“Really boring” is not the way I wanted to describe the Newsroom series finale.
Calling it “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” was a nice little wink at Sorkinites who remember the first “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” or the more famous second, or even the critically reviled third, but if this episode proved anything, it’s that a pancake by any other name is still as flat.
This “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” got off to an inauspicious start with Mac making a phone call outside REDACTED’s funeral – Girl, could it not wait an HOUR? Y’know, till after you’d buried the guy? – before coming back in and disrupting it by catapulting Will into the first of many long, tedious flashbacks, turning the episode into more self-indulgent prequel than satisfying endgame.
Giving us just a couple of minutes of flashbacks would have been poignant – one or two of the Will/Charlie scenes did make me tear up a little – and maybe even giving us a couple more would have been funny – Don and Sloan obviously made me laugh and squee simultaneously. Giving us three-quarters of an episode of flashbacks, however, sucked the very life out of me, dragging us “back” as it did to a pompous, annoying and apparently dull period which the characters, the show and I have long since gratefully moved on from. The return of the unspeakable season 1 Maggie, the obsession with Don Quixote, the endless smugness of the mission to civilise – oh God. It was like The Newsroom’s Own Private Vietnam, flashing back to a dark time I don’t have any interest in revisiting; I wanted to spend the last episode with the characters I have grown to love (NB – this does not include Maggie or Useless Jim) as they are now, not as they were then.
But then I suppose the one consistent thing about The Newsroom has been that so many of us have so keenly wished it to be better than it often was; having to say that I wanted to wholeheartedly adore the finale but I didn’t is probably a fitting, if rueful epitaph for a show which has lurched from the sublime to the infuriating too many times to count.
As with the entire series, so it was with this episode: there were brilliant moments mixed in with the annoying ones. The present-day strand was infinitely better than the flashback one, with some genuinely touching moments, some sweetly funny ones and even a couple of air-punchers. “How I Got to Memphis,” the return of REDACTED, Don’s scene with Nancy Skinner, Will’s tear-jerking speech at the wake – all lovely. But the creeping sexism which has plagued this show from the start managed to infect the finale as well. The appalling Maggie was offered (just about) two different jobs because boyfriend Jim decided she deserved them (boyfriend Jim got then-girlfriend Hallie a job, too, you’ll recall), and the marginally less offensive Mac, having been offered her current job because she was Will’s ex-girlfriend, was this week given a new one because she’s a woman. And bizarrely, her husband (who was secretly consulted by her boss about the idea first, without reference to Mac herself) announced her promotion to her colleagues before she even knew about it, let alone had a chance to say yay or nay. What the…?! These are supposed to be grown, independent women building careers through their own skills and talent, not being handed them by their love interests.
Thank goodness then for Sloan and Leona who continued to be independent and great regardless of who they were sleeping with. And thank goodness for my beloved Don who returned to his usual awesomeness after that bizarre Princeton business last week. And thank goodness for grandchildren in garage bands, and Charlie being crazy, and “You embarrass me” and all the things that did work beautifully about the finale and about the show over the past three seasons. Aaron Sorkin has been the subject of a lot of criticism over The Newsroom – some wholly deserved, some not so much – and, as I said, the show hasn’t always lived up to our (unfeasibly high, in retrospect) expectations. But while it got a lot of things wildly wrong over its short run, it also got a fair few of them spectacularly right and, if it does end up being Sorkin’s last tv project, at least he went out on his own terms. It wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but I did love The Newsroom and when it was on form, it was fantastic. I’m sorry it’s over.
As this episode was the midseason finale, and the one in which we finally get to find out what happened to Annalise’s husband Sam, it seems like a good time to check in with How To Get Away With Murder. It’s doing very nicely in the ratings in America, so a second season looks likely. On balance this is good news, I’d say, even if I still kind of feel that there’s a potentially terrific show presently hiding inside a good one.
For this run of nine episodes, as I suggested might be the case, the show has borrowed structurally from Damages: murders, multiple timelines including flash forwards, and a strong female lead. There’s also been a dash of Murder One – for some reason, a show which continues to be more or less overlooked in the history of the Golden Age of TV – in the way in which Annalise Keating dominates the show, turning her colleagues Frank and Bonnie, for instance, into little more than ciphers. Of course, this offers as yet untapped possibilities for the future, and if the show runs for a while I’d guess that we’ll learn more about them.
The first episode was somewhat Wes-centric, but we’ve found out more about the supporting cast in the ensuing weeks, particularly Wes’s fellow students. The wisdom of starting with Wes has become clear as the season has gone on: just about all of the other characters are unappealing to a greater or lesser degree, all the way down to murder suspect Rebecca, who for most of the run has been plumbing almost parodic levels of unlikeability to the point where it’s difficult to see why Wes would put everything on the line for her. Then again, he fancies her. Men will do quite a lot in those circumstances.
