[Review] - The Newsroom, Season 3 Episode 4, "Contempt"

Courtesy of HBO
I love this season of The Newsroom, I just don't like this episode. While it had a few choice and magical moments (all of which involved Sam Waterston), the episode was sadly a return to a season one mentality. The overt and frankly cheesy romanticism, the straw-man debates, and the return of the worst-period-ever-period-storyline-period in the show's history. This was a contemptible episode, guilty of so many of the complaints leveled against Aaron Sorkin over the first two seasons of the show. This was such a step backwards that I honestly don't know how to explain it. I'm left hoping that the previous three episodes weren't a fluke, and that we'll spend the final hours of the series sliding back down the same hill of shit all over again.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which don't pretend they sell medicine.


I don't even know where to begin with this episode, so I guess I'll start with good-time Charlie. Sam Waterston has long been the anchor the series has relied upon, no matter the conditions that surround him. Even in the weakest episodes of previous seasons, Waterston's folksy rage has been an unrelenting joy to watch. I feel that an hour of just Charlie yelling at people in increasingly inventive ways would not get old in the least, and I'd be very much pleased if the finale was just that, thank you. So, surrounded by a sea of malcontent, it was yet again Charlie that was the land on the horizon. charlie is by no means any less of a mouth piece for Sorkin's philosophies than any other character, especially now that he's been matched against Herald of the Future Pruit. But he's just so much more entertaining than the rest of them while he's being thus.

His two big scenes this week were both railing against the malignancy of the modern media mindset, with Pruit as it's pretentious mouthpiece that you just want to punch. And seeing Waterston lose his cool so spectacularly is distracting enough that you forget that the "debate" that is happening between these two characters is no different that the one happening between Jim and Hallie. More engaging, yes, but no less one-sided. There is no debate happening, which is a valid debate between the gilded halls of "old media" and the gonzo-studded "new media." Except that Sorkin positions the debate so that the honourable and idealistic pro side is railing against an insufferable or vacant opponent. Pruit's ideas aren't viable, just extreme. He talks in jargon and circles dressed up like divine insight, and then gets shouted down in the most entertaining way possible, but never gets to make the counter argument.

Which I suppose is slightly better than the horror-show that is Jim and Hallie. I've never seen Jim's similarities to season one Will as keenly as I saw them here. He's abrasive and adversarial despite his best interests, and can't be swayed from his position because he already knows that he's right, and that mentality will leave him alone with only his principles to keep him warm. But at least he gets to voice his opinion that the "digital revolution" is a poison to credibility and good taste, that page view-based reporting transforms news into entertainment and reporters into sideshows. Hallie, who is meant to represent the counter point never seems to have anything to add. She starts to defend herself, then deflates, giving the impression that there is no valid counterpoint. It was preaching at its worst, under the guise of debate. What makes it even more disappointing is that the crux of the season arc is journalistic ethics, and that is the meat of the debate that Jim and Hallie are having.

Rather than bringing it back to technology ("I beam the news into space every night, I'm not frightened by your Samsung galaxy"), the conversation should be Jim's belief that Hallie's ilk lack the ethics and morals to be good reporters, and that Hallie should be countering that gonzo journalism can work if the reporters adhere to common decency and ethics. Which she didn't, and that is why Jim was right to be upset in this instance. That Sorkin had Hallie devolve from last year's idealistic but struggling reporter to opportunistic carrion feeder as though that were the only option for her in her new position does the character a disservice and is a wildly reductive form of the argument. Unlike the Occupy people, who were simply introduced as being incompetent, this is worse because he has forced an established character into an uncharacteristic position for the sake of setting up his one-sided debate. It's disingenuous to the character.

And talk about being disingenuous to a character, he also choose to double back on Maggie's development this season and return her to the pining frau, unable to move on from being emotionally and professionally obsessed with Jim, despite the whole second half of last year and every so far this season being the exact opposite of that. That he can't seem to escape the idea of Maggie being anything other than an emotional wreck seems clear, otherwise he wouldn't keep circling back around to it. Personally and professionally, Maggie has come so far in just these last three episodes, and to shoot that straight to shit for what, a little extra drama? I find it difficult to believe that a dramatist of Sorkin's quality thinks retreading old ground is more interesting that carving out a new, untapped path. That is setting aside the fact that Maggie has literally spent the entire series moving from one relationship to another, and that save for Africa, her major contribution has been relationship drama. She's never been an interesting character, and perhaps its as simple as Sorkin not being interested in her enough to come up with something interesting for her to do, so he doesn't even try.

Other things happened in this episode - Will was sent to prison for standing by his journalistic ethics moments after getting married, and Don and Sloan got found out by HR, but it didn't matter because it was all for the funz, but those stories were so benign compared to the bad that was everywhere else, they barely registered. I will say this, the episode's end did throw me a little bit through a loop, in that I have no idea how this series will end. With ACN sold and Will in jail, will the next episode pick up after a time jump (this season has uncharacteristically only covered about two weeks, and only one real world news story), with Will having spent a fair amount of time behind bars and Pruit's vision for News Night a reality? Will Neal return from exile vindicated by Mac's leaking of the leaked material? Will everyone get a forced an inorganic happy ending? Will the next episode be better than this hot garbage?
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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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