Aaron Sorkin

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The West Wing: An Oasis From Political Madness

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The worst kept secret with my affection of television is that I believe The West Wing is the greatest achievement in television history. I would gladly debate that point with anyone brave enough to try. That line in and of itself seems to be a microcosm for the political landscape we find ourselves in. Let’s be clear, the notion that I am right and you are wrong if you disagree with me in the slightest, is not a new idea when applied to political dialogue. For at least the last 50 years (maybe even longer) the two-party system has created a divisiveness among its electorate, suggesting that there is an absolute right and absolute wrong way to see things, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

At some point the narrative changed. From the ‘I believe this and give me a moment so I can explain that and see if you feel the same way’ that eventually gave way to the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong and until you agree with my stance, you’re an idiot’. We are going to try to use The West Wing as a vehicle to explore what the problem really is at its core while still maintaining some sense that we can always get better. And secondly, that the gold standard of modern scripted fictional television can provide the ideals of government that we should continue to strive for.

The nature of democracy, specifically our democracy is that we are never going to get there. We will never wake up with 100% of the country completely in agreement about everything. So the next most logical goal to reach for is to create a political landscape where we keep talking. Not to slam the other side. Not to create further division. Not to widen the gap but instead, to narrow it. When it comes to politics and the practical sense of the governing of a nation’s people, we should act like intellectuals, not school yard bullies. As articulated by Jeff Breckinridge (a Black Civil Rights Lawyer from Georgia) debating reparations with Josh Lyman (a White jewish man from New England) in the episode, “Six Meetings Before Lunch”.

Jeff Breckinridge: You got a dollar? Take it out. Look at the back. The seal, the pyramid, it’s unfinished. With the eye of God looking over it. And the words Annuit Coeptis. He, God, Favors our Undertaking. The seal is meant to be unfinished, because this country’s meant to be unfinished. We’re meant to keep doing better. We’re meant to keep discussing and debating and we’re meant to read books by great historical scholars and then talk about them.

Sadly, it seems, this 2016 Presidential Election campaigns have been worse than I’ve ever seen. I’ve been following the political process and Presidential Elections specifically since the first George Bush. Every year it seems the popular cliché is that this election is a “lesser of two evils” situation. It’s always been popular to say, but this year I’m afraid the sentiment is more accurate than in past years. For the first time I can remember, there are more people wishing there were other options than those set on who they will vote for. While choosing who to vote for is every American’s right, there is a great deal of vitriol being tossed around from both sides. When the very nature of our system is to keep talking, keep evolving the debate. As opposed to spewing hatred for ‘the other side’.

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the portion of this article where I divulge my political allegiance. Explain why my candidate is better than the other side. You are misunderstanding the point of this exercise. I have no intention of getting into the meat and potatoes of the political debate. The point to be had here is that neither side is right or wrong, but that the process was never intended to be this angry or combative. Something to consider the next time you get into a political discussion with someone who doesn’t share your view. In the “Game On” episode when President Bartlet faces off against Governor Ritchie of Florida many things are said, but one thing rings out stronger than all the others. A quote I think of every time I hear a politician or pundit drop the “partisan politics” line as a means to create animosity for the other side.

Jed Bartlet: I don’t think Americans are tired of partisan politics; I think they’re tired of hearing career politicians diss partisan politics to get a gig. Partisan politics is good. Partisan politics is what the founders had in mind. It guarantees that the minority opinion is heard, and as a lifelong possessor of minority opinions, I appreciate it.

Politicians will be politicians. In order to be one, the individual has to engage in a game of sorts. This plays out in every election cycle. One elected official cannot possible appeal to all voters. So, they play a numbers game. Using whatever resources at their disposal they will identify trends, tipping points, hot button issues and hopefully present themselves to fall on the winning side of those issues. For the politician, it’s about serving their best interest which generally means doing what is required to get re-elected. The day we discover a politician that is willing to fall on the grenade, throw away his lifestyle, security and career away for standing up for an issue they believe in is the day that politician decided to stop being a politician. My more pressing concern is that of the electorate. The people need not adopt the attitude and persona of the politicians they vote for. And that my friends is the crux of my issue.

I am sure it hasn’t always been this way. I remember watching my grandparents around election time. My Grandmother was a blind democrat. Put simply, she grew up the daughter of farmers and believed Democrats were for farmers. She really needed no other criteria. My Grandfather who did lean Democratic at times was much more open. He took the approach of “Show me what you’ve got, you have to earn my vote” and he would have no problem voting the other way. So by the time I was 10, they would not even speak to each other about politics. If the conversation had the potential of going south, they’d prefer not to talk about it, then vote however they were going to vote. That sense seems to be gone now. They both paid attention, both took in the debates of the issues of the day, but never dug in their heels to belittle or attack someone who disagreed.

Take a step back from the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Trump supporter, Clinton supporter, or even a steadfast Sanders or Johnson fan . Maybe it’s the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe it has something to do with how social media and technology have made the world smaller. I think the clear takeaway is that no matter who you think you’re going to vote for, it is a lesser situation. Despite popular belief, I do not think Trump’s attack on political correctness would fly 50 years ago. Similarly, I can’t imagine anyone 50 years ago voting for a candidate with real trustworthiness issues. I’m not going to so far as to call this a lesser of two evils, but it is less. Less than we should expect. Less than what came before them. We are not raising our expectations for our future President we are diminishing it. We are so used to looking at the landscape and thinking, “That’s the least crappy candidate. That’s my pick. The one I hate the least.” When did we decide this was good enough. Both parties want to believe they are rolling out Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. It may not be a choice of lesser of two evils, but there is no doubt the expectation has become lesser.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Idealistic as it may seem, we should expect more. For the moment, forget the issues. Forget the economy, forget foreign policy, forget education reform, forget national defense. We should expect more from the candidates. College educated shouldn’t be enough. Serving two terms as a Senator who took a vulnerable seat shouldn’t be enough. To be completely transparent about it, this aspect of the conversation isn’t left to Trump or Hilary. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but no President I’ve been legally of age to vote for fits that bill. Not Trump or Hillary. Not Obama, not George W, not Bill Clinton. Maybe George Herbert Walker Bush, maybe. Ask yourself if any President in the last 25 years even comes close to measuring up to what you once believed a President should be. The one thing that Herbert Walker on back had (Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, etc not even talking about the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Washingtons of our history) was gravitas. The moment they spoke there was a reverence. The idea that issues aside, we are in good hands. Intelligent hands. Hands of a leader in control. We can debate the subtle merits until we’re blue in the face, but the bottom line is that these candidates in today’s politics lack most of that. The sensibility of intelligence, leadership and gravitas.