It has to be said that the quality of the episodes has been variable. I don’t think we’ve had a great one yet, and the show has a way to go before it can be described as compulsive or unmissable. Still, the storytelling has been smart; the Cases of the Week generally taut, if perforce no more than sketches; the sex has been surprisingly hot for a network show; and Viola Davis’s performance has been a barnstorming but vanity-free exercise in how to hold centre stage. The twist at the end of this episode was an absolute cracker as well, pretty much explaining the title in itself and coming close to justifying the whole show. Although I still have reservations I’ve always looked forward to watching How To Get Away With Murder, and I’ll certainly be back for the final six episodes in the season.
A feature length episode to finish the season, but without enough material to fill it. We start with Spector’s burnt-out car, which leads the detectives to a house where Rose might be. Needless to say she’s not there, because it’s the first few minutes of the final episode, so we won’t see her until the end, alive or dead. The time when The Fall might have done something imaginative or unexpected is long past, unfortunately.
And then we’re back to the interviews. Sally Ann is, the cops eventually concede, “stupid and incurious, but innocent”. She promptly miscarries. Katie, a schoolgirl, gets to recount, in detail, her fantasy of a sexual encounter with Spector, to DS Tom Anderson, the pretty new boy hand-picked by Stella a couple of episodes ago. He’s specifically sent in to the interview by Stella because she says he looks like Spector. (We’ll return to this later.) And Spector himself, inevitably, isn’t saying anything until Stella talks to him. It’s a departure from normal practice, says Jim. “I don’t think I have a choice”, replies Stella, mindful of the ratings, but still on her game enough to be able to remind Jim that he more or less forced himself on her a couple of days ago and that the gap between himself and Spector isn’t quite as yawning as he’s like to think.
Which means that we finally arrive at the point the show has been building towards since the first episode. It’s Pacino and Bobby D in ‘Heat’; it’s Tom Cruise vs Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men’. Except it isn’t, not really, because Spector is aching to spill the beans. So instead of the master interrogator probing her suspect, we get confessions surrounded by lots more of Spector’s psychopath-baloney: I did it, “elevated aestheticism”, it was me, “it separates you from the common herd”, I’m a murderer, “state of existential shock”, yes, all of them, “I live at a level of intensity unknown to you and others of your type”, and the missing one as well, “intellectual serial killer”. And on, and on, and on.
So we’re done, right? Well, not quite. First of all Stella beds DS Tom, who’s understandably concerned that he might have been a rumpy-pumpy proxy for Spector and his “strange allure”. Stella puts him right on that, thus allowing the show to have its cake and eat it. Then Spector offers a deal: he’ll provide information on the whereabouts of Rose if he gets to see his daughter, and then go along for the trip (I think). A prisoner move. They always go well in TV drama.
Off to the mysterious forest, then, in a convoy which is so secure that only a newspaper photographer and Mad Jimmy can follow it. Jimmy’s already been round to the refuge where his wife is hiding from him, and we know him to be armed, so we can see how this is going to play out. Do they find Rose? Of course. Is she alive? Of course. (Not that it took any great prescience to anticipate it.) And is Mad Jimmy going to end the episode in a hail of bullets? Oh yes.
As far as I know, no decision has been taken yet on a third season, and although there are a few sort-of cliffhangers it’s difficult to see where the show itself could go. (Paul lives and, from behind bars, becomes Katie’s mentor and guru as she goes on a killing spree of her own?) More to the point, on artistic grounds it’s time to call a halt; the genuinely unsettling and atmospheric season 1 was left behind this time round as the show became a standard procedural, and we’ve already got plenty of them.
A divorcée/art dealer/philanthropist (?) takes her husband for almost everything in their divorce settlement, which followed him trading her in for a younger woman. And he’s stalking her. Or is she stalking him? Who should I congratulate for killing their dog? And what sort of idiotic SPOILER ALERT uses the same font for posters and obscene graffiti? Apart from Brer Dog, the stakes are pretty low this week, and I found myself struggling to care about who the Stalker was.
The bigger problem, though, is that everyone – almost without exception – is unlikeable. Husband is horrible. Ex-wife is horrible. Younger woman: well, she’s better, but really not by much. And the position isn’t much better with the “good guys”, of whom Jack remains an almost jaw-dropping example of unpleasantness.
Yes, he’s still stalking his ex, and is now approaching his son – who, of course, doesn’t know that Jack’s his biological father – without telling anyone. Presumably Jack can’t quite see why a strange man approaching a little boy might be problematic, despite his years of experience as a police officer. And his approach to DA Thingy (her name was used, but I’ve forgotten it) near the end was presumably supposed to be the start of his long journey towards self-knowledge and redemption, but I thought it was creepy. (The CBS website, incidentally, has a piece about 6 Undeniably Endearing Jack Moments – “He hardly ever says the right things, but his heart is in the right place” – which comes worryingly close to answering my question about whether the show appreciates just how repellant he is. “He’s Just A Big Softie.” No, no, he isn’t. He’s a STALKER, for fuck’s sake.)
As for Beth – well, I’m not feeling the love. The other two might as well not be there, now that the blonde one has had her hookup with Jack. I’m not all that fond of DA Thingy or her new partner either, to be honest. Actually, Jack’s son is probably OK. Can you sense, reading between the lines, that I’m getting a little fed up with this show?
