The Newsroom: “Oh Shenandoah”

By Sam on Dec 11, 2014 to The Newsroom

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Wow. Just wow.

You know… With the first couple of episodes of The Newsroom‘s third season, I was intrigued. I wondered where it was going to go, and it was nice to see Kat Dennings, one of my favorite young actresses, playing a character that isn’t a comedic foil. With the next couple of episodes, I started to realize that Sorkin was inadvertently turning me against these characters by showing that they are just as smug and outdated as the world around them. Now, don’t get me wrong. These characters were always obnoxious, self-righteous and arrogant; but throughout two seasons, they’ve at least been watchable. And then came “Oh Shenandoah.”

It’s become probably the most controversial episode in the show’s history. It’s by far the most lambasted episode, and after viewing it, it’s of my opinion that it’s deserving of every single harsh word it receives. It could have been avoided. In the second season, the characters got a reality check that the way that they did things was not foolproof. Their blind optimism led to their airing of a story that was completely fictional, which led to the destruction of their reputation (which was already worth hardly anything) and a lawsuit from the worker that they fired for doctoring the raw footage. But it was okay, right? I mean, in the end, they maintained their self-righteousness, content in the idea that it wasn’t the institutional failure that it was, and continued doing things the way they thought they should, because it was just a minor hiccup in the foolproof way that they do things.

The third season is one of the worst I’ve ever seen not just because it completely forgets the plot points and stories left over from previous seasons, but because it takes the characters that were already only mouth pieces for Aaron Sorkin’s close-minded view of the world and takes away everything that made them even somewhat compelling. Nowhere is that more evident than in this mistake of an episode.

Will McAvoy is imprisoned, despite the fact that he is now married to Mackenzie and could easily be released if only he’d give up the name of the source. It’s revealed quite early on in the episode that his supposed source has committed suicide, making it all the more easy for him to be released from prison. And he isn’t just in prison for a few days. He’s in there for nearly two months. That’s nearly the first two months of his marriage down the drain. Of course, Will doesn’t give up the name of his source and it comes off as an arrogant ego stroke instead of a genuinely honorable thing to do.

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As for the rest of the cast, this episode finds them dealing with issues of their own: Mackenzie is trying to get Will out of jail while still trying to do the news, Charlie is trying to adhere to the demands of their new boss, although it goes completely against what he believes to be the “right” way to do things, Sloan is dealing with an app that is allowing people to hunt down celebrities (she always gets the most important assignments, doesn’t she?) and Jim and Maggie are stuck on a plane together so they can go into the stereotypical falling in love scenario. This episode is a quagmire of plot, and it’s twice as murky as any real quagmire you would find.

The most murky part of this episode, however, is Don’s subplot. After being assigned to find out about campus sexual assaults, he hunts down the woman who was planning to come on the news to confront her rapist and tries to dissuade her from appearing on the show. The woman, named “Mary” because Sorkin had no sense of subtlety in his symbolism, has formed a website where women who have been victims of abuse can openly reveal the names of their attackers. Don tries to convince her to get rid of this website, as it could possibly destroy the lives of innocent men.

Newsroom_Don-300x186Sorry, I’m going to have to go back and read over that again myself, because I seriously cannot believe that this is what Aaron Sorkin actually thought could work. Don Keefer… who has never exactly been the most pleasant character on the show… is now trying to convince a victim of sexual assault that her only method of finding justice is not worth it because it could POSSIBLY endanger the lives of innocent men.

Aaron Sorkin is so pretentious and so self-righteous that he actually thinks that he can not only write on the subject of the abuse of women, but can make his audience side with a character who is more concerned with the possible destruction of men’s lives than he is about the definite destroyed lives of women. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to stop talking badly about Hitler…” “Why? He’s mass-murdering innocent people…” “Yes, but if you talk bad about him, you might destroy the lives of innocent Nazis.”

And it would be bad enough if that was it, but to compound how ignorant Sorkin is on this subject, he makes it clear that the girl in question had taken a copious amount of drugs and had willingly been in the company of the two (that’s TWO!!!) men who had raped her. Now I’m not saying the girl didn’t make bad decisions, but it’s impossible not to at least feel like Aaron Sorkin is implying that this woman’s drug use and choice of company somehow makes her guilty of her own rape. How utterly ignorant and disgusting can one man be? And to add the final cherry on this giant layered cake of excrement… after the girl refuses to not come on the show or take her site down, Don makes the executive decision to lie and say that he couldn’t find her, making her unable to come on the show after all. Goddamn it, Sorkin…

As disgusting and ignorant as your approach to this subject matter was, and as horribly as you handled the woman whom you made the face of sexual assault, it all could have been somewhat redeemed if Don had learned something from it. And I’m sure that, to some extent, your intent was to show that being a person in the news often brings a lot of choices that aren’t easy to make.  If Don had agreed to let the girl on the show, there would have been a chance for him to learn that sometimes you have to accept defeat in order to win the day. But NO. In the end, Sorkin undermines the poor girl’s abuse by having Don lie and maintain his self-righteous view. It’s Sorkin’s self-righteous point of view that remains intact through this egregious display, and it’s beyond redemption.

