in the comments.) They also talk about the moment Maggie first noticed Jim – it was on his first day at ACN, when he investigated a yellow iNEWS alert even though no one else cared. “You couldn’t help yourself,” she says, smiling. Keep that in mind, everyone; it’ll matter in a while.
SLOAN SOLVES THE CASE | An update on the whole Sloan-didn’t-really-sign-her-book thing: Neal has tracked down the buyer, but he doesn’t think Sloan will be happy. “Was it bought by an inmate?” she asks seriously. “I have a small, slightly disturbed following among white-collar criminals.” (Ha!) The silent auction sheet from the Hurricane Sandy benefit shows that someone used names of characters from musicals like The Sweet Smell of Success and The Secret Garden to drive up bids for Ms. Sabbith’s boring economics book – ostensibly to save her from the embarrassment of no one wanting to buy it. Cut to Sloan in Don’s office a while later, when she realizes that he’s got a Sweet Smell poster on his wall…
And then prepare yourself for some Olivia Munn awesomeness as Sloan marches into the control room, signs the book she found in Keefer’s possession, kisses him full on the mouth in front of everyone, slaps the book against his chest and sashays on outta there with a contented smile on her lips. It. Is. Fantastic. When Don recovers, he calls out, “What I have can’t be taught!” but Mac hushes him up and demands that everyone get back to work. Munn decidedly is this season’s MVP, with Marcia Gay Harden sliding in a close second. On a related note, when in the heck did I start rooting for Don?
YOU ONLY HURT THE ONES… | Back at election central, Mac and Will step away from the coverage to give Don, Sloan and Elliot an unwanted chance to shine. Mr. McAvoy and his recently fired EP retire to the hair-and-makeup room, where their conversation moves from a recent wrong (her saying he should fire her because of his vanity) to their long-over romantic relationship (“Are you sure you didn’t tell me” about cheating on him “because you wanted to break up?” he asks, and she answers with the lowest of low-brow retorts, classed up only slightly by her accent: “Are you sure you’re not just a massive bag of douche?”). Is it possible to cringe-laugh? If so, that’s what I just did.
Will hits her hard when he apologizes for the engagement ring being “a practical joke.” (Watch Emily Mortimer as Will continues to talk, especially when he says he returned the ring that day; Mac’s destruction has its way with her finely boned face.) “I brutally hurt you, and that’s a fact. But in my lifetime, I’ve never done it intentionally,” she says, and Will is chastened… but things are not OK as they return to the studio.
CHANGE OF HEART | Much later, Charlie does a complete reversal and tells Will they’re not going to resign after all. “Except for the things we did wrong, we did everything right,” Will says, and then nearly goes into a fugue state as he realizes that the sentiment also applies to MacKenzie re: their relationship. “The rest was me,” he says, digging for the key to his desk drawer and pulling out the ring. (Side note: You have a safe, Will. Use it!)
He runs around the network, bellowing for Mac and finally finding her in the studio. He pulls her aside, away from the cameras, and gives her a long, rambling, touching and very in character admission about the ring: “I didn’t return it, because I’m in love with you, and will you marry me?” MacKenzie gets points for replying with the only logical response: “What the f—k is happening right now?” (Heh) So Will says:
“Let me just say, I think you should. I think you should say yes. But no matter what you say, there’s no chance I am ever gonna hurt you again. And no matter what you say, I am gonna be in love with you for the rest of my life. There’s no way out of that. That’s just a physical law of the universe. You own me. No matter what you say, I will never stop.”
When she agrees, he breathes a very relieved “Thank God,” and nearly knocks her over with his kiss. Edward R. Murrow help me, I loved this scene.
THAT GREAT BIG BROTHERHOOD OF MAN | Out in the newsroom, Reese announces that he’s not going to settle with Jerry and/or accept Charlie, Mac and Will’s resignations. Charlie says they weren’t going to resign anyway. “History should reflect that I acted admirably,” Reese maintains. Will and Mac interrupt the bickering when Will booms out that they’re getting hitched. The declaration is no Ron Burgundy shouting “Veronica and I are gonna get married on top of a mountain!,” but it might as well be from the way the entire room looks at the pair in shock. But soon they’re all clapping and celebrating. Maggie and Lisa are talking. Leona’s got her feet up on one of the desks. Don and Sloan share a significant look, Reese is dating a Rockette and all is well in the word.
Then, an iNEWS alert goes off and no one – except for Maggie — notices. We’re supposed to think this is the start of her being tougher, stronger and more intrepid… but is it too much to hope she’s also about to track down whatever happened to Will’s death-threat storyline from last season? Because that’s a story I’d put in the A block.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Did it feel a bit like a series finale to you? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots