About midway through the final episode of The Newsroom, an announcement is made to those gathered for Charlie Skinner’s funeral: Heroic, long abroad co-worker Neal Sampat’s plane has landed, and he is finally returning home. The crowd claps happily. They will never see Neal again.
That’s not entirely true. Neal turns up later in the episode, but the only people he speaks to are the nerds manning the web team who are busy crafting a list of overrated films, their intent primarily to upset the Internet. Neal dresses them down accordingly and tells them to shut down the website he worked so hard to build so he can systematically begin to rebuild its integrity. He settles in immediately to work, and despite being in the office when the rest of the crew trickles in to begin that evening’s shows, he exchanges not a single word with them.
This is a man who spent months of his life hiding from the American government in a South American country without extradition. His crime? Refusing to name a source who helped to break the news that the government had a hand in and subsequently covered up an inciting incident overseas that resulted in several dozen innocent people being killed. Neal is moral and true, refusing to sacrifice his journalistic integrity and being resolute in the idea that, no matter the consequences it may rain down on himself, the American people deserve to know the truth about their government. In return for his sacrifice and his iron will, he is rewarded with a round of applause he never hears and his old job. He gets no hug, no pat on the back. He returns to the cybershadows where he languished for two prior seasons.
Why focus on Neal when so much else happens in this finale? Because Neal is a special case. Toward the end of the episode, Will McAvoy speaks to a group gathered to mourn the passing of his mentor and erstwhile father figure. After previously avoiding the prospect of eulogizing Charlie whenever the opportunity arose, Will finally relents and speaks of the man who meant so much to him in a variety of loving terms. Chief among those terms is the idea that Charlie’s religion was decency, followed shortly thereafter by the exaltation “You were a man, Charlie. You were a great big man.”
The religion of decency is as close to a moral code you’ll find in the world of Aaron Sorkin. His protagonists are all slaves to that higher calling, though it’s not necessarily always exhibited in themselves. It is, however, certainly to be demanded of the society around them. One man’s decency, of course, is another man’s abomination, but that doesn’t matter in the Sorkinverse. It’s clear throughout all of the writer’s shows that his characters live and die by the absolute code that he has created for them. Say what you will about him and said code, but Aaron Sorkin is a just god, who will not allow his children of faith and commitment to go unrewarded.
Let us examine the good works of the characters of The Newsroom and how their actions were honored.
It is right and just to begin with those who have gone before, so take Charlie Skinner, ACN patriarch and confrontational drunkard. As the episode plays out, we are privy to flashbacks that reveal the extent of Charlie’s scheming to bring about the low-rated but morally superior News Night that we’ve come to know and love over the years. He wooed Mac to work and started a domino effect that resulted in the pairing off of no less than three of the happy couples cuddled up at his funeral. He also, we learn, had an inexplicable conversation with Will urging him to procreate at a point in time where Will was obviously depressed, underperforming at work, and not dating anyone. For his lifelong commitment to journalistic decency and drunken humanity Charlie dies, sure, but he is also revealed to be the linchpin in the creation of News Night and the love that brought the networks family together. And isn’t that the true reward?
Will, fresh off the heels of a conversation he had with Charlie three years ago, finds out Mac is pregnant in the middle of Charlie’s funeral. Despite his own pathological daddy issues, Will sees this turn of events as a net positive and spends the rest of the episode trying to completely remake his lifestyle so he can live forever. Because he never yielded the moral high ground to anyone, he is justly rewarded, heading into the post-Sorkin afterlife with a happy marriage, an impending child, and a wife who is now president of the network.
That’s right. For her years toiling in the trenches and being Will’s girl Friday, Mackenzie, despite uttering the line “Like it’s every little girl’s dream to make a man better at his job,” is rewarded with the role of president of ACN, thanks to Lucas Pruitt’s PR problems. See, Pruitt did not live by Sorkin’s moral code and had to be punished accordingly. Now, he’ll have to work with a woman for the rest of his days.
Perhaps the oddest thing about Mac’s storyline this episode is that she’s never actually offered the new job. Yes, the flashbacks to her aimless pre-ACN life are interesting, and the fact that she felt it appropriate to sneak out of a funeral to call her doctor on an issue that the aftermath of which would literally have to be discussed immediately was odd. But, no, her new employment situation takes the cake. Leona, Lucas, and Will all decide she should do it, then Will announces it to the staff, with nary a word exchanged with Mac on whether or not she even wanted the job. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering Will also informed the whole of the staff that Mac was seven weeks pregnant after knowing himself for approximately 50 minutes. So Mac lived a moral life and was rewarded accordingly and even consistently, yielding her agency to the bitter, bitter end.
The show went on to resolve the lives of its characters happily, with Maggie and Jim deciding their love is so strong that they could even weather the horrors of a long distance relationship. Sloan and Don also end the run together, lovingly, happy where they are and focused on making the best of their lives. The episode’s flashbacks were seemingly intended specifically to justify the choices made in the final episode, and as hamfisted as that sounds, it also served to provide a much better finale than the show deserved.
In truth, I mourn the fact that the show that finale belonged to, a much better show than The Newsroom ever was, never existed. The characters in the finale are rewarded for their decency and within the episode, this makes sense, because they all acted profoundly decently within the confines of the finale. But in watching three seasons of the show, we know that those characters aren’t necessarily decent, and they aren’t necessarily humane. The finale of The Newsroom was a great end to a show that never was. Except for the one character who through it all, really was decent.
Which brings us back to the sad tale of Neal Sampat. Who worked hard to build something beautiful and true. Who faced the doubt in his coworkers and superiors to make something that was a credit to his community and who watched it subsequently burned to the ground by Lucas Pruitt’s men.
He fled the country for fear of his life and his safety because he would not bend to the will of the United States government. He believed in the right of the American people to know the truth about actions done in their name. Where is Neal’s reward for unshakeable decency in the face of overwhelming odds? There is none. There is only returning to toil in obscurity for people who will not appreciate his efforts. There is no reward for the morality of Neal Sampat. There’s only permission to continue to toil for people who improve their lives based on his hard work. His bosses get promoted. Neal unceremoniously goes back to work.
Huh. There may be an allegory wrapped up in The Newsroom after all, but it certainly isn’t one that nods to Don Quixote.
Season grade: B-
Things were going so well until they didn’t.
Series grade: C+
- Well, we made it.
- I’m as remiss as the next person that I wasn’t able to work in the impromptu jam session at Charlie’s funeral reception. That was certainly a thing that happened.
- That said, I did like the observation that Memphis is a stand-in for wherever you are right now.
- Boy, past Mac was interesting. I would watch an entire show about Emily Mortimer drunkenly bowling on weekday mornings.
- “So we’re all landing on our feet.” Subtle.
- No, seriously, did no one think about going and giving Neal a hug? Anything? Anyone?
- Sloan and Maggie discussing their lives would not have been appreciated by Charlie at his burial, because Charlie had no time for their lady bullshit.
- This episode wasn’t bad. It was just a strange fit for the show that preceded it. That may be me going soft, or it may be a consequence of me watching an episode of Studio 60 last night and realizing just how much worse The Newsroom could have been. Count your blessings.
- One last gag for the road.
- Be decent to each other in comments, and Sorkin Claus will visit his blessings unto you tenfold. Ho ho ho.