Sam: Before I look for anything, I look for a mind at work. No one’s saying a President has to have a tenured share in symbiotics, but you have to have

Ainsley: What

Sam: Gravitas.

Ainsley: And how do you measure that?

Sam: You don’t. But you know it when you see it.

Political correctness made its way back into this discussion.  Again, with no intention of pumping up one or discrediting the other, this needs to be addressed.  When did we decide treating all people with the same level of reverence or respect was a bad thing?  Political Correctness is necessary.  It sets a guideline for acceptable language in scenarios that call for it.  Am I going to request political correctness when I’m watching Monday Night Football with the fellas? No, but I do think it has a place in dialogue by governmental leaders.  And when did we decide telling it like it is was anything other than excusable bad behavior?  To take that further, when did we decide we wanted average Joe’s in positions of power and leadership?  Despite what some said years ago, Joe the Plumber would make the worst public servant imaginable. To quote a completely different Sorkin show, “I’m a fan of credentials”.  I want my leaders to at the very least create the illusion that they are more educated than me, more cultured than me, more aware than me, more adjusted than me, and better at working with people and solving problems than me.  We all really, should want the best the country has to offer.  And being just another guy/girl, ‘being just like the rest of us’, or being plain-spoken are not good things to look for in the leader of the free world.  At the end of the day, if our leaders are just like the rest of us, then get everyone in the mix and work off shear numbers.  If the sample size was larger, maybe the cream would rise to the top.  Barring an asinine theory like that, give me the smartest, most qualified, engaged people this country has.  Or in other words, I want a heavyweight.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

I know that it flies in the face of what we’ve been programmed to believe, politically. We now live in a very divided America. Granted, I could suggest any number of topics from Black Lives Matter to the 2nd Amendment to Military Funding to the Economy. Chances are pretty good that anyone chosen is likely to fall any number of ways on those issues. As if we use the issues to define us. To say, I am different from you because of this. Why has that become the approach we take? Why is our default position to be combative? Black Lives Matter ALONE seems to have divided the nation in half. There is no middle ground. At least 20 years ago, two adults could discuss the issue of Abortion or Gay rights or Government spending and they could have that conversation with it never getting anywhere near the verbal violence such debates incite now. The fact of the matter is and has always been that what we are arguing about are slight. We all support free elections. We all believe that all of our citizens deserve certain rights. We all want our children to grow up in safe schools where education is a priority. We all want a strong America. We just disagree on some of the nuances of how to get there. A sentiment that is beautifully articulated by Sitting President Walken (played wonderfully by John Goodman).

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

This brings me to a point that is bound to rub some people the wrong way. The fact that any subject is given the distinction of being an ‘issue’ generally means it is important to enough people who it is worthy of the discussion. However, I have always seen ‘issues’ as rankable and not just some grocery list absent of order. Towards the top, we are always going to have ‘issues’ like the economy, education, taxes, citizen’s rights, foreign policy, right to choose, and military issues. Those and some others have always inhabited the top. In sports rankings we tend to refer to that as the top tier. Grouping certain things of like importance together.

It may not be an important first step, but it seems logical that certain issues should take a back seat. To cite specific instances from The West Wing (just for the fun of it), changing the name of North Dakota to just “Dakota”, Topography Equality, Legal protection against the burning of the American Flag, campaign finance reform, a ‘wolves-only’ highway, all should not be the thing that derails your opinion of a would be public servant. Now yes, some of that is done to make light of the point I’m trying to make. But I have run into many of the “Amy Gardner’s” or “Lt. Commander Jack Reese’s” of the world. Those who will weigh one thing that is particular or special to them allowing them to rationalize the derailing of bigger issues.

Yes, the amount of money set aside for Military spending would be important to someone like Lt. Commander Reese. But should that really be the deal breaker? Reese in the show cites military spending as the end all be all for why he planned to vote for Ritchie (Bartlet’s opponent in the re-elect). Similarly, Amy Gardner. Amy is actually one of only a handful of characters among the 250 some recurring characters on this show I admittedly ‘hate’. Mary Louise Parker is a very attractive woman, but politically speaking, I have a problem with anyone who has that one ‘deal breaker’ issue. In Gardner’s case the ONLY issue that existed was that of a pro-women’s issue agenda. Now that is an important and worthwhile issue to support. However, any deal breaker issue becomes a problem when it derails other positive legislation.

Referencing the show. Gardner does her level best to sink a bill that would provide revenue to the education system along with a few other very important causes because the language of the bill did not advance Gardner’s women’s issue enough. To some degree these deal breakers become weighted just as much as issues like the economy, education and foreign policy. Now I’m sure one could argue they are just as important. I would just politely argue that cannot possibly be true from an objective logical perspective.

Not all issues are equal in weight. That’s factual. How Donald Trump feels about Daylight Savings Time or how Hillary Clinton feels about Congressional Term Limits should not in any way come close to say the economic state of this country. Yet there are people who seem to put too much value in smaller issues. Maybe even issues that aren’t an urgent concern. We should be able to focus on the bigger issues and find ways to seek common ground there before tackling some smaller issues or even issues that really might not be urgent issues to begin with. A notion that was addressed shortly in an episode called, “20 Hours in LA”.

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

 

Let’s be perfectly clear, issues are and should be the driving determining factor for any voter. By no means am I suggesting that the issues important to me should overshadow what is important to you. What I am proposing is that we all accept that there are some macro issues that should always take priority. Consider your own financial/bills situation. There’s no one reading this I’m sure that is going to consider their Netflix bill as being more important than their mortgage. Yes after a long and stressful day at work, maybe knowing you can unwind and binge watch a little West Wing is monumentally important. But if you don’t have a home to watch it in, how important really is the Netflix subscription. Yes, I may be underselling the importance of secondary issues with that analogy, but the bigger point should be obvious.

While we’re considering the difference between big universally important issues and those that have a particular significance to an individual, can we also look to shed the combative nature of American Democratic politics? As has been mentioned previously in this article, “the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us”. Using that idea, it’s high time we take a step back and see the bigger picture. Like an artist painting from six inches away, sometimes taking a step back can re-calibrate our perspective.

