Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Newsroom: “Main Justice”

Sam Waterston, Mary McCormack, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Derek Webster
Sam Waterston, Mary McCormack, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Derek Webster
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There’s an interesting line in the middle of “Main Justice”, the third episode of The Newsroom’s final season, in which Maggie accuses of Jim of living in the time of King Arthur with Don, Will, and Charlie. Jim scoffs but isn’t offended because in his mind this is great company to keep and it’s clear that on some level he feels honored to be included in this group of men who really understands the way the world works. What everyone else realizes is those men are dinosaurs with no idea how the world works now and who are stymied by the concepts of social networking and citizen journalists and new media. Jim eagerly joins the ranks of the dinosaurs and because of it he will be extinct just as quickly.

At least, that’s how things work in the real world. But this is Aaron Sorkin’s world and we’re just watching it, so instead of Jim’s bumbling through social interactions and refusing to adapt to the new age of journalism, he has evolved into Will McAvoy and will inevitably have quite a successful career in front of him, if only from the money he earns mansplaining to professional women. (That’s fee-based, right? I assume that’s why it’s so popular.)

Jim has devolved from a not particularly good character to a completely terrible one. This episode alone has him talking down his girlfriend for potentially taking a job at a web start-up (the horror) that offers bonuses for reaching certain click goals. Jim’s disbelief that such practice exists beggars belief on its own. He clearly graduated from journalism school sometime in the last ten years and web journalism and the search to make internet anything profitable shouldn’t be that foreign to him. The words he speaks throughout sound like they were manufactured by someone three times his age who doesn’t understand that to exist and compete in the web marketplace means monetizing exposure in a much more immediate way than waiting for Nielsen ratings to trickle in or pulling up subscriber rates. It’s also intensely unfair, as Hallie points out to him, to suggest that potential bonuses based on unique pageviews are any different than the bonuses built into the contracts of many professionals when it comes to performance goals, be it ratings or sales or quarterly growth.

Strangely though, having Jim level-up his powers of condescension and derision has led the show to improve overall. Where once Will reigned supreme as King Dick and lunged headfirst into any and every wrong-minded argument about the evolution of modern journalism, Jim now stands ready to fill the void. In exchange, McAvoy continues to meander around the edges of the show as a somewhat cowed and changed man. He’s forced to go to the Correspondent’s Dinner after making a bloviated speech denouncing it last year. He’s informed that the reason his wedding has a loser’s table is so his friends have somewhere to sit. (False. Will McAvoy has no friends.) He is bested at every insignificant turn, acts as peacemaker at most of the rest and still gets to be the Machiavellian martyr of a hero in a way far more believable than the show was capable of in its first two seasons.

Will was a lawyer, a good one at that, an his understanding of the justice system led him to create a sort of shelter for Neal that protected him (he thought) from bearing the full brunt of the government’s wrath. Much of this was based on Will’s belief that his significant public profile would be enough to keep the government at bay and when he was proven wrong at episode’s end it invoked many emotions simultaneously. The cynics may feel that this was inevitable, all the better to set Will up for ultimate victory over those who may try to defeat him. The purists may feel that McAvoy’s selfless acts of sacrifice are true to the flawed but good man they always understood him to be. And the rest may just feel that it was interesting to feel both regret that ACN was in such a precarious situation and the thrill of seeing McAvoy’s clever maneuvering end up to be not so clever in the end.

So while half of this episode dedicated itself to the crumbling aftermath of Neal’s actions the rest of the episode was essentially scenes from six different screwball comedies haphazardly stitched together in a messy and yet still entertaining episode. Take the beginning of the episode which featured Gary Cooper coming into the office wearing a fancy hat and singing “Anything Goes” to himself before ending with an abrupt “What the fuck is going on?” upon wandering into the government raid. Or the scene between Don and the new HR director (Keith Powell) which ends with Don carefully and daintily wiping his mouth after his last bite of salad and then spriting to Sloan’s office like a wayward Chuck Jones sketch. Or, perhaps the finest scene of the entire episode, when deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA Richard Westbrook (Paul Lieberstein) sat across from Will and doggedly repeated that the world was doomed and we were all going to die while the rest of the newsroom looked on. Which is to say nothing of the ridiculous of new potential ACN savior Lucas Pruitt (B.J. Novak) who was essentially a walking manifestation of all of Aaron Sorkin’s new media and very intently spoke to Charlie about starting a news network dedicated to people stalking Danny Glover.


All of these scenes were completely out of place. Sort of. Not really. All of these scenes should have been out of place but were completely of a piece with the rest of the heightened non-reality reality that The Newsroom presents every week. The show is funnier than it’s ever been and much of that seamless modulation has to be credited to season three showrunner Paul Lieberstein. It makes a strange amount of sense that the surreal comic beats of The Office would meld so well with The Newsroom and Lieberstein seems to have found a clever way to undercut the self-seriousness that plague so many Sorkin shows by utilizing goofy cartoonishness.

As the episode ends and we look into the endgame of The Newsroom as we know it, things are getting unspeakably grim for our scrappy team of underdogs. Will is being subpoenaed in two days time. Mac has four days to run the story that Neal procured or else the mole will release it wide on the internet. Neal is on the lam in Venezuela. ACN may be sold off to a borderline sociopath. Don and Sloan may be broken up by HR. And Maggie has a boyfriend so now Jim will never get to smooch her! Things are getting dire and there’s only three hours left. The clock is ticking. Let’s see some explosions.


Stray observations:

  • So Toofer from 30 Rock and Ryan and Toby from The Office walk into a newsroom…
  • Mac is back to obsessing about her wedding and heckling an FBI agent about not RSVPing. Phew.
  • There are so many web start-ups being sent up in this episode I’m finding it difficult to pinpoint which one exactly Hallie is being theoretically courted by. It’s called “Carnivore” so that feels very Daily Beast-y but the single word feels Gawker-y too. Thoughts?
  • I wish my writing specialty was the intersection of pop culture and the holocaust.
  • Do the ACN teleprompters use the Jeopardy font? That seems fun.
  • Confidential to Mac: If you wear a dress that lowcut you need to be very mindful of posture, lest your assets end up in the soup course.
  • Happily surprised to see Clea DuVall show up as Neal’s source. She’s such an underrated character actor.
  • At least Maggie knows how to power up the control room.