This review contains spoilers
2.9 Election Night Part Two
“Except for the things we did wrong, we did everything right.”
The Newsroom’s bumpy second season reaches a close with Election Night Part II, an episode that reconnects with many of the core elements that started off the show and finally absolves itself of the Operation Genoa storyline.
As discussed last week, the title has very little to do with the main thrust of the action. The 2012 presidential election was not exactly a tense race, and Aaron Sorkin’s script only occasionally pays lip service to delusional supporters at Romney HQ who thought otherwise. Once again, this is about the News Night team.
When we left them, things looked set to go to hell this week. Charlie Skinner was begging his bosses to accept his resignation, and Will McAvoy fired producer Mackenzie McHale and stared down the camera for what could be his final broadcast. Oh, and er… Sloan still hadn’t found the owner of a signed book that she hadn’t really signed.
That momentum seems to have dissipated in the last week. Here’s a finale that seems optimistically final, rather than ramping up the stakes any further. Charlie appeals to Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda, playing high again) to accept his resignation, and she announces that she’s going to let her son, Reese, make the decision.
After last week’s hilarious “My mom won’t let me” scene, Reese is missing for much of the episode, with most of the team assuming that he’ll let the team go in order to save face. There’s a nice scene in the middle of the episode in which Jim, Don and co. stick to their guns and promise that if Charlie, Will and Mac go, then they go too. All for one, and one for all, the same spirit that Jim was looking for on the press bus, way back in Willie Pete.
The other dangling thread from last week’s episode is the opportunity to break the General Petraeus story, which is resolved in a nice callback to News Night’s whole mission to inform the voter. They’re meant to bury a story that could affect a Republican candidate’s campaign, while the polls are still open, and the team make the decision to cover the story that the electorate needs to know about.
It’s high-faluting, sure, but it feels like a grounded continuation from the impeccably timed and delivered Petraeus gag last week- as was discussed in the comments section on last week’s review, it’s another military scandal, the only area in which ACN has no credibility after the disaster that was the Genoa report.
Happily, the team slowly but surely absolves itself over the course of the finale. The overall tone of the episode, which could as easily be mistaken for Sorkin responding to critics of the series in general, is “haters gonna hate”. The line from Will, quoted at the top of this review, would point to the same basic argument.
One benefit of drawing out the Genoa story over the course of the season has been to show that the core team pursued it dutifully, and had every reason to believe it before they broadcast it. Although there’s only one firing, for broadcasting a half-hour special report that accused the US army of war crimes, it’s not a swerve on accountability, the one person in the wrong already got his comeuppance a few weeks ago.
Sorkin’s far more interested giving us a happy ending, a goal which is not, in and of itself, a cop-out. The bigger results here come from tying up the team’s complicated romantic lives. Sloan discovers that Don was the anonymous bidder who staged a bidding war to make it look like her book was being fought over, and finally breaks the sexual tension between them by barging into the control room and kissing him.
It’s a great ‘Just shut up and kiss’ moment, after weeks of banter and verbal procrastination between the two. Even the much less interesting Jim and Maggie arc comes to an amicable close, but it’s best friends who get back together.
We haven’t seen Kelen Coleman since her blistering rant at Maggie in The Genoa Tip, but her return as best friend Lisa gives Maggie’s rough season arc some sense of closure. And by the way, Maggie cut her own hair, but apparently waited eight months after her traumatic experience in Africa first. Hopefully this marks an end to the over-analysis of Maggie’s hair on the show.
Anyway, all of this is preferable to having a romcom ending where Jim dumps his perfectly nice long-distance girlfriend to declare his love for Maggie, when Don and Sloan usurped them as the most likeable couple early on. Both parties seem to be over it, and besides, the romantic comedy ending is for Will and Mac.
The two pivotal scenes happen in the middle of the episode and at the end. Will spills the beans on his wedding ring ploy from season one while arguing with Mac, and she storms out. Before the episode is over, he comes to his senses and proposes to her.
She accepts, in the midst of everything else going right too. Reese decides to back the team and face Jerry Dantana in court, Don and Sloan get together and it’s all… achingly happy. The show is hit and miss with its musical choices, but on a scale of Fix You to Baba O’Riley, Luminate’s cover of Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open The Door seems appropriate for an essentially happy ending.
That doesn’t mean that there’s no time for a quick rant about politics, though, and it’s pertinent to mention that at this point. When he’s once again accused of being a Republican In Name Only, Will launches an unusually calm rebuttal. As it’s actually of a more moderate length than previous rants, I’ll reproduce the dialogue in full here:
“No, I call myself a Republican because I am one. I believe in market solutions and I believe in common sense realities and necessity to defend itself against a dangerous world. The problem is now I have to be homophobic. I have to count the number of times people go to church. I have to deny facts and think scientific research is a long con.
“I have to think poor people are getting a sweet ride. And I have to have such a stunning inferiority complex that I fear education and intellect in the 21st Century. Most of all, the biggest new requirement – the only requirement – is that I have to hate Democrats.”
The whole episode is typified by this approach – throwing out the hate to ask why we can’t just be nice to each other, but with an irresistible ‘fuck yeah’ attitude that makes it far more difficult to dismiss as blissfully ignorant. It’s like the name “Mackenzie Morgan McHale-McAvoy”- though it may seem silly, it signifies something much nicer.
And just as it has won through some of the series’ best moments, that optimism has a tendency to overpower some of the more incredulous developments in Election Night Part II, and although it doesn’t fulfil the foreboding climax of last week’s episode, it leaves fans with a satisfied smile on their face, while they wait for next year’s third season.
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