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Now, I know that some of you may say, “Well, Aaron Sorkin isn’t the only writer on the show. Surely, he’s not the only one to blame.” Well, after watching the episode, I looked up a few articles about it (the controversy and negative reviews were already everywhere) and I found one about another writer from the show, Alena Smith. Miss Smith admitted on Twitter that she suggested to Sorkin that he should excise the campus rape subplot. His reaction? He yelled at her and threw her out of the writer’s room. In response to the allegations, Sorkin admitted that, in his words, he “excused her from the room” and that he was upset that she had broken the “sacred trust” of the writer’s room. Sorkin’s reaction to the controversy of the episode was just as arrogant. He was glad that the episode had, in his eyes, opened up debate about the subject. It seems to escape Sorkin that most of the debate is about his inherently sexist and ignorant views. So, in simple terms, Sorkin neither understands nor acknowledges how this subplot was probably one of the worst things not just in the episode, not just in the show, but in modern television.

Now… this isn’t to say that there weren’t other things in this episode to make it stand out as the worst of the series. Jim and Maggie’s airport romance is just painful to sit through because we know how it’s going to end. When it finally arrived at its expected conclusion, I wasn’t relieved or elated; I was just glad it was finally over. We’ve had two seasons of watching these two unlikable characters go through the will-they-won’t-they motions, and frankly, my dear, I don’t… aw hell; you know what I’m going to say. Continuing with Will’s storyline… in order to make him look like an even moderately likable character, they have to put him in a cell with the most stereotypical anti-Semitic wife-beater on the planet… and even this cardboard cutout of a character mentions that Will is an egotistical jackass. It was all like something out of a cheap police procedural. But… get this… the “cellmate” that Will talked to was none other than a figment of Will’s imagination…. AND… that’s not all… this figment of Will’s imagination was none other than an apparition of Will’s father, the abusive monster that died in season two. This seems like something out of a REALLY bad soap opera… it fails miserably and is only entertaining in that it’s great to see how dramatically a writer can crash and burn. Finally, there’s Charlie… Oh, Charlie… other than Leona Lansing and Rebecca Halliday, you were the only consistently likable character on this show. The third season had already been unkind to him; it took him from being one of the few likable characters on the show to being one of the most annoyingly self-righteous. Even in the face of the Genoa controversy and the resultant fallout, he maintains his snobbish ideal that his way of doing things is foolproof and he believes that he is in some sort of position to judge the quality of citizen journalism. That was beyond annoying. It felt like a betrayal of this affable yet arrogant character that many watchers like myself had come to love. His adherence to Lucas Pruit’s idea for ACN throughout the episode was so out of character that it didn’t seem real. I half expected there to be some underlying “bigger picture” motivation that would allow Charlie to finally undermine Pruit’s “perversion” of the news and bring ACN back to the glory they had imagined it had in years past. But nope, Charlie was reduced to acting like PruiNewsrooom_Ep5_04-300x212t’s lap dog, and it was pathetic to watch.

And then came the death scene. I know that they are trying to make it emotional and devastating… but honestly, he stops, puts his hand on the table, falls forward, hits his head on the table, and lands on the floor with a hard thud. Sloan and Mac run to his side (in slow motion, nonetheless), and “Oh Shenandoah,” the song that inspired the title of the episode, begins playing. It’s too cheesy and overdone for words. Call me heartless if you will, but I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. I honestly could not believe my eyes. We had already been given a painfully cheesy sequence with the overlong montage in the previous episode, with Will and Mac getting married.

This was something on an entirely different level… this was absolute proof that Sorkin has no idea how to portray an honest emotional moment. Even the fact that I was watching Sam Waterston, one of the most watchable and lovable actors in history, die onscreen brought nothing out of me. There was not an ounce of honest emotion in the entire thing. It was pure manipulation, and BAD pure manipulation at that.

And to add insult to injury: when Will is finally released from prison (not because he gave up his source, but because the man demanding the name of his source gave up on trying to demand it) and he is greeted by Mackenzie, who tells him of Charlie’s demise, a huge opportunity is missed. This could have been a good point to finally show Will’s humanity, as well as why Mac loves him. It could have been a chance for Will to finally break down and for Mac to break down with him as they cried over the loss of their friend and mentor. But no. Mac tells him with very alarming calmness that Charlie is dead and Will looks at her with the same exact blank expression that he used when she accepted his marriage proposal.

People, to say that this episode is bad is truly an understatement. This makes the finale of How I Met Your Mother look like the finale of M*A*S*H. And it’s worse in consideration that this episode ISN’T the finale to this series. I assure you that “Oh Shenandoah” will go down as one of the worst episodes of television in history. There’s one episode left. I’m so far into this crap storm of a show that I have to watch it, just for a sense of completion. Even Dante had to go through nine circles of Hell, right? For me, The Newsroom is ruined, as is my faith in any modicum of Aaron Sorkin’s talent.

The Editor’s add the Inside the Episode clip…

and the preview of the Series Finale of THE NEWSROOM.

 

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