[Review] - The Newsroom, Season 3 Episode 1, "Boston"

Courtesy of HBO
I don't think the phrase "the more things change, the more they stay the same" has ever been more true than with Aaron Sorkin's The Newroom. Returning for a final six episode season, the HBO drama is coming off a highly uneven second year, one in which Sorkin attempted to course correct his mistakes from year one, and ended up making all new ones. Season two had some big highs (the two part finale) and some miserable lows (the Africa storyline chef among them). This third season was given, not because the audience was clamoring for it, or the critical reception demanded it, but more because HBO was being respectful of Sorkin's talents, and recognized that even in an uneven season, there are treasures, and that such a talented cast deserves anything they can do for them.

In universe, it's six months later, and Boston is in turmoil (this time skip allows Sorkin to bypass the Sandy Hook tragedy entirely). He wastes no time, kicking the episode off with the April 2013 terror attacks, while also setting up the major plot lines of this shortened, and hopefully therefore tighter season. He piles on a lot very quickly, and manages to hold it all together, giving us a solid premiere and a promising start. If he can hold it together.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that throw rocks at people in trees.

I was surprised when the show received a third season. In part because of the performance, both creatively and ratings-wise, but mostly because Sorkin wrapped everything up so nicely at the end of season two. A little too nicely and a little too quickly not to scream of convenience, and giving the show a distinctly artificial, rom-com aftertaste, but it was at least a conclusion. When six more episodes were announced, I was worried that it would be one step to many, that it would expunge any good will that might have been earned from the finale to serve the empty notion of continuation. And then those trailers, those horrible trailers that seemed intent on seeding the notion that The Newsroom was high art, a messiah sent to show us the emperor has no clothes, and it was ending!

Sorkin alleviates this feeling somewhat, by having Mac and Will discuss Euripides and the three act structure. Three acts, three seasons, and a hindsight distillation of the critical reception of the series in to a neat and tidy analogy. By episode's end, he's turned that notion on it's head, claiming this is merely the end of act one instead of the end of the play, and in a brilliant bit of serendipity Will isn't wrong. By the end of this six episode run, the show will have in total produced 25 episodes, essentially the length of one network season of TV. And in keeping with his tradition of naming the last episode of his first seasons all the same, the series finale of Newsroom will be called "What Kind Of Day Has It Been." I'm sure that when Sorkin figured all this out, he was giddy with excitement. Now, his final year has a structure, a looming tone which can dominate all action. This won't be about the characters getting out of the tree, it'll be about them getting up it.

The Boston attacks provided Sorkin with a bubble in which to set into motion this year's arcs. Four days of coverage, around the clock, between when he first explosion happened and when the police found the man responsible. Four days for this multitude of characters to orbit each other, before finally converging. Four days of real life events that deserved essay, and character-defined events that enable these capable actors to continue to impress us. The episode centered on three main stories: one reactive, one fictional and one original but touching on true events. Will, Mac and Charlie focused on the Boston storyline, and setting up the tone (as well as giving Maggie a confidence boost). Sloan and Don (still the series' best and most interesting characters) run a mystery like Hepburn and Tracey and unwittingly discover that Atlantis is being sold. And Neal stuck his head in a computer, committed treason and gave the series a through line into the Edward Snowden leaks.

The hostile takeover story will allow the series to explore more of the political and bureaucratic aspects of the modern corporate world. The rating demands, the legal loopholes, the massive amounts of money: because of Atlantis' fictitious nature, he'll be able to explore the worst sides of the business world without having to worry about impacting reality. It presents the very real possibility that ACN might be nuked by the end of the year, which gives the show some real dramatic tension this year. The classified documents storyline, while creating legal woes for Neal, also allows Sorkin to explore the Snowden leaks without having to step on reality too much. Snowden wasn't named of course, not yet, it's still three months until he becomes a household name. But it's obviously the build up. Sorkin also used the opportunity to bring back Equatorial Kundu, one of his fictional countries from The West Wing, to use as his way to attached ACN to this event.

For it's occasional aggravation in season one and considerable flaws in season two, I've enjoyed the Newsroom, and this episode was ultimately enjoyable. It contained none of Sorkin's usual faults. It was tight, briskly paced despite the number of stories it was keeping in the air, and never lapsed into irrelevancy. even when it took four minutes out of it's runtime for Sorkin's expected rant against the the internet, it too was relevant. He took Reddit to task for it's appalling behaviour following the Boston attacks, and for once was quite right in his scorn of armchair journalists and internet vigilantes. Even the Maggie stuff, which was thankfully sparse, worked. If Sorkin can keep up this level of directed interest, these six episode might well be the best of the series.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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