At times, the electorate are divided among issues like foreign aid, military involvement, economic bailouts for suffering countries, base closings, support of allies and potential military presence in countries that may or may not appreciate our presence. These issues and questions can often be just as divisive as social issues like a woman’s right to choose or gay rights. At the end of each of those conversations, one very obvious question needs to be asked. Are we for Freedom or are we not? Because if we are for freedom, it can’t be limited to…well anything really. The very nature of the concept of freedom is devoid of limitations.

To say that we’re for freedom within our borders or as long as it doesn’t cost us anything is contradictory to the very notion of what freedom represents. So if you think pulling out of conflicting nations is strategically recommended, don’t think we should put troops in harm’s way, or take the approach that we need to completely fix 100% of our own problems before we put even a single resource on someone else’s soil, then you have a fundamental conflict with being the democracy we are. That is perfectly fine by the way, but call it what it is. When you can realistically identify that a person is against those things just mentioned, then that person needs to come to grips with the reality that they are not for an American Democracy.

The fact of the matter is that if America is the leader of the free world. If America represents what it is supposed to represent, then every one of its citizens has to be in support of Freedom. And not just conceptually. You have to be for Freedom everywhere and for everyone. Now that same Freedom that allows us to choose our own religion, where our kids go to school, what we do for a living, also has to extend to less admired Freedoms. Burning of the flag, saying whatever one wants, the freedom of assembly. Freedom only works if its free across the board. It must also extend to Freedom for all of its citizens even if you don’t agree with other citizen’s choices. It must extend to all religions, even those absent of any such a faith at all. It must extend do those who disagree with you. And yes, it must extend to those countries and peoples who are not quite there yet. Those countries that have yet to break free from the oppressive rule of a mightier and less Freedom loving power.

Never has such a sentiment been more adequately portrayed than in the episode “Inauguration Part II: Over There”. In this fictional masterpiece, one very obvious theme is that this particular President does not, will not put American lives in danger lightly. Often there have been points of conflict. The reluctance to put soldiers into the equation almost always is overshadowed by the greater good of the pursuit of Freedom. Which absolutely is a prime virtue of this American Democracy.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

As the episode progresses, it is clear that Jed Bartlet’s epiphany on whether the troops should be used to ensure those that want Freedom can pursue it, is not the end of this motif. While the President battles over to do it and risk lives vs not to and let tyranny prevail, his staff deals with a similar angle. Senior staff being what it is, is naturally concerned with the political fallout of the decision either way. Regardless of what side of the fence you may be on, Aaron Sorkin (as he does often in this series) provides a very simplistically beautiful way to see this issue. Sometimes, you just have to back up and see the whole picture. And sometimes that picture is very simple and lacks complexity.

C.J.: The guy across the street is beating up a pregnant woman. You don’t go over
and try and stop it?

TOBY: Guy across the street is beating up anybody, I like to think I go over and
try to stop it, but we’re not talking about the President going to Asia or the President
going to Rwanda or the President going to Qumar. We’re talking about the President
sending other people’s kids to do that.

C.J.: That’s always what we’re talking about, and in addition to being somebody’s
kids, they’re soldiers and sailors, and if we’re about freedom from tyranny,
then we’re about freedom from tyranny, and if we’re not, we should shut up.

TOBY: On Sunday, he’s taking an oath to ensure domestic tranquility.

C.J.: And to establish justice and promote the general welfare. Stand by while
atrocities are taking place, and you’re an accomplice.

TOBY: I’m not indifferent to that, but knuckleheaded self-destruction is never
going to burn itself out, you really want to send your kids across the street into the fire?

C.J.: Want to? No. Should I? Yes.

TOBY: Why? And don’t give me a lefty answer.

C.J.: A lefty answer is all I’ve got.

TOBY: Why are you sending your kids across the street?

C.J.: ‘Cause those are somebody’s kids, too.

Now while that may be a little lefty heavy, the sentiment remains. The very foundation of Freedom suggests that the pursuit is never over, especially when “Someone is getting beat up”. As a free nation of power and influence, we are inherently compelled to assist when Freedom or the pursuit of Freedom is threatened. An idea that is made clear yet again in the same episode. This time President Bartlet finds a way to promote Will Bailey to Deputy Communications Director and drive home the bigger point at the same time.

BARTLET: Will, I think some of these people don’t know who your dad is. Will’s the youngest son of Tom Bailey, who’s the only guy in the world with a better title than mine. He was Supreme Commander, NATO Allied Forces Europe. We didn’t know we were going
to do this. I would have asked you to invite him.

WILL: Well, you got quite a response from him watching on TV, sir. I think he’s going to reenlist.

BARTLET: Actually, I meant he could be here now when I tell you Toby’s asked me to
commission you as his deputy.

WILL: I’m sorry, sir?

BARTLET: Toby wants to make you deputy.

WILL: Pardon me?

BARTLET: I’m appointing you Deputy Communications Director. It covers a wide range
of areas of policy and execution and counsel to me.

WILL: To you… the President?

BARTLET: [to the gang] That’s what you want to hear from your new Communications–
WILL: I-I accept.

BARTLET: There’s a promise that I ask everyone who works here to make. Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

WILL: It’s the only thing that ever has.

BARTLET: …and affixed with the Seal of the Unites States. And it is done so on this day and in this place. Congratulations.

BARTLET: [holding a piece of paper in his hand] You know, it’s easy to watch the news
and think of Khundunese as either hapless victims or crazed butchers, and it turns
out that’s not true. I got this intelligence summary this afternoon. “Mothers are standing
in front of tanks.” And we’re going to go get their backs. An hour ago, I ordered
Fitzwallace to have UCOMM deploy a brigade of the 82nd Airborne, the 101st Air Assault,
and a Marine Expeditionary Unit to Khundu to stop the violence. The 101st are the Screaming Eagles. The Marines are with the 22nd M.E.U., trained at Camp Lejuene, some of them
very recently. I’m sorry, everyone, but this is a work night.

The final point I’d like to drive home and reinforce with context from the West Wing is the nature of how we view politics in this country. The founding fathers of this country and the framers of the Constitution had a few things at the forefront of the construction of this country’s government. 1) Most decisions structurally were made in a reactionary manner to reject anything adopted from the British model (let that marinate for a moment-might alter the way you see ‘how this country was made) 2) Freedom of its citizen’s will be paramount to almost anything else. 3) The party system wasn’t instituted to divide the country but to allow the electorate the opportunity to be heard, view or debate the minority idea. Yet in 2016 within this American Democracy, we have grown not only divisive but almost angry and combative. The divisions are stark and clear. With the addition of the 24 hour news cycle and social media making the world smaller, we have taken a structure meant to encourage debate and the sharing of ideas and have replaced it with emotion filled, borderline verbally abusive tactics to convey that I am right and you are wrong.

