Why I Wasn’t Feeling It: Newsroom Season 2 Finale Review
I don’t own cable. So on the rare moments where I watch a show/event live, I enjoy checking out social media to see the reaction of the masses. Thanks to HBOGO, I was able to do this on Sunday night for The Newsroom’s season finale. Navigating to its hashtag on tumblr around 11pm, I saw a slew of posts from people declaring this to be the happiest night of their lives, many going as far as saying this was the best season finale they had ever watched. The phrase “my ship is now canon” was bandied about, and people wondering how they would make it through the ten-month hiatus in between seasons was another common theme.
As I sat there scrolling through these posts, I began to wonder if I was dead inside. I’m certainly a bit of a cynic by nature, but I normally feel something. Actually, I tend to get very absorbed into shows. Just 3 months ago I was having heart palpitations during Game of Throne’s penultimate episode, and I knew what was coming.
But I was simply not feeling the joy experienced by the fan-base. In fact, I had spent the last five minutes of the episode cringing. I found myself squinting at my screen in a similar fashion as to when I watch something graphic. What made it even weirder? Objectively, this was everything I wanted to have happen.
I wanted Sloan/Don and Will/Mac to eventually happen; I wanted Maggie to get a little chutzpah; I wanted Jim to not get fired over forgetting state abbreviates; I wanted Reese to do the right thing. The list goes on, really. So what the hell?
After a re-watch and some time to ruminate on the episode, I think I figured it out.
Firstly, I need to just say that I am a bit mystified by the concept of “shipping.” When I say that I wanted the Sloan/Don Will/Mac pairings to work out, it’s not because I’ve spent time thinking how they’d be so wonderful together. It’s because I care about and become invested in the characters (3 of them, anyway), and this would appear to make them happy. These characters have obviously have wanted to get it on for a bit, so yeah, of course I’d want that to happen. But the idea of an “OTP” and spending time picking apart their interactions is not really anything I could imagine doing. Did I want Jim/Pam to hook up in The Office? Yes. When it happened did I feel happy? Sure. But it wasn’t an amazing, joyous moment for me.
However, I didn’t feel happy Sunday night. I think Don/Sloan could have happened without the ridiculously contrived book situation, but that didn’t really bother me. My reaction to it was more, “yeah, who didn’t see this coming?” My main issue was with Will and Mac, the relationship upon which this show is based.
So here is where I come to my “secondly.” I don’t like Will. I think Jeff Daniels does a fantastic job, and no one can deliver a political monologue in a more satisfying way. I was cheering in my head last year with his rant against the Tea Party and even a little bit on Sunday with his explanation of why he’s a Republican (though less so…it simply wasn’t as impactful because it was a continuation of what he already had pointed out). Yet I just don’t like his character. I think he truly is a “massive bag of douche.” There’s nothing warm about him, he acts high and mighty when he has no ground upon which to stand, and in the last few minutes when he was smiling, it actually looked like he was in a large amount of pain.
Why would I want him with Mac then? I like her character and she seems to be (inexplicably) still in love with Will, so let’s give her what she wants. Even so, a very large part of me always wondered why she never moved on, and even went so far as to hope that she would. And that brings me to my third point.
I only liked the idea of Mac/Will together in theory. It sounds good, they have this nice backstory, and it’s certainly romantic for them to be together. They also verbally spar and that’s enjoyable to witness. However, in practice, there was nothing I wanted to see less than those two kiss. I actually screamed and exited full-screen mode during that scene where Mac said she was going to hit him because I thought it was coming. Looking back, it would have been preferable for it to happen in that scene the to happen the way it did (I’ll get to that), but I’m not sure my reaction was what Sorkin was going for in getting these two characters together.
As a bit of a throw-away comment here, I kind of liked Brian for Mac. In those two episodes from last season, I saw a lot of potential. She says he’s a douche (must be in Emily Mortimer’s contract to say that at least once per episode), and I’ll take her word for it, but I thought he was funny. And when Mac was complaining about him having to witness everything going on, Brian noted, “I didn’t put me here.” I think that’s important, because he wasn’t intentionally punishing her the way Will was.
And that last point brings us back on track. In Election Night Part 1, Will insisted he never punished Mac. Leaving the fact that he put her in the penalty box for 6 years aside, which is a tad insane, can we reflect on what he’s done? He brought Brian in to write the article on him and then specifically told Mac “I brought him here to punish you”; he bought a ring just to fuck with her head (and then told her about it); he paraded multiple dates throughout the office. So why the hell is she still thinking he’s such a great guy?
Yes, breakups suck and there’s no perfect way to handle them. But to intentionally hurt someone (on multiple occasions) you once claim to have loved on a pretty massive level? When Mac gets upset about the ring after Will tells her “it was a practical joke,” I don’t see why she didn’t stay mad at him at all. In fact, like 10 minutes later she’s essentially pining after him as he announces Obama will be “living in government funded housing for another 4 years” (really, Will, really?). HE JUST TOLD YOU HE EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATED YOU AS A JOKE. So remember how there was part of me that wanted Mac to move on? This episode certainly did nothing to change my mind. In fact it solidified that thought.
Still, my own view on Will and Mac being a good pairing aside, I still thought the climax of this plotline, which is the show’s main plotline, was botched. I read that Sorkin had been on the fence about doing a Season 3, and before Jeff Daniels’s tweeted about it, I thought to myself, “if Will and Mac get together in the finale then there’s probably no Season 3.” I still felt this event coming though, even after Daniels’s tweet. If Sorkin was unsure about the future of the show, he wouldn’t let this thread dangle. So this became blatantly obvious once the episode began. The tone of was definitely that Sorkin scripted a season finale that could also work as a series finale.
