The penultimate episode of ‘The Newsroom’ turns out to be a rather mixed bag, with some good and some not-so-good subplots, plus a shocker of an ending that I’m still not sure how I feel about.
The episode opens with Will being escorted to his new prison cell by a guard, who warns him that he might be there over the weekend. Events then jump forward in time 52 days. Will now has a very prejudiced cellmate (Kevin Rankin from ‘Justified’ and ‘Gracepoint’) who has been put away for domestic battery. He’ll spend most of the episode being critical of Will and his East Coast elitism, but his comments also give Will the chance to reexamine what kind of person he wants to be.
Everyone back at the newsroom is dealing with Pruit’s crowd-sourcing mandate for the network, which includes a new phone app that Sloan is less than happy about. Called “ACN Gage,” the app allows users to post celebrity sightings. Sloan believes it puts said celebs in danger from both paparazzi and sociopaths alike. She confronts the creator of the app, a programmer named Bree, and after fighting with him for a bit, switches strategies and offers to interview him on the air about it.
Meanwhile, Mac learns that the source of the government documents leak, Lily Hart, has committed suicide in front of the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Now that she knows Will is protecting the name of a deceased person, she takes the info to Rebecca Halliday, who sets up a prison meeting between Will and the Department of Justice attorney. However, Will still refuses to confirm or deny that Lily was the source, so he remains in prison for the time being.
In this week’s most interesting and engaging subplot, Don is assigned to cover the alleged rape of a female student on the Princeton campus. Considering that Rolling Stone magazine backtracked on a similar story just this week makes this plotline pretty timely. (Of course, the producers couldn’t have had any idea such a story would be in the news the week they aired this episode.) There’s one big caveat, though: Pruit wants both the accuser and the accused to go on air together to argue about what happened. Don thinks this is a horrible idea, and says as much to the female accuser (Sarah Sutherland from ‘Veep’) when he goes to meet her at her dorm room. After a very intense (and well-acted) scene where Don tries to explain how putting her on the air won’t help her cause, and the student argues that it’s the only justice she might ever get, Don relents and tells her he’ll be in touch.
We go from a great subplot to a pretty silly one, as Maggie and Jim wait at an airport in Russia trying to get on a plane to Havana, Cuba, that Edward Snowden (the infamous real-life document leaker) is supposed to be on. They eventually buy a pair of tickets off a young couple, which begs the question of whether that’s even possible in a post-9/11 world. (Most of the flights I’ve taken since 2001 have required photo ID along with my ticket and, as far as I know, airlines only let the person whose name is on the ticket use it.) Anyway, the two manage to get aboard the plane only to discover that Snowden is a no-show. However, Jim uses this opportunity to tell Maggie that she’s the one he really wants to be with, which – naturally – leads to a fight and then a quick make-up session where Maggie reveals her feelings for Jim by planting a kiss on him. Oh god, I hope that’s all Sorkin is going to torment us with this pair’s borderline unwatchable on-again/off-again relationship. Hopefully, the book is now officially closed.
Rebecca tells the DOJ lawyer that she’s filing a motion for the judge to vacate the contempt charge against Will. The lawyer responds by saying that not only won’t he protest the motion, he’ll actually support it.
Back at the newsroom, Sloan interviews Bree on the air and rakes him over the coals about the ACN Gage app being both dangerous and an invasion of privacy. After Sloan gets off the air, she’s confronted by Charlie, who goes ballistic. To add fuel to the fire, Don tells Charlie that he couldn’t find the student accuser on campus, which is his way of saying that he won’t run the story. At this point, Pruit storms into the newsroom, demanding that Charlie fire both Sloan and Mac. Charlie asks if he can see Pruit in his office first, but before he can exit the room, Charlie collapses to the floor.
The final scene finds Mac picking up the now-released Will from prison. (By the way, it turns out that Will’s cellmate wasn’t real at all, but just a vision of Will’s father. I can’t say this is a shocking revelation, but it’s a nice twist.) Anyway, when Will goes to greet Mac, she tells him that Charlie had a heart attack and died.
I’m probably going to have to watch this episode again to know how I really feel about it. I found the rape subplot to be very interesting, and thought those scenes were very well done. The stuff between Sloan and the app guy reminds me of the kind of social issues ‘The Newsroom’ has tackled during its three-year run, but seemed rather out of place for the next-to-last episode of the series. (In other words, it seems like that time could have been devoted to more interesting developments.) The Jim and Maggie stuff was, as always, almost unbearable to sit through. Most viewers probably guessed that Sorkin would find a way to get those two back together again, lest the few fans who actually care about that relationship revolt.
Finally, a character as great as Charlie Skinner deserved to survive this series, but I guess that’s Sorkin’s method of getting everyone together to reminisce in next week’s finale. I don’t necessarily have a problem with killing him off, except for the fact that – thanks to the success of current TV series like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘The Walking Dead’ – killing off major characters has more to do with shock value these days than any legitimate storytelling reason.