Cable news might be the worst contributor to this notion. Any number of networks claiming to be fair and balanced or always in pursuit of the truth, when in fact, those ideas are conceptually false. Fox News is not fair and balanced as they admittedly support a strict adherence to the Conservative agenda. CNN is not the most trusted name in news either as they can’t be completely trusted if they are slanting left consistently. Ever want to have a great bit of fun during an election? Watch the cable news coverage of that election based on who is losing. Watching those anchors and analysts fidgeting in their chairs as if they are actually watching the end of the world is entertaining no matter who you are. So instead of shaping our news coverage based on a model that would more likely mirror the sense of the founding fathers encouraging debate and the explanation of perspective…our news media takes sides.

Now the influence of news media may not mean a great deal to each individual’s decision. It is fair to assume that most of the electorate can read between the lines. However, the presentation of this ‘sharing of ideas’ (if we can even call it that anymore) has illustrated just how far we’ve fallen. For me it started with the McLaughlin Group back in the 1980s and it continued from there from everything from Meet the Press to Face the Nation to each and every hosted program on cable news. Go watch Anderson Cooper or Bill O’Reilly (no spin zone, that’s funny) without noticing one person disrespectfully talking over the other. From a tv production standpoint, what we see now unconditionally assists more than anything else into this condition we find ourselves in. My beliefs are what’s right in the world while your beliefs (if they differ at all from mine) are stupid and therefore what’s wrong with the world. The day I hear a cable news anchor/host say, “That is a fair point, no allow me to counter.” is the day I will get off this news soapbox.

The 24-hour news cycle, social media, advances in technology and a society that is often fearful that the world is getting progressively worse and worse with each passing year all contribute to an angrier electorate. Now while I’ve heard “worst election ever” each and every election I’ve witnessed since George Herbert Walker Bush, I do believe that this 2016 election is actually the worst. Now, again, I am not referring to the candidates themselves. Granted, I could make that argument as well, but that isn’t the focus of this piece. The shear vitriol that the voters seem to be throwing at each other is the bigger issue. I am a dog person. However, I can absolutely understand and grant the notion that there are people who would prefer to be cat people. Not my choice, but cat people are not lesser people. They are not heathens for preferring cats. They are not sub-human for not wanting to choose dogs over cats. While the analogy is simplistic is it really that unrealistic? Of course not. It only seems ridiculous because of how we approach political conversations amongst ourselves. We have conditioned ourselves somewhere in the last 25-50 years that those that disagree with us are stupid and a detriment to this country as opposed to viewing the conversation as an opportunity to evaluate all perspectives.

The perspective extends further than conversations at the work coffee machine or the danish cart. It is apparent that the voters are not the only ones taking an adversarial view. The very leaders we elect also subscribe to this idea of Party over Country. At every step we should be asking “is this best for the country” and the sad thing is that question is never asked in all honesty. The question generally comes down to “is this best for the party”? The two-party system has become a contact sport. Democrat vs Republican and there needs to be one clear winner and one clear loser. Thus, is our problem.

I will give one very hot bed example. Apologies in advance, this is not the political portion of this piece either just a random issue that is very divisive and should identify the point. The slight alteration to the second amendment to hopefully decrease the number of mass shootings and violent crimes or refusing to even talk about the second amendment because no one wants to make any sort of legislative compromise even if it means saving American lives. Now I’m not saying that gun control will eliminate violent crimes. I am also not saying that to fix the problem we must remove 100% of guns. However, the bigger point to be made is that even an issue such as gun control that has very clearly drawn lines of support vs opposition should still create some level of compromising discussion. However, I dare you to bring that up in a public forum and count the seconds that pass before people resort to name calling and profanity.

We have become angry and party-centric. The two-party system wasn’t created to inspire adversaries. It was created to appropriate all perspectives into the dialogue. Yet, the government and the people who vote them in all seem to be on the same page. It’s almost brand loyalty at this point. If party A is not the winner, then they must be the loser. That’s where the concept needs to change. We all, from voters to The President need to all get on board with the idea that we collectively should be making decisions that benefit all and not just those that belong to one party over the other. The West Wing has been a beacon for what we should strive for, not what we currently are. And yes, I know, some of what is seen in this series is unrealistic and ideological. However, a great deal of it is not that far-fetched and should be the inspiration for what we hope to be.

Both sides should see ways to identify with the other. We should be able to shed the party-centric mentality and give credit where credit is due. Not everything needs to be an opportunity to advance one party past the other. Never should ‘beating the other side’ be a motivating factor, but it often is. We should in every way, every conversation be trying to advance the country not the party. Anything less than that is irresponsible.

AINSLEY: Well, it President Bartlet, I’m on the government payroll. And I believe that politics should stop at the water’s edge. To be honest with you, I think it should stop well before that but it turns out there’s no Santa Claus and Elvis isn’t cutting records anymore. See, I don’t think you think the treaty’s bad, I don’t think you think it’s good, I think you want to beat the White House.

KEENE: Yeah.

AINSLEY: You’re a schmuck, Peter. Today, tomorrow, next year, next term, these guys’ll  have the treaty ratified and they’ll do it without the reservations he just offered to discuss
with you.

Every now and then, there is a moment where the above is not the sentiment shared. Go to any travesty, any devastation that befalls this country because it befalls all of it equally. 9/11, mass shootings (at least before they became so frequent that we are almost desensitized to it), or any natural disaster. Americans come together. Without hesitation or qualification. Why does it take tragedy to bring out the inner American in most Americans? Well, the artistry in some of what Sorkin creates is Art imitating Life almost literally. We won’t even mention how the young, engaging minority democrat wins in a Presidential election over the old white republican Congressional stalwart and go straight to a story line commonly referred to “The 25th”.

In “the 25th” we discover the President’s youngest daughter has been kidnapped. The President is so beside himself over the issue at hand that he acknowledges that he is unable to preside over the country objectively. He does what he must and invokes the 25th Amendment turning over the office of the President to the next person in the line of succession. In this case, that would involve turning over his office to the highest ranking official on the other team. Yet, Sorkin again finds another way to articulate the approach we should have and not the current approach we cling to.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

The West Wing on its own, in a vacuum is the greatest achievement in television history. Beyond that simple idea it continues to breed more than that. New information presents itself with each viewing. It may have you question your convictions or maybe it will solidify them. It is more than a show. I could go on and on about the genius of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s not what this is about. Ask me later, I have no hesitation in discussing the West Wing on any level relating it to any topic, but for another time I guess. Beyond the obvious form of entertainment which it swings for the fences at every turn, it is the ideology of what we as Americans engaged in the political process should constantly strive for. Even the show is not perfect. It is not a documentary about political utopia. But it does consistently show how people of differing perspectives can come together for the greater good. Or put in other words, “The West Wing can serve as an oasis from our own political madness” or at least the current level of political madness of the 2016 Presidential Election seems to be.