Watson is still in Copenhagen on a “Danish sabbatical/sexcapade” with Khan off of Homeland, so it’s Sherlock and Kitty all the way in ‘Rip Off’, this week’s case. They are looking into the murder of a mild-mannered mailbox shop owner, which leads to the revelation of his involvement in a diamond-smuggling operation. A hit-man is identified before the halfway point, and the question then becomes who ordered the hit. It’s well-constructed but hardly exceptional.
It’s the B- and C-plots, though, which unexpectedly elevate this episode out of the ordinary. Gregson is in trouble for punching out a fellow cop. Information is drip-fed throughout the episode, but we learn that his daughter Hannah is also a cop (or did we already know this? I forget); that she was in a relationship with her partner; and that her partner assaulted her in the course of that relationship. The reason for Greyson hitting the scumbag haven’t been made public, and Gregson has been asked to make nice and shake hands. He’s understandably reluctant, but Hannah is wary of being seen throughout her career as a victim, and wants him to. Meantime Sherlock has discovered that Watson has written an unpublished book about their work together, and asks Kitty to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
As it happens, it’s Kitty who resolves both plots, and in particular her intervention in Hannah’s story is significant in the way in which it links into her past and shows her to possess a stealthy but nonetheless steely will. I might be biased, because she still makes my heart beat a little faster, but as of now I think Kitty’s been a terrific addition to the show. (Having said that, ratings in America are still on the low side, so I may not be speaking for the fanbase as a whole.) Not quite as good as last week, but still very impressive indeed.
Tidings of comfort and joy for all you Charlie Brooker fans as his much-lauded Black Mirror series returns tonight (Tuesday) for a feature-length Christmas special starring Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin and, interestingly, Jon Hamm.
I’ve never managed an episode myself but fans of the series (and there are many) tell me that it’s intelligent, sharp satire with something (very depressing) to say about modern technology and exactly what kind of Brave New World we’re heading towards. If you’re interested, 9pm on Channel 4 is the place, new media, social networking and humanity in general the principal targets, and black as night the colour of the humour. Let us know what you think of it.
As I said in my preview, I’ve never seen any of the Librarian TV movies, although the addition of an “s” to the title for the series suggests a subtle alteration to the concept. Anyway, in “…And The Crown of King Arthur”, NATO counter-terrorist operative Eve (Rebecca Romijn) is baddie-hunting in Berlin when her path crosses with Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle), who appears through a magical portal in order to eccentrically bumble about, trying to recover the Opal of Something-Or-Other, concealed by the occult division of the Nazis; yes, it’s that sort of show.
Back in America, Eve receives a letter inviting her to a job interview at the Metropolitan Public Library, and for some reason she goes. It turns out that there’s a subterranean library which holds and protects ancient mystical artefacts, that Flynn is The Librarian, and that the vacancy is for The Guardian, responsible for looking after The Librarian. Eve and Flynn bicker a bit, but there’s a bit of a crisis on: the losing candidates when Flynn was appointed Librarian (in writing this I’ve just realised how much of the backstory is about the process of job hunting) are being killed off. Eve and Flynn need to go and round them up in order to save them, and find out who’s trying to kill them. I misheard this, incidentally, as the Serbian Brotherhood, a title which surprised me in a show so unashamedly magical. It’s the Serpent Brotherhood. Serpent. That makes much more sense.
The presumed future Librarians are found, and as a supporting cast – which is about to become the main cast, because Wyle isn’t hanging about, not as a regular cast member anyway – they all perform their allotted tasks. Eve has an endearing up-for-anything air, Romijn’s dusting of star quality, and just a dash of clean-cut sexiness; I’m guessing that we’re supposed to ship Eve and Flynn in the time available to us. Jacob (Christian Kane) combines good ol’ boy charm, penetrating intelligence, and a hint of the iron fist in the velvet glove. Ezekiel (John Kim) is annoying. Cassandra (Lindy Booth) is pretty. On the downside the music is remarkably intrusive, and the production values aren’t spectacular; there’s a CGI explosion at one point which is laughably poor. But the show has charm and wit, the cast give it plenty of almost pantomime-like enthusiasm, and crucially it doesn’t give the impression of taking itself too seriously.
I can see why people like The Librarians; I quite enjoyed it myself. I won’t be watching again, though, because it fails my Sons of Anarchy test: I’m sure Sons of Anarchy is very good, but I don’t watch it because I have no interest in watching a show about a motorcycle club. (“But it isn’t just about a motorcycle club!” Don’t care. I also have no interest in watching a show which isn’t just about a motorcycle club.) The Librarians features a dead person appearing benevolently in mirrors, the Crown of King Arthur, the Opal of Whatever-It-Was, ley lines, Excalibur swordfighting without anyone needing to hold it, an insistence that magic is real: the sort of woo-woo, in short, which gets on my last nerve. So it’s not my thing. But if it’s yours, give it a go. I think you’ll like it.