The Newsroom: “Oh Shenandoah”

By Sam on Dec 11, 2014 to The Newsroom


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to realize that Sorkin was inadvertently turning me against these characters by showing that they are just as smug and outdated as the world around them.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.


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_DonSorry, 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.


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_04t’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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19 Comments on "The Newsroom: “Oh Shenandoah”"

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Heartbroken Californians

My family and friends are absolutely heartbroken HBO will not continue with Newsroom! I can’t understand how HBO would want to cancel such a smart, entertaining, quality show that we all have been in love with since the very first episode. This kind of programming is so rare now, even on HBO and SHOWTIME, it seems to us the smartest business decision is to continue the show!
Watch out HBO….without Newsroom there are very few shows left that in our opinion compete with Showtime, Netflix and Amazon Prime shows.
BOOOOOOO, bad decision!

As I have gone back and basically binged on “The Newsroom” the past two days, I very much agree with your opinion, Heartbroken Californians. “The Newsroom” was – is – a great show. I’m sorry now that I had to cut it from my weekly TV shows (the sacrifices we make for good college GPAs) but am greatly enjoying re-watching the entire series, especially after the finale which brought everything full circle beautifully. Like you, I wish that “The Newsroom” was still around, and that some other HBO shows were, too, like “Boardwalk Empire” (especially “Boardwalk Empire!”) and even, to… Read more »

xD person who won’t even use their real name…

I hope one day you grow up and realize that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean that they “misunderstood” something.

Every opinion is valid, so I’ll write whatever is to my liking. Dislike my review if you will. It really has no impact on my review or my opinion at all.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Better luck next time ;)

Oh Sammy, I can’t begin to imagine how your mind works. First you are outraged by insensitivity, then you are almost laughing at a visual representation of a man dying. How very odd. It’s clear you have misunderstood many aspects of the newsroom and in return have lashed out at Mr Sorkin. I do hope you stop writing about things which aren’t to your tastes. I did not like your review, but I haven’t wasted anywhere near as many words or minutes explaining my displeasure. I hope you find a show that does not push as many of your buttons.… Read more »
Rape drama aside I actually liked this episode. I think the nuances of the college dorm room scene aren’t really worth diving into any deeper than the 10,000 articles that have already done so online. These are conversations/thoughts/opinions that real people have. Don even said he struggled with the issue, wasn’t the right reporter for the job etc. People think the way Don does. You don’t have to agree. I certainly don’t but I don’t find myself so easily offended as some by alternate opinions on how the news is delivered. The rest of the episode was great, I thought.… Read more »
OMG! I think it has been an intelligent, highly emotional and well written script! True Detective, for instance was a complete waste of time – sophmoric and pruient for no reason whatsoever but to engender kids; Newsroom has been the “fastest” hour of TV serials ever. #4 gave us the clue Charlie was losing it, and would soon break down – there is little time to pick up all you need to know about the characters. I thought his demise very poignant; and the music brought a tear; the same was true at the conclusion of #4. I was sorry… Read more »
I was going to keep my mouth shut, but I cannot do so. You all may be shocked with my response. Why is it when we have show creators, show-runners and writers involved in shows about crime, serial killers and evil people in general we don’t cite those artists for being evil, yet Sorkin is getting pounced on for being such with this episode? If a show was written from the Nazi’s perspective the writer would not be accused of being a Nazi. A writer does not automatically have to be gay to write about them and face it, just… Read more »

I left a comment above similar to what you’re saying here, Jef. Totally agree. I don’t agree with everything Tony Soprano did but we all love that murdering gangster, right?!

I think maybe it just struck a nerve and came off as a little too preachy to some. It’s a tough issue and the reality isn’t as black and white as we all wish it was.

If nothing else it got people talking about an important issue. Which I think is a good thing and shows the intelligence of the show.

Also.. Im sorry. Didnt Aaron Sorkin write THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CONVERSATION TOO?! It was a DIALOGUE that I haven’t seen on any other show because their writers weren’t brave enough to tackle this issue AT ALL.

Be brave, friends. We say we need a conversation about guns/race/rape/immigration. Well… here we are thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s writing. Don’t shy away because it’s a difficult one. Those are the only ones worth having.