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros Television

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

All West Wing fans in particular were saddened to hear the news of the passing of actor Roger Rees. A Welsh actor of both stage and screen died late last night of what has been only described as ‘died from a brief illness’. His television and movie acting credits reach into the 90’s and are widely considered secondary to his stage resume. Most recently seen performing in the Broadway musical “The Visit”, which a number of sources claim he was forced to leave mid run due to the illness that would take his life. Depending on your age and exposure, there are any number of roles you may be familiar with spanning the spectrum. From Cheers to The West Wing. Boston Common to Robin Hood: Men In Tights. He was a skilled actor whose mark on acting will be sorely missed for anyone who had the opportunity to witness it.

Today in reverence of his passing, we will focus on a few episodes of his short, but unforgettable run on what I believe to be the greatest television show ever produced. The West Wing. Amidst the very American portrayal of life, relationships and conflict resolution inside the offices of the United States White House, a story line develops that introduces us to the very layered character known as Lord John Marbury. His full title is Lord John Marbury, the hereditary Earl of Selborne, Earl of Croy, Marquess of Needham and Dolby, Baronet of Brycey and England’s Ambassador to the United States. That last part comes later. In the wake of a fictional ‘skirmish’ between India, China, and Pakistan over the controlling stake of Kashmir, President Bartlet extends an invitation to what he describes to his Chief of Staff as “an Indian expert”. His Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry knows almost immediately to whom he speaks. And is not in the slightest bit enthusiastic about such an invitation.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Upon his arrival, Lord John Marbury is visibly drunk and has no problem suggesting as much when he describes the flight over as “intoxicating”. This is the first sense of Lord John Marbury’s overall demeanor. It’s also the image the Leo keeps in the front of his mind whenever Lord Marbury’s name is mentioned. However, it is in no way the beginning and the end of this character. While Marbury seems to be at the very least a connoisseur of Scotch, he is also a very educated man with serious opinions about serious issues. The Indian conflict only being the very first one.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

During the concern over the Indian/Kashmir issue Marbury makes it abundantly clear that this is a conflict of religion and the United States government need only blame themselves (or Congress specifically) for being as uninformed of the nuances of the conflict as well as permitting these nations to move towards a nuclear standoff. In the West Wing, this is the first time an outsider is introduced into the President’s small circle of advisers. As if that were not contrasting enough, the character of Lord John Marbury is literally a walking and talking contrast to virtually every other character involved. This is a tightrope that only a well skilled thespian can deliver. And deliver, Roger Rees does.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

To suggest that Roger Rees effectively portrays the British Ambassador would vastly diminish his performances. Rees literally steals every single scene he’s in. Whether we are referencing his humorously condescending turned term of endearment, “GERALD” or delivering a very eloquent position on an issue of global importance, he always steals the scene. All the way down to something as simple as his response to “Can I call you John?” The West Wing has a cast absolutely saturated with top flight acting talent of the time. I still maintain that it is the only show in history that can boast over 100 cast members of note. Probably none of which except Roger Rees that could have pulled off the performance of Lord John Marbury.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As a relative contrast from his first appearance in the aptly titled episode “Lord John Marbury” to the more adamant episode titled “Dead Irish Writers”, we begin to peel back the layers. As if it were a running gag in the writers room, Marbury repeats many many times, “Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House”. As the episode progresses we see the subtlety that few actors possess. The ability to slowly, snails crawl slowly, transition from forcefully committing to the statement as if it were his own strong conviction to the eventuality that his own actual opinion is quite the contrary. Now this transition almost literally spans the length of the episode. At the conclusion of which, Marbury makes it clear that the United States must invite Mr. McGann in an effort to resolve tension. Even if it is the English government’s firm stance to not associate with a man responsible for death and destruction brought through terrorist acts against England as well as Ireland.

Marbury: A terrorist is a terrorist even if he sings, Danny Boy. Brendan McGann cannot visit the White House.

vs.

Toby:Then what can we do but talk to him?

Marbury: Nothing. You must talk to him.

Toby: What?

Marbury: Toby, despite appearances, I do have lucid moments, and I know that England is… running out of turns in this particular… but as, uh, Ambassador to Her Majesty’s Government, I must tell you that…

Toby: Brendan McGann cannot come to the White House.

Marbury: Yes.

Toby: Understood, Mr. Ambassador.

During season 2 in an episode called, “The Drop In”, there is a very simple matter the ceremonious duty of naming Lord John Marbury to the post of England’s Ambassador to the United States. So simple that Marbury gets pushed back later in the day due to so many such ceremonies being performed in a single day. This opens the door for Chief of Staff Leo McGarry to try an solicit support for a missile defense shield program from his greatest adversary, the about to be newly commissioned British Ambassador John Marbury. Support McGarry will not get.
Leo: And you’re an expert in the field. And I hope I can count on your support.

Marbury: You may hope for it but you’ll not have it.

Leo: Why not?

Marbury: Because the NMD is an absurdly wasteful military boondoggle that will never produce a working missile. It violates any number of elements of the ABM treaty. And any argument you make in its defense will surely be moronic.

There are a number of characters throughout this series who display a desire to beat the other side for the sake of winning. Admitting up front and with no hesitation that the issue or legislation in question has nothing to do with what’s best for the American people. That the goal here is to win. Or more specifically beat the White House. This is not the case for Marbury. He is not out to beat Leo. However, his convictions, knowledge of the issue at hand, and overall understanding of how the world works puts him in a unique situation to battle with Leo and often effectively articulate his side of the debate. Often still, converting those around him to that side of the debate.

