As much humor as I tried to inject into my predictions for The Newsroom finale, there was, I thought, a lot of truth buried in there—dramatic moments that I suspected were on the way, having spent time with every episode of every TV show Aaron Sorkin has created.
Lo and behold, I was right in two cases. Mackenzie did reveal her pregnancy in the early moments of this series ending episode. And yes, there was a big treacly musical moment, but to Sorkin’s credit, it was a fairly nice moment set to Will and Jim and Charlie’s grandkids taking an impromptu run through a Tom T. Hall song at the wake.
What I didn’t expect—and maybe should have—was that Sorkin would use the same storytelling trick that he used to rather brilliantly open the second season of The West Wing, and one that he returned to with diminishing results during Studio 60: wending in scenes from the past, with scenes from the present day. Thankfully, it worked nicely in this one, with the show within a show, News Night, looking toward the future as we got a glimpse of how the team came together.
In those flashback scenes, we got to see some different shades to some of the characters we thought we knew so well. Mackenzie was in a drunken PTSD-driven, sweatpants-wearing depression, ready to take a job producing a The View-style talk show. Will was a ratings-loving whore reading puff pieces to maintain his market share. Don looked ready to murder someone with a salad fork at the slightest provocation. Kudos to each actor for handling those nuances so well, and allowing us to see the growth in each character over the course of one hour.
What came as the biggest surprise, considering the trajectory that this season was on, was that ACN was going to be sticking around—but it might also thrive. A dumb scandal involving Pruit underpaying women and hiring models to populate his birthday party helped encourage him to hire Mackenzie as the new president of the company. With that, Jim moves up to executive producer, and everyone else gets an extra shot of inspiration to help push News Night forward.
And when the show and series was nearing its conclusion, Sorkin had yet another surprise for his viewers. He and director Alan Poul didn’t lay on the Coldplay or the symphonic grandeur, nor any huge speech to send us off into the night ready to storm the doors of CNN and Fox News. Instead, it was a simple, tasteful montage of the News Night crew quietly getting ready for that night’s broadcast, cutting to black just as Will stares at the camera to say, “Good evening…” By completely going against his typical overdramatic tendencies, Sorkin actually pulled some genuine emotion out of what was essentially a victory lap. I came to bury The Newsroom, but now I am here to praise it for shuffling off this telemortal coil with grace and reserve.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.