(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you have not yet watched the series finale of HBO’s “The Newsroom” entitled “What Kind of Day Has It Been.”)
Aaron Sorkin bid farewell to the fictional team behind ACN’s “News Night” broadcast by looking ahead at where life will take them, and looking back to how they came together in the first place. And at the center of it all was Charlie Skinner, played still by Sam Waterston.
Charlie passed away at the end of last week’s penultimate episode of Sorkin’s news media drama, but he was an ever-present personality in the series finale.
In flashbacks to before the events of the series premiere, he was alive and well as he assembled his dream team for reimagining “News Night” into a place where presenting the real news was what mattered most. And his legacy loomed large through the hour as those same people whose lives he touched assembled to say farewell at his funeral, and settled in — some in new positions — to continue his legacy.
It was fun coming full circle with the characters and the important beats of the show, going all the way back to the audience question that lit a fire under Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and inspired him to get back to the business of the news. What makes America the greatest country in the world? Will didn’t have an answer that night, but he started trying to answer it with a newly invigorated and focused “News Night.”
We got a glimpse of that earlier Will McAvoy, who’d given up on hard news in favor of the fluffier stories that generate higher ratings, and it was a startling contrast to the driven and passionate news anchor viewers had come to appreciate over three seasons and that we saw when he finally said a few words about the loss of his best friend.
It was Charlie who pushed Will incessantly to find his passion about the news, and he went out of his way to find Will’s former lover MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) to produce the show, knowing she would bring that fire out of Will. Charlie was the consummate leader, pushing the people beneath him to rise up and prove themselves, stand up for what they believe in and push one another to be the absolute best that they could be.
It was perhaps a little heavy-handed of Sorkin, and a little schmaltzy, but it was no less effective. Sorkin knows how to give pretty speeches and he knows how to manipulate our emotions. While there was a death at the center of this episode, it wasn’t one of darkness. It was one of happy endings and hope.
It was one of those endings where everything works out for everyone. Completely implausible in today’s anti-hero television landscape of despair and dystopia being consumed by jaded viewers, this finale was shamelessly hopeful and happy.
Sorkin tied a bow around virtually every element of the show, including the responsibility that Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Sloan (Olivia Munn) felt over Charlie’s death by defying him and fighting with him moments before he collapsed. A scene with his widow assured Don that Charlie had wanted that fight, and in fact hoped they would provide it.
See, happiness for everyone. Sorkin even slipped in a few of entertainment’s biggest clichés; there were promotions for several characters, a major job interview for Maggie (Alison Pill), and MacKenzie and Will found out they’re having a baby. Of course they did.
It’s all perhaps a bit too pat and too sweet, but what’s wrong with that? “The Newsroom” was always a combination of bold ideas about the news media and rather stale and corny office romances. Sorkin stayed true to his mixed vision to the end, reminding viewers that fighting for what’s right and what you believe in is always worth it … and you can still get the girl and/or boy.