It’s just like The Newsroom to give us the happy ending we never actually wanted. While “Election Night: Part II” didn’t quite wave away our heroes’ problems with a magic wand, it came about as close to doing so as it possibly could, absolving everyone of their Genoa guilt while hurling together a few of the show’s long-teased romantic couples. But even though Sloan and Don’s big kiss managed to feel like a payoff, virtually everything else that went into tying off The Newsroom’s second season with a bow was a copout. Going into its third installment, this story has about as much suspense to it as the outcome of the two-year-old election it rehashes.
Election Night 2012 wouldn’t be a good redemption without a reminder of just how virtuous the News Night major players are, so the first order of business is turning down the opportunity to break the Petraeus scandal in favor of informing a single district’s electorate that their Republican candidate is an anti-abortion nutjob. Charlie later uses this story to tearfully pat himself on the back for what a good Steward of Democracy he is, vowing to “overcome the terminal irony” plaguing America and keep fighting the good fight at ACN. Which also has the incidental benefit of rejecting any kind of self-doubt and allowing him to keep his job guilt-free.
Almost every other character on the show goes through a similar epiphany about what great people they are this episode, helpfully steered along by Fierce Lawyer Lady and a very stoned Leona Lansing. Before Charlie realizes nothing is his fault, he marches up to Leona’s party, begging her to accept his resignation. She gleefully tells him the decision is out of her hands; she’s leaving it to her evil, Rockette-dating son Reese, who Charlie is confident will do the wrong right thing to do and can him. But wait! Reese’s “synchronized nutcracker” has filled him with holiday cheer, and now his heart is two sizes too big and he loves ACN. All hail benevolent corporate overlords!
Charlie also enables another member of the News Night team to feel less awful about himself by plowing straight into Lisa, Jim’s ex and Maggie’s estranged roommate. She’s working as a waitress to make a little extra money on top of her fashion job, a fact she probably finds less embarrassing for financial reasons than the ill-fitting uniform she has to wear while offering jerky network executives champagne. Either way, she’s mortified when Jim spots her on Twitter and sprints upstairs to apologize. Somehow, the conversation morphs from her righteously calling him out for making out with her roommate to a self-pity party about her insecurity over her own intelligence. Jim condescendingly calls her “authentic” and all is forgiven, leaving him free to pursue his single-minded obsession with whether Maggie cut her own hair or not.
She did, of course, a fact that seems self-evident but somehow leads to the episode’s only deserved de-guiltifying. Jim reminds her that she did nothing wrong in Africa except try to save a little kid in danger, thereby doing what months of therapy presumably could not and getting Maggie to forgive herself. Though they don’t quite get a Sloan-and-Don make-out, their bonding moment (and efforts to cover up Jim’s epic race-calling screw-up) does facilitate a flashback to the show’s pilot, when Maggie was a childish Bambi caricature in awe of Jim’s news alert clicking skills. As if the implicit reminder of how far her character has come wasn’t enough, the closing shot of the episode is her opening up a yellow alert, just like Jim. I’m beating a dead horse here, but this character deserves so much better than getting rescued by the guy who’s the second most sanctimonious person on the show.
The only reason Jim isn’t top dog in that category is because absolutely no one beats Will for holding the moral high ground even as he treats the women in his life like dog crap. I don’t have a problem with his on-air lectures on the Tea Party and media bias, although they did feel preachier and more tacked-on than usual. What absolutely appalled me was Will’s confession that he’d bought an engagement ring as a guilt trip tactic/”practical joke,” or more accurately, MacKenzie’s reaction to it. Here’s a guy who’d rather wage emotional warfare against an ex-girlfriend, and commit an act of extreme cruelty in the process, rather than admit he’s at all to blame for their failed relationship. Does this guy sound like marriage material to you? More importantly, is this a guy a character we’re supposed to believe is intelligent, shrewd, and has some modicum of self-respect would choose to spend the rest of her life with? This isn’t just a case of a nice girl falling for a not-so-nice guy. This is a woman ignoring a breach of trust that says far more about Will’s ability to be in a long-term, mutually trusting relationship than his promises that he’ll never hurt her again.
And that’s why I find Will’s speech to the senior staffers so grating in retrospect. As much as Don would like to claim they learned their high-mindedness from Will, he’s just not a good enough person to act as anyone’s moral compass. I’m just not rooting for him enough to want News Night to succeed, and I don’t trust any of the other characters to call him out or hold him accountable in such a way that makes this show interesting. The Newsroom threw away many, many opportunities for its characters to learn some valuable lessons this season, but for now, Will McAvoy lives to speechify another day.