Jacob, I know he wrote the other side of the conversation.

But he undermined everything by having Don choose to lie and not have her on the show.

Stupid, STUPID decision. That is what I wrote about.

Here’s the thing: I don’t mind people writing misogynist characters, homophobic characters, or racist characters. You’re right, those viewpoints DO exist in society, and I think it’s essential that we include them in our stories to delve into their psyches. But here’s the rub: Sorkin doesn’t just write a misogynist viewpoint, he acts as if the misogynist viewpoint is not just okay, but is morally right, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t make a film about a racist or a pedophile or a homophobe and portray them as right. If you’re very talented, you can portray… Read more »
“But here’s the rub: Sorkin doesn’t just write a misogynist viewpoint, he acts as if the misogynist viewpoint is not just okay, but is morally right,” Sammy, he wrote a character who felt his opinion and beliefs are alright for him to have. Most people do believe that their viewpoint is the right one. How about Creationists and Klansman? Even you don’t waver in your viewpoint. If you hadn’t assumed that the controversial viewpoint in question was Sorkin’s own as opposed to the truth of it just being assigned to a character you probably wouldn’t be getting this heat. If… Read more »

lol Jef, if I wasn’t taking the heat, trust me, you would know it.

And I doubt you know Sorkin’s motivation any more than I do.

All I know is he attempted to write both sides of an argument, but he ended up ruining it by using old arguments and ultimately having Don make a choice that he shouldn’t have made.

I like your spunk. I’m just saying Don made the choice because that is the type of person the writers decided to make him and there is nothing and I mean nothing wrong with that.

To attack a writer because he decided to write the character that way just seemed stupid to me. You can scream at the character all you want, but to take it out on the writer for writing a valid viewpoint makes no sense to me.

I wouldn’t attack Sorkin for this, but he’s proven time and again that his characters aren’t really fully-developed characters. On The West Wing, somehow, he managed to make them fully rounded characters, but most of the time they still served as mouthpieces for his speeches. On The Newsroom, they’re just mouthpieces, so yes, when a character makes a sexist argument, after Sorkin has proven that all of his characters on The Newsroom are just there to spout his preachy political sermons, then yes, I’m going to attack Sorkin for sexism. Apparently, I’m far from being the only person who thinks… Read more »
Which now makes me wonder, like the other poster, why you watch his work then if he is so despised? It baffles me as well. I reviewed the series premiere of LOOKING last season and I didn’t enjoy it so I stopped watching. Though I write news about the show it is not a show I enjoy so I don’t watch it just so I can write a negative review about it. I guess it is lucky for you that there is only one more episode of THE NEWSROOM left. I am eager to see what your comments about that… Read more »

xD It’s not torturing myself, Jef. Come on, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of guilty pleasures.

I still watch it because, in the end, I like seeing the characters get their asses handed to them. Plus, every now and then, it’s possible to learn something.

I had no idea who Claudette Colvin or Giuseppe Zangara were before I watched second season, and now I do. May not make much of a difference, but if you enjoy chaos theory (which I do) it’s a handy fact to have in your head.

You are 100% right about this episode. I was glad when Maggie and Jim got together because it’s been an “issue” since the first dang episode; why not let it happen sooner, so we can see them mature (maybe) in their relationship? But no – Sorkin doesn’t like maturity for his characters. The Charlie we saw in “Oh Shenandoah” is COMPLETELY different than any other episode. He went from cursing Pruit out in the previous episode to basically licking Pruit’s boots and calling him “master.” WTH?! What happened to Charlie’s deserved outrage over this punk kid who thinks he knows… Read more »
What gets me is what I said… even though Charlie has had infinite proof that his way of doing the news isn’t foolproof, he still acts like Pruit is ruining ACN. Did you see the part where they revealed that since Pruit took over, ACN’s ratings have gone up and their demographic has improved? I mean… seriously… I’m supposed to hate Pruit when he’s the only one who’s actually doing his job? Don’t forget that Charlie is the one who helped try and blackmail Leona and her son. He’s not exactly an angel, and this season has taken him from… Read more »

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