The character of Lord John Marbury is more specific and in need of being delivered in just the right way that not just anyone would be capable of delivering it successfully. While we have only looked at three different scenes found in the first half of the series, Roger Rees’ contributions to the series were almost immeasurable. The show in total is so completely magnificent that calling Lord John Marbury the flower amidst the desert would be disrespectful to the rest of the product. Like so many characters in this show, his contribution is impressive. To even suggest the concept of the show without his performance would downgrade the product overall. As it would the performances of John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Allison Janney and many more too numerous to mention.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The West Wing is a phenomenal production in television history for two very significant reasons. The first of which that never seems to go unnoticed is the level of writing that the fans of the show herald as the genius of Aaron Sorkin. The second is the contributions or the interpretation of said writing brought to life by the actors. I cannot speak to whether the character of Lord John Marbury was created from the beginning or if he was created along the way as the story line evolved. What is certain, is that Roger Rees brought Lord John Marbury to life. Each and every moment Rees is on scene, he brings that character to life. Arguably the most colorful and entertaining cast member of maybe the most decorated and lauded cast ever assembled.

It’s important to acknowledge that Rees’ contributions to art of acting by no way is limited to five episodes on an American television show. However, his work therein seems to exemplify the actor that he was. Whether you were introduced to him early or late, stage or screen, Roger Rees brought a certain commanding quality to his craft that not everyone brings. There is a difference between doing the job and excelling at the job. At this point, it goes without saying that Roger Rees excelled at the craft of acting. In today’s age of instant streaming, DVRs, and on-demand libraries, I would strongly recommend you look into the contributions of one “Roger Rees”. Personally, I would suggest starting with The West Wing, but clearly that would be biased on some level.

Roger Rees, who died doing what he loved, passing at the age of 71. He and his contributions will be genuinely missed.

Courtesy of Twitter

Courtesy of Twitter

Courtesy of HBO

Courtesy of HBO

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Here we find ourselves on the doorsteps of a series finale we all hoped we could delay. The Newsroom has been every bit the Sorkin gem we’d hoped it would be. Even at its most unimpressive moment, The Newsroom still stands head and shoulders above 90% of what television has had to offer during it’s run. Jeff Daniels has been amazing. Sam Waterston has been career defining good. Each and every character has found a way to pull us in.

Thinking back to the pilot episode, there was about a 50/50 split. There were characters I liked immediately and ones that took time to grow on me. Reese Lansing, Don Keefer, and even Maggie Jordan. As we look back before the series finale, even the people I did not care for, have found a way into the proverbial heart. An ability that very few writers have, Aaron Sorkin accomplishes with resounding results.

Tonight is the last episode of the journey in the ‘mission to civilize’. The swan song for raising the collective expectation for what delivering the news should mean. The swan song for that dying breed of the honorable newsman. One last hurrah for us the viewer to experience something fictional, seldom found in day-to-day non-fiction.

Mack: Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spot; a place where we all come together.

I don’t mean to belabor the point here. The Newsroom took us on a journey of what could and quite frankly, should be the way things are done. We live in a place where ratings and appealing to the lowest common denominator is a blueprint for success. Whether it’s news or reality television, we are satisfied with the sound bite or deplorable. Not because it’s accurate or important. Because the requisite amount of people would tune in to watch this unimportant thing. And that number of viewers sells enough soda or car insurance or toys. The Newsroom, beyond the show, was a metaphor for where we are versus where we came from. At least within the construct of television news.

As recently as today, I saw on social media someone posted a link to the video of Will McAvoy’s first speech about “Why is America the Best Country in the World”. This person had no idea that this was from a television show currently running. And that becomes the bigger issue at hand. This is a remarkable show created by a remarkable writer. And that would be enough. This show like a few Sorkin shows before it will prove to measure beyond the scope of entertainment. This show vividly shows us a great many things about ourselves, good, bad or otherwise.

Everything Aaron Sorkin does has tremendous merit. Every mainstream project he’s ever completed increases in value. Like a great artist, his work is normally not truly appreciated until it is too late. I could have easily watched The Newsroom into a 6th season before even considering when it should end. So today is a bittersweet day for me and I imagine anyone who is a fan of The Newsroom or Aaron Sorkin. At the conclusion of tonight’s episode some will reflect and move on to whatever is next on their DVRs. The rest of us will wallow in re-runs of The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sports Night, A Few Good Men, American President or whatever Aaron Sorkin works they may have at their disposal. Without any further delay, let us look forward and see exactly how this story ends.

We begin the series finale exactly where we should. At Charlie Skinner’s funeral. Everyone is present. All those we expect and some we might not have. Everyone except Mackenzie, because she’s outside having a very cryptic phone conversation. She quietly sneaks back into the funeral service. She attempts to whisper something to Will, who if famous masculine fashion misses it the first time. Mack tries again and only two phrases (under the circumstances) are required. “My Doctor” and “blood test”. A natural and convincing smile grows on Will’s face.

We immediately follow-up that great news with a three-year flashback that starts with Will yelling for ‘Ellen’. Those viewers who go back to the beginning know what this is. This is the Show Runners for The Newsroom taking a moment to show us exactly how detached Will McAvoy was. Not knowing Maggie’s name. Not knowing what Neal even does. Strong arming his executive producer. And Charlie Skinner watching the broadcast moments before the decision not to right the ship, but to rebuild the ship.

During this flashback we get something I thought we’d never see again as of last week. Charlie Skinner in a benevolent manner giving it Will regardless of how Will feels about that. He beats around the bush asking if Will ever plans on kids. Will gives some reply about being afraid to pass down some of his father’s demons and questioning if it’s worth it in the long run. Charlie then redirects the conversation back to the current state of the show. He is going news segment by news segment, pointing out deficiencies and missed opportunities on Will’s part. Trying to get passed the ratings and to begin talking about content. Charlie walks us all the way up the line in the sand. He even asks bluntly, “what are we doing?” Then just before concluding the flashback, Charlie leans back in his seat and says, “Being a father…it lives up to the hype.” The flashback washes away to reveal a truly joyous Will McAvoy smile.

When the funeral service concludes, Will and Mack struggle to get passed the lines and into open space. Will then, in first time Dad form, pulls Mack aside to ask 20 questions. We, in this moment, run down a relative checklist. Then in typical Will fashion he declares that the next 7 months will go smoothly because he is in charge of morale.

Will: Do we know if it’s a boy or a girl?
Mack: Yes. It will likely be one of those two.

Leona Lansing wants Mack to ride with her to the cemetery. She then ‘invites’ Pruitt to join them. Pruitt is clearly still ticked about the interview prior to Charlie’s heart attack. In a different limo, Maggie hold Jim’s hand in silence. Jim breaks out the ‘nice service’ line before Maggie interrupts him. Maggie was recommended for a promotion to ‘Field Producer, Washington DC’. An interview she would not likely be in line for, had Jim not recommended her.