That’s not necessarily a good thing. I don’t feel eager to see a season 3, because there’s nothing leaving me hanging. I’m not saying a true cliffhanger is always necessary; season 1 wrapped up pretty definitively with the Leona is going to fire Will plot all fixed. But there needs to be something left to pique my interest. Okay, yes, they’ll still need to deal with the trial, but do I really have a huge interest in how much money Leona might have to pay Jerry? Or if Don will owe Jerry money. At the end of the day the trial will only settle trivial matters. Getting credibility back? The whole Genoa plotline is based on a real CNN story, and the public didn’t even remember/care about that one. I just feel like it was all very tidy.
I’m being harsh. Sorkin had to cover his bases, I suppose. What if there was no season 3? Of course we’d want the pressing loose ends tied-up. He didn’t, however, need to do it in such an overly bubbly, rom-comy way. For starters, there did not need to be a proposal, and I think that actually detracted from the significance of Will/Mac finally getting back together.
Let’s say those two need to get it on this episode, because if this is the series finale then that needs to happen. Fine. I understand that. But to do it with a proposal? That is just such a contrived situation. Even though it was spontaneous on Will’s part, it’s not like we were in doubt of what Mac would say. And then when they kissed, which (to my horror but other people’s joy, I suppose) seemed like it was could have happened a few times throughout the series anyway, its impact had already been lost. Like, she wouldn’t have said “yes,” and then been like “actually, let’s hold off on snogging; just not in the mood right now.” So there was not really a surprise moment for the audience. Even the proposal wasn’t unexpected because we saw Will take the ring out of the desk. Like, his “aha” moment was nice and all, but in my opinion, raw, visceral scenes are impactful (and enjoyable) to watch. Watching a character work out the logic of forgiveness? Less so.
I’m not saying Will should have asked her to grab a cup of coffee with him sometime. What I’m saying is that it would have been much more satisfying if Mac had stayed legitimately angry with him during the episode (which she certainly had a right to do) and he somehow talked her off that ledge or kissed her in that tense situation. Instead, we got Will charging around the office like a maniac because he was suddenly so in love, which was just kind of awkward and almost embarrassing (on Will’s behalf) to watch. Maybe that was the point, but I feel like I shouldn’t have been cringing during what was probably supposed to be a rousing moment.
Additionally, the ring was not something on which Mac ever focused, at least not prior to this episode. She took it at face value when he showed it to her, and that was that. I think it was good to bring it up again because it both demonstrated that Will was not such a goddamn sacrosanct figure in this entire situation and it also provided a fairly organic way for Mac to finally get pissed at him. Both of these things needed to happen at some point. However, using it again in the episode (the proposal) seemed a bit too much. Moreover, I think it’s now a missed opportunity. Because what had she focused on for more than a season? The voicemail! How much better would it have been if Mac finally got closure on that? And the fact that Will obviously remembered it could have been a potentially touching moment.
Imagine that in the episode she had stayed mad at him following that hair & make-up room scene. Very angry, in fact, perhaps even sniping at him over the headset like she has done in many an episode. And Will knows he deserves it and feels guilty. He can still have his epiphany in that scene with Charlie, but when he goes to talk to Mac (and let’s please cut the frantic, Phoebe-style running), he could simply open with “Hi, it’s me. I’m not just saying this because I’m high…,” etc. She would instantly know what Will was talking about. We would instantly know what Will was talking about. And it could have been very moving, perhaps. I mean not so much for me, because the more I think about it the more I think Mac could do better, but still. Certainly more moving than a mumbled, manic proposal and an ending montage that was so overly cheesy I’m not sure I can address it.
Also, and this is a smaller point, it would have left the door open to a nice moment in a later season, if The Newsroom continued. Will could have explained how he never returned the ring, even though buying it was messed up, because she indicated she liked it. And yes, that was the subtext of what happened at the end of this episode, but mushing that into his sudden forgiveness and slightly worrying love confession just felt completely over-the-top.
Also, with any future development in their relationship off the table now (this engagement seems pretty solid), what on Earth will next season be? Wedding planning? I know that Will and Mac’s relationship is only one facet of The Newsroom, but it was the driving premise for Season 1, and was certainly always in the backdrop this season. In Red Team III when Will said “I trust Mac and Charlie,” we all understood the significance. To have it entirely resolved in the course of 2 minutes felt a bit cheap. To have it resolved in a quasi-fan-fiction tone was even worse. It brought back memories of reading the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows. That is never a good thing.
Were there parts I liked? Sure. Charlie taking away Reese’ thunder was perfect, and I thought Taylor’s character really shone this episode. A baked Jane Fonda is never something to pass up. And this might be weird, but Don not understanding Mac’s accent when she said “Rockette” was very amusing to me. I like the show. It just felt like a miss to me.
I almost feel like I did watching the Game of Thrones season finale a few months ago, where the end shot of Dany made me incredibly uncomfortable and I felt like that had completely missed the mark too. I remember going back through that episode thinking “they could have at least ended it on the Arya scene.” The difference? Game of Thrones has a large following and social media that night exploded. I was instantly able to hear the reactions of critics and podcasts who I respected, and the reaction on tumblr was far more mixed. This Sunday night? It was all about Breaking Bad. So I felt very isolated watching twitter feeds. All I really had was the #newsroom on tumblr, which appeared to be nothing but celebratory.
And that’s why I wrote this review. Maybe no one agrees with me. Maybe I’m so hopelessly jaded that it’s beyond repair. But if this review speaks to just one person, and that makes just one person feel a bit more satisfied? I’ll consider it a job well done. Yikes, that almost sounded Sorkin-y.
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