The Newsroom S3 Ep4: Contempt

This week on The Newsroom … Will is held in contempt for refusing to reveal his source on a story ACN is no longer able to run. Jim and Maggie’s relationships both hit the rocks. And Charlie enlists Sloan to find a white knight to oust Lucas Pruit.

Image: The Newsroom Wiki

This week’s headlines

F*** you! And f*** you again, you fibre-optic yak!

This season’s two overarching stories coalesce as Lucas Pruit’s takeover leads to the whistleblower story being killed, despite the ACN team moving heaven and earth to remove every possible obstacle standing in its way.

It’s a tough week for Will. On Monday he appears before Assistant Attorney General Barry Lasenthal and a grand jury, where he refuses to divulge Neal’s source. On Tuesday, Lasenthal and Rebecca Halliday argue before a judge who, despite warning Lasenthal that he should never have allowed things to go this far, grants a court order compelling Will to co-operate. However, the following day he again remains tight-lipped. After a day’s hiatus in which Rebecca and Lasenthal fail to come to a deal, on Friday is held in contempt and ordered to surrender himself to US Marshals at 5pm.

Will and Mac move up their wedding to that afternoon as the newsroom team rallies around them: Will secures a priest, Mac buys a dress off-the-rack, Jim and Don pick out rings, Maggie obtains flowers, Sloan arranges a cake and Charlie goes to the Juilliard school to find musicians and a singer. As the newly married couple leave the ceremony, Will gives himself up and is led away in handcuffs.

At the same time, the team work furiously to meet the Wednesday night deadline imposed on Mac by Lilly. After they discover that the writer of the disinformation story that caused the Kundu riots is still on the ground, they pull strings to ensure that his youngest child gets a passport, enabling the entire family to get out of the country after Mac buys them some extra time by threatening to quit her job and give Lilly’s name to the FBI herself.

However, with all the pieces finally in place, a disconsolate Reese tells Mac to pull the story, as otherwise Pruit won’t sign the takeover deal because of the crippling criminal fines that would ensue. Mac has all the documents boxed up and sent to one of Don’s old teachers who now works for the Associated Press, giving the story a second lease of life.

You believe the best reporting is done by anyone with a phone and the time it takes to write ‘epic fail’.

Offended by Pruit’s power-plays and his plans to drag ACN into the 21st century, Charlie engages Sloan to find an eleventh hour white knight to save ACN from Pruit. Sloan sets up a lunch with Toni Dodd, who is known to be in the hunt for a media deal. Too late, she realises that Dodd has merely used ACN as leverage to close another buyout, as a prematurely triumphant Charlie tells Pruit where to get off.

The B-block

It took five days, Hallie, for you to give yourself your own reality show.

With Will in contempt of court and Charlie making no secret of his contempt for Pruit, there’s no shortage of contempt on display this week.

Jim and Hallie fall out at the Correspondents’ Dinner when she tips off her new employer Carnivore, who publishes a story about Will’s presence at an event he publicly trashed the previous year. She then posts a first-person op-ed titled ‘Old media guy and new media girl: an analogue romance’ about her relationship with a thinly veiled old school journalist named ‘Tim’. They break up.

You’re into Jim and you don’t want to be a jealous cliché, so you defend Hallie for show. And that’s a classy thing to do but at some point we’re going to have to discuss how that makes me feel to know that any man in your life is going to be the runner-up.

Maggie’s ethics professor boyfriend Jack puts his foot in it at the Correspondents’ Dinner with Jim and Hallie. He then calls Maggie out on her continued feelings for Jim. It looks like they’re on the way out already, leaving Maggie and Jim to finally get together.

I work in HR. Our days aren’t exactly scored by the Hallelujah Chorus.

HR vice-president Wyatt continues to pursue Don and Sloan, badgering Don into friending him on Instagram. Don quickly gets Sloan to delete all his photos of them from his account.

Wyatt later confronts the couple with a letter written by Sloan declaring her relationship with Don after he had profited from her stock tip. Don suddenly realises there’s no need for Wyatt to be pursuing them given that AWM are only hours away from selling ACN anyway. Wyatt reveals he was just doing it for fun and wishes them well.

Observations

One of the problems that plagued The Newsroom, particularly in season one, was its uneven characterisation, with individuals seemingly being moulded to the needs of the current week’s storyline before lurching back in the opposite direction the week after. This episode lapses back into some of those bad ways.