In the Lansing limo, Leona outlines Pruitt’s problem. Pruitt owns a company that is not worth explaining. Multiple news stories have surfaced with allegations that Pruitt pays the woman of this company less. Less even that the national average. This then sparks an impromptu debate over the subject of unfair pay, conceptually. Mack gives her piece even though she doesn’t know why she was invited. Leona then informs Pruitt that today, she will help him out.

In yet another limo we find Will, Don and Sloan. Don and Sloan are almost having a non-verbal, eyes are screaming at each other conversation. Then Sloan speaks up. They think it’s important that Will know exactly what happened leading up to Charlie’s heart attack. It sounds exactly like you’d think it would. Sloan speaking a mile a minute and Will just taking it in. Then there will be a portion of the story that Don tells, which should alleviate any fault away from Sloan and onto Don.

New flashback takes us to Charlie and Mackenzie’s first meeting. At 11:30am on a Monday in a dark bowling alley. She is bad at bowling and it is apparent that she has been drinking. The two of them sit down and before you know it, she’s explaining the lack of career options she has. Then Charlie suggests that had she not been drinking and her head was clear, she might ask why Charlie was there (she is aware of who Charlie Skinner is).

Mack: …Hang on…YEAH. That’s for sure what I would have done.
Charlie: I want you to take over News Night.
(Mack stares blankly then leans back in confusion)

The flashback continues with Sloan Sabbath talking to Don and ripping Will’s interview pertaining to a news story that is right in Sloan’s area of expertise. Don let’s her rant and then fires back. Pointing out that she only talks about one subject for one hour. Don and his host are responsible for much more than that. He then goes on to explain how nothing she’s said makes any sense to even an informed person so maybe she should work on her job instead of ripping them for doing theirs. To look in her eyes, that might have been the moment that opened the door for their eventual relationship.

After trying to process what Charlie has just said, Mack begins to break down why it can’t work. She gives up the previous ‘romantic’ relationship. A relationship that has long since ended. She cites reason after reason and each time she does, Charlie agrees with her. Charlie points out that when the two of them worked together, they really put something special together. She keeps resisting based on her relationship with Will, or lack thereof. Charlie is pursuing her because of that very relationship.

Mack: Don’s a smart guy and from what I hear a good EP, what makes you think I have better luck than Don making your car go fast?
Charlie: Because Will doesn’t care about impressing Don.
Mack: You’re not offering me the job in spite of my history with Will, you’re offering it to me because of it.
Charlie: I’m offering it to you because you’re my best hope of turning our flagship news hour into something we can be proud of.
Mack: He hasn’t returned any of my phone calls or emails or letters in…years. I don’t think he’s all that interested in what I think of him.
Charlie: That may be the only thing he’s interested in. (Charlie stands up) An offer’s on the table, Midterms are in six months, and another Presidential campaign in two years. Take the offer and you’ll have a chance to frame the debate. Or pass, but then you never get to complain about the news again.

The very next shot is Mack walking up to will call at a venue to pick up her ticket to the debate at Northwestern. We even find Jenna (the student who Will will eventually rip on stage, and who will eventually work for Will) outside getting her ticket as well. While they wait in line, Mack notices Jenna writing something down. She’s curious so she asks if the lady will ask a question to the panel? This is where Mackenzie gets the question that Will is destined to obliterate and he does so because Mackenzie provides him with the answer while he thinks of a way to sidestep the question.

Back in real-time Pruitt tries to spin to Leona what he and his PR Firm are going to do about his perceived problem with women. Pruitt believes he has all the steps in place to make this go away. Leona leans in and suggests that Pruitt has a PR problem because he has an actual problem.

The part of the story Don was going to tell Will that would take the pressure off of Sloan was the college girl who created the website for those victims of sexual assault on campus. As Don tells it, it was a bad story that Pruitt wanted. Pinning victim vs accused in studio live. It would have been Jerry Springer on network news. Don explains how this was a standoff between Don and Charlie and Charlie lost. Then Will asks if they should go bury Charlie now or if Don and Sloan believe they’ve already done that.

Back in the past Charlie views the Northwestern speech via YouTube like the rest of the planet. Then we find Will (on vacation) explaining to a bartender who honestly could not care any less that the ‘lady in the crowd’ that provided an answer to the question like a producer would, was a hallucination. The bartender’s phone rings. He asks if his patron is Mr. McAvoy and hands him the phone. It’s Leona. Will apologizes for the embarrassment, but Leona doesn’t care.

Leona: You’ve made a career out of being likable.
Will: I’d like to make a career out of doing the news.
(a long pause)
Will: Leona…?
Leona: Who’s stopping you? (she hangs up before he can respond)

Sloan shows up again a Don’s office (still 3 years ago). She is there to adequately explain what she tried and failed to do before. She explains it in a way that most people should understand. Don follows it wonderfully. Right as she begins to bring her explanation to a close, he cuts her off. Admits that he is no longer the EP of News Night. He then goes further by admitting that Will doesn’t like to come off as rude on camera. Finally a step even further, admits that Will blew the interview. That everyone concerned would have been better off if they let Sloan keep the interview. We’ll call this moment #2 that opened the door to their eventual relationship.

Here’s a fun fact, Jim Harper is impressively good at playing the guitar. I did not know that. Mackenzie shows up at Jim’s apartment. He’s recently broken with a long distance girlfriend and he’s been drinking. Mack lays it out rather quickly and he is resistant. Then Mack pulls out the book Charlie sent her as a metaphor of his intentions. The book was Don Quixote, which as we know plays a relevant part in a future episode. So, Charlie really did orchestrate this in the most literal terms.

Will is outside Charlie’s wake talking to three female staffers and one male. He says that it is “suddenly” important that he monitor his health. That’s when he realizes he’s smoking a cigarette and puts it out immediately. Then removes all the others from the pack. The Martin asks why ‘suddenly’? Will deflects. Then Tess figures it out. Then Kendra and so on. Martin still has no clue. Fearing he’s violated some spousal trust, he immediately backpedals and insists they are forget the conversation ever happened.

Maggie is getting mixed signals or misinterpreting signals that aren’t present in regards to Jim recommending her to DC. I was really starting to come around to new and improved Maggie Jordan. If she messes this up, I’m going to be significantly upset with her.

