THE NEWSROOM 1.10 ‘The Greater Fool’

Aaron Sorkin's first season finale is non-stop, pulse-pounding more of the same.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Episode Title: “The Greater Fool”

Writer: Aaron Sorkin

Director: Greg Mottola

Previously on "The Newsroom:"

Episode 1.09 'The Blackout Part 2: Mock Debate'

Story:

The season finale of “The Newsroom” plays largely in flashback, with an episode of “News Night” about the Tea Party and the ongoing voter I.D. issue. Days earlier, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is discovered in his apartment vomiting blood. He’s developed an ulcer because the story he wanted Mac’s ex to print about his show turned ugly, declaring him “The Greater Fool.” He’s worrying Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) because he’s spiraling, and because he’s saying he doesn’t even want to return to “News Night.”

What’s worse, Nina Howard (Hope Davis) warns Mac that she knows Will was high when he reported on the Osama bin Laden story in Episode 1.07: “5/1,” and although she feels guilty, she’ll have report the story if she can find a second source. The story would be all the ammunition Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) needs to fire Will.

Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) meets with “Late for Dinner,” aka Solomon Hancock (Stephen McKinley Henderson), to tell him that he’s not a credible source, and try to convince him to provide them with the information necessary to take down Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) for hacking cell phones, but Solomon refuses.

Sloan Sabbith is considering leaving “News Night” for a higher paying position elsewhere, and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) wants to convince her to stay. He also tells her that he’s going to ask Maggie to move in with him, prompting her to say she always wanted to go out with him herself. Jim walks in and learns Don’s plans. He then visits Will and Mac in the hospital, where Mac browbeats him for sticking with Lisa after the last episode. Will says he was hoping the news story would have been like the end of “Camelot,” when Arthur told a boy to tell the world that ideals are possible to achieve. Jim then delivers the bad news to Charlie that Solomon Hancock killed himself.

Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) approaches Charlie with a plan to inflame the troller who issued a death threat to Will, and gets the go ahead just as Charlie gets a package from Solomon. Charlie visits Will in the hospital, where a nurse tells them that her great aunt can’t vote anymore because of the new voter I.D. law. Will asks Mac if she ever got his message on the night of the bin Laden episode, when he admitted he was high. They realize Nina’s first source was Will, and that she can’t reveal where they got their source because it was from a hacked phone. Will is galvanized into action and goes back to work, where he starts putting together an episode about the nurse’s great aunt and the Tea Party.

Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) tells Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman) that Jim was coming to profess his love to her, not Lisa. Lisa leaves and Maggie rushes after her, getting splashed “Sex and the City” style by a bus giving a “Sex and the City” tour. She rants to the passengers about being a real single woman in New York City, and confesses her love for Jim, not realizing he was on the bus to show an interest in Lisa’s passions. He chases after Maggie, they kiss, and she goes to Don’s apartment to break up with him, only to say “yes” when he asks her to move in.

Will, Mac and Charlie meet with Reese and Leona, who tries to fire Will before they say Reese got his information from a hacked phone. Reese admits it, but it turns out they had no proof whatsoever… except, now, for his recorded admission. Leona decides not to fire Will and just let him do his show. The show goes on, and Mac asks Will what he said on the rest of his answering machine message. He doesn’t tell her. Eventually Mac finally admits she was the woman in the crowd in the first episode, and Will discovers that the college student he berated at that event wants to be his new intern at “News Night.” Will hires her on the spot and declares that she’s the “Camelot” analogy he was searching for.

Sloan decides to stay at “News Night,” but vows never to speak to Don again. Jim and Maggie make peace with her decision to stay with Don. Neal’s attempts to smoke out the person who lobbed a death threat at Will only manages to incite a hundred more credible death threats. And Nina Howard deletes Will’s voicemail, which makes it sound like he was going to say he never stopped loving Mac.

Breakdown:

Ten episodes of “The Newsroom.” Ten episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s soap opera polemic against using journalism as entertainment. Ten episodes of railing against gossip rags that exploit the personal foibles of public figures to distract from real issues. Ten episodes of getting distracted from the real issues because of the personal foibles of “The Newsroom’s” cast. Ten episodes based on actual news events. Ten episodes of foregone conclusions. Ten episodes of “meh.”

There have been highlights on this season of “The Newsroom” – like “The 112th Congress” and “Bullies” – but the season finale is not one of them. By now the showrunners and cast are comfortable enough in their own shoes that they can make the episode hum along, but it’s humming the same note over and over again. Will McAvoy doubts his decisions in the wake of another setback, Jim and Maggie’s romance almost culminates, News Night heroically attacks the Tea Party, Leona Lansing gets the ammunition she needs to fire Will. It would be a pretty flattering hat if it didn’t already seem ancient.

This is how you close out a season of “The Newsroom,” apparently: shutting down the only antagonist the series ever had, arbitrarily extending a formulaic love triangle, maintaining the status quo at the cost of developing any sense of drama. Oh yes, and referencing “Sex in the City,” which plays out in an amusing way but only underscores the series’ similar tendency to present familiar love stories and declare them “new” because they happen to be on HBO. If Jim and Maggie are the Ross and Rachel of a new generation, one of them needs to get a better haircut. Charismatic though they can be, absorbing their relationship is not. I’m not waiting for these two kids to finally get together, I’m waiting for Aaron Sorkin to stop pretending it’s a going concern. Worse yet, if he hasn’t resolved the issue by the end of season one, that means we’re probably stuck with it until the end of the series.

The “Late for Dinner” storyline ended pretty much the way we thought it would. The NSA story, the only fictionalized news item on the series, amounted to nothing just as predicted. It was all a red herring to neutralize the show’s only serious threat, cancellation. The actual death threats, though serious enough to warrant a subplot and the inclusion of a new character, remain entirely academic until someone actually takes a shot at Will McAvoy. The series has replaced actual drama with the vague notion that drama will eventually get here, even though – many episodes after introducing the plot point – they haven’t found the time. Presumably they had to make room for more of Jim and Maggie’s waffling.

The episode itself is simply. The framing device gets muddled a bit, announcing “X days earlier” while still in mid-flashback, even though it’s actually “X days earlier” than the start of the episode, not where we actually were when the title card came up. Mac’s obsession with Jim and Maggie’s relationship is a direct contradiction of the series’ condemnation of gossip in general, they still haven’t figured out what to do with Sloan Sabbith apart from shoehorning her into an already awkward love quadrangle, now a frustrating quintangle, Will does his usual schtick of doubting himself then getting all riled up while heavyhanded music plays in the background, and they spend an entire episode of “New Night” lambasting the Tea Party, which may or may not be warranted but does seem to codify the series as politically-oriented, either playing to the converted or preaching to the arguably ignorant.

The sad thing is, I’m not certain “The Newsroom” can do better than this. They could scrap the love story angle, since it’s not nearly as involving as they seem to think, but they’d still be stuck with a series whose very premise – beating a dead horse here – negates both surprise and suspense. “The Newsroom” is trapped in stories whose outcome the audience already knows, and over an entire season failed to introduce original content to compensate for the flaw. It’s made with too much skill to write off completely, but it’s also playing against a loaded deck. I keep yelling at the screen, begging them to fold or play a different game. “The Newsroom” simply lost before it even began.