“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.