That’s to be expected to an extent, as this fourth episode is crammed full of exposition to move all the pieces into place for what amounts to a two-part finale. As has been the case all season, there’s a good blend of humour to lighten the more serious drama and there are some fine moments – most of them involving Charlie raging against the dying of the light as only Charlie can.

I did also like the way that Will and Mac’s wedding became a stepping stone rather than (as many expected, myself included) the end-point of the entire series, as the show is about so much more than their relationship. And Aaron Sorkin cleverly ties it in to the main arc. With Mac having revealed that she too knows about Lilly, bringing the wedding forward means that she cannot now be compelled to testify against Will in any capacity. A smart move.

Elsewhere, though, there were too many niggles and plot/character inconsistencies crammed in to move the plot from A to B for me to ignore. A few examples:

  • At what point did Jim change from being an idealistic, old-school journalist which sometimes made him a bit of an ass to just being a complete ass? His treatment of Hallie – likening her op-ed post to a letter to Penthouse, comparing her to a drug dealer who knows they’re not peddling medicine and then demanding she at least concede that he’s right – was unreasonable bordering on delusional. (But then we know that this is really Sorkin speaking about his well-known dislike of social media, don’t we?)
  • Does anyone really care if Jim and Maggie end up together? Really?
  • Did it really take Pruit’s lawyers to point out the risk of huge criminal fines? Rebecca was otherwise occupied, but surely AWM has other lawyers who should have warned Leona and Reese of this up front, particularly after they had their fingers burned last season over the Genoa story?
  • Sloan is incredibly stupid here, and not just about her letter to HR. For a financial whizz to not be suspicious of Toni Dodd’s intentions and to then take a vague tweet as an indication of a competitive bid for ACN is ridiculous. There was perhaps cause for optimism, but for her to send Charlie to Pruit with him thinking they were definitely saved was stupid. Even if Dodd was interested in ACN, there are many things that could still have gone wrong, leaving Pruit to close the deal.
  • So, the whole Wyatt sub-plot was basically just a distracting bit of filler to give Don and Sloan a bit more to do in the middle episodes, right? Even so, it’s always a joy to see Thomas Sadoski and Olivia Munn at work, and it looks like we’re headed for a happy ending with these two.
  • Pretty much the entire senior newsroom staff attends Will’s court hearing on the Friday – so that we can have the scene of Mac emailing them their wedding invites – and then spend the rest of the day running around arranging a wedding. So who was running the newsroom for the whole day? That evening’s News Night (hosted by Sloan or perhaps the unseen Elliott?) must have been a ramshackle affair.

Although this episode was a notch or two down from the previous two, this final season continues to be the strongest of the show’s run.

For me, a big part of this has been the conscious switch to being less news-centric and more news-based. Much of seasons one and two revolved around the retelling of real world news stories from ACN’s (i.e. Sorkin’s) perspective. That has freed the show creatively to build stories more around the central characters rather than have them respond to events around them.

Season two’s overarching Genoa storyline successfully achieved this to an extent, but its impact was diluted by centring it around a secondary character, Jerry Dantana, in whom the audience had no investment.

Sorkin repeatedly puts across his forthright views on the future of news journalism in this episode, to the point where it’s impossible not to feel preached to, diluting his message.

There is a serious point to be made about protecting standards and professionalism and the danger of relying on citizen journalism and using social media to connect with audiences. But the reality is that blogs and Twitter and impression-driven news websites aren’t going away and have disrupted the existing paradigm and business model of news to the point where it is a case of adapt or die.

The genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. For all that Sorkin demonises Lucas Pruit and his desire to pursue ratings through user-generated content, the challenge for news media is not how to repel the new media invasion but how to adapt and co-exist with it.

News survived the transition from print to screen to 24-hour dedicated channels – now it must work out how to deal with its next evolution. Sorkin paints old and new media very much in shades of black and white – the true solution lies somewhere in between. It’s the same as with those who rail against the modernisation of the English language. Language has always been fluid – Shakespeare invented hundreds of new words which are still used today. It evolves: always has, always will. News is the same.

And finally …

So, it looks like the final two episodes will revolve around freeing the News Night One and the ultimate fate of ACN and its brave newsroom team. I’m fully expecting Lucas Pruit to turn up next week in a mask and a black cape.

Rating: 7/10

The Newsroom season 3 reviews

Trailer

3.1 Boston

3.2 Run

3.3 Main Justice

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