The Newsroom: “Contempt”

(Episode 3.04)

TV Reviews The Newsroom
The Newsroom: “Contempt”

It’s hard to decide what musical cue was more ingratiating in this week’s episode: the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” as a soundtrack to a big victory, or a treacly rendition of “Ave Maria” to accompany the big wedding between Mackenzie and Will. No matter which one you choose, you were likely eye-rolling your way through each scene.

This is doubly shameful when you consider that these were supposed to be the big moments in this episode. The former, when the news team did the right thing by making sure that—before they exposed the name of the writer whose fake news story was the cause of riots and the death of 38 people—the scribe and his family were out of harm’s way; the latter, the rare occasion when Aaron Sorkin allowed a relationship to appear at least marginally successful. Yet, as ever, they were undercut by dumb, overly dramatic music (see also: the use of Coldplay’s “Fix You” in Season One, the use of Don Henley’ “New York Minute” in The West Wing, etc., etc., ad infinitum).

The use of “Ave Maria,” though, at least felt like Sorkin was softening the blow for what was an otherwise downer of an episode. All signs are now pointing to him using this third and final season as one long jeremiad about the death of American journalism, be it via the work of sites like Gawker, Vulture, or The Daily Beast (all namechecked in negative terms tonight) or by new media gurus—like Lucas Pruit, the young man buying ACN—who want citizen journalism to help drive the news cycle.

And what’s the result? The network can’t run the big whistleblower story because Pruit doesn’t want to pay the legal fees necessary to defend it. That, and Will ends up going to jail because he won’t reveal the name of the source who fed Neal all the stolen documents. It was that last plot point that sent Will and Mackenzie rushing to the chapel at city hall to tie the knot. In part because it’s better protection for her, after she reveals to her now-husband that she’s been in contact with the source. Mostly though, it happened because it makes for a dramatic TV moment.

Actually, the most ingratiating aspect of this episode, and hell, this whole show, is that Sorkin very much acts like he’s framing this as a debate between old media and new media. We supposedly hear both sides of the argument, but the people speaking in favor of the “digital revolution” (as Hallie calls it at one point) are painted as opportunists and buffoons. Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite have left the opening credits and are now hovering over the proceedings, warning us of dark days ahead. There’s no debate being had here, just the screeds of someone who laments the end of the good old days.

And yet, look at my score for this episode. I can’t deny that the show is as entertaining as it is frustrating. I enjoyed seeing Sloan and Don squirm as it was revealed that HR’s investigation into their relationship was all in jest (“I work in HR,” the rep says. “Our days aren’t scored by the Hallelujah chorus.”). The scene with Mackenzie and the source had the right amount of tension and suspense, aided by its outdoor setting during a downpour. And watching Will stand his ground and refuse to give up the name of his source is the one lesson in journalistic ethics that holds true here. Sorkin’s got his hooks in me yet again, and he’s dragging me down with the ship. Don’t be surprised if you catch me smiling as I drown.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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