Leona’s angle to help Pruitt continues but with marginal clarity. Pruitt explains what happened with the Bree interview and asks how can he not fire Mack and Sloan. Then Leona transitions back to Charlie. She explains that he wants a news director he will fight with. He also doesn’t want the ACN he thinks he wants. He wants the fight, because the fight means both sides are doing their jobs. It feels like Leona is leaning towards a recommendation for Charlie’s replacement that Pruitt probably won’t like at first glance.

At ACN the ‘digital team’ are working. And by working I mean not working and ripping movies for the fun of it. The one of the ‘digital team’ computers suffers an error. Then another. They frantically scurry to find the problem. One guy suggests they got hacked. Then Bree says, “this wasn’t a hacker, somebody just walked in”.

Neal: I shut it down from my phone.
Bree: Are you Neal?
Neal: Yeah.
Bree: Welcome back man…
Neal: The nine most overrated movies of all time?
Bree: We thought it’d be fun.
Neal: For who?
Bree: For movie fans…?
Neal: I see you went all the way back to the Matrix. 1999. All time and 14 years are two completely different units of measurement, but my question is why is overrated more fun than overrated? You embarrass me.
Bree: I what?
Neal: It took me a long time to build ACN Digital. I was laughed at by the people in this newsroom. People I respect did not respect what I did around here, but I built this into a tool. I gathered, expanded upon and disseminated it into information that is useful. I kept telling my colleagues and my bosses that the internet is user sensitive just like most things. And I watched from a thousand miles away while you proved that. You embarrass me.
(Neal turns slightly to the other guy)
Neal: Build a page that says the site is down for repair.
Guy#2: For an hour?
Neal: For a week. We’re going to rebuild the whole thing.

Mackenzie finds Will staring blankly from the middle a young boys room. Then he demands that they finish the renovations on the apartment so they can sell it, buy a house, with a pile of leaves in the front yard and a flat street for riding a bicycle on.

Charlie’s widow escorts Don into Charlie’s home office. Don interrupts. He quickly blurts out that he may have contributed to Charlie’s heart attack. He begins to outline the circumstance, she cuts him off and explains that Charlie didn’t want the story. Charlie was banking on Don fighting him over it. Her words of what Charlie thought of Don are moving. Don’s non-verbal reactions are that of a figurative son unaware of his figurative father’s affection. Which is made more poignant when you remember that Charlie needed to be restrained from Don in the pilot episode. Mrs. Skinner passes Don a large manila envelope. She wanted Don to have Charlie’s yellow bow tie.

Will makes his way to the garage where Beau is strumming a cello. Earlier, Charlie told a story of his grandson Beau and that he was a musical savant. There was a story about a song called ‘How I Got to Memphis’. Memphis being a metaphor for wherever you are. Will starts to play the song and sing the lyrics. Beau joins in with the cello. Jim comes around the corner. He picks up another guitar and begins to play as well. They are joined by spectators, Gary and Tess. And more join them. There is a large crowd that gives a large ovation. When the crowd dissipates, Will looks to Beau. Acknowledges that he knows that Beau would confide in Charlie. Will makes an offer to do the same, if he’d like.

Mackenzie approaches Will and asks if he told anyone. Memo to new mothers who give the news to the new father. You need to specify that we aren’t supposed to say anything. Otherwise we will out of excitement. His scolding is preempted by Pruitt. He would like a word. It is a short conversation and before they depart for the car, Mack asks one last time if Will would like to say anything on Charlie’s behalf. A running line throughout the episode.

Will: Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me everybody. I just want to say…I’ve been trying to piece together what happened last Monday night. People keep giving me their accounts, seems everyone feels responsible for Charlie dying and of course ridiculous. It was Sloan. Charlie Skinner was crazy. He identified with Don Quixote. An old man with dementia who thought he could save the world from an epidemic of incivility simply by acting like a nut. His religion was decency. He spent a lifetime fighting its enemies. I wish he could be here. To learn the name of his successor, like I just did. Our new boss. The new President of ACN is Mackenzie McHale. (Long pause) So this fight is just getting started. Because he taught us to be crazy too. You were a man Charlie. A great big man.

Back at the studio, Mack offers the EP job to Jim. He hesitates as he believes it should go to Don. Don turned it down in favor of building something at ten o’clock. Jim accepts. Jim immediately finds Maggie and tells her to cancel the interview in DC. As Executive Producer of News Night, he is promoting her to senior producer. As excited as she is, she informs him that she will still interview for DC because it is what she wants. Jim replies with a lovely confession. That he doesn’t care how many states away it is, this is something more. Maggie agrees. They agree to travel arrangements that would suggest a real effort to make a long distance relationship work.

Maggie: Have you been in many long distance relationships?
Jim: Yes.
Maggie: Did any of them work?
Jim. No.
Maggie: Why is this going to be different?
Jim: I wasn’t in love with them.
Maggie: Wait…what?

Sloan is clearly having a hard time processing Charlie’s death. Don walks towards her and picks up a large manila envelope and says, “Nancy wanted me to give you something.” Don gave Sloan the bow tie that Nancy gave to Don.

Mack is pushing back slightly on the promotion to News Director. Citing that it’s only the articles uncovering Pruitt for being gender biased that he would give a woman such a promotion. Will’s point is why does it matter? She’ll get to do the job.

The remainder of the episode is a cleverly shot slow crawl of each of the major contributors to the show. From Will to Mack, Jim, Don, Maggie, Sloan, Neal, the graphics guys, etc. It is slow and lacking any audio polish. This is these people doing the job they were all brought along to do. Journalism was supposed to be a calling. These men and women are simply answering the call. And there is a swelling of pride that comes with the privilege to do just that. Close up of Will at the News Night desk just as the lights come up. Will looks directly in the camera and says…”Good evening.”

Courtesy of HBO

Courtesy of HBO

. . .

“You know what kiddo, in the old days. About ten minutes ago, we did the news well. You know how? We just decided to.” -Charlie Skinner

 

Courtesy of HBO

Courtesy of HBO

Warning: Spoiler Alert (and Adult Language)

I cannot express how excited I am for this third and final season of The Newsroom. Season two was different to say the least, but there are a series of questions still unanswered. There is also a great deal of drama and conflict about to befall ACN. And all of this needs to be addressed, dealt with, and all tied together into a nice conclusion inside of ten episodes. So, without any further adieu, let’s get into it.

The season begins with the natural next step from the close of season 2. Will and Mack planning their wedding. To be honest I could just watch an hour of just this. Mack asking for straight answers and Will discrediting her concerns with stuff like, “If Charlie’s my best man, can’t he just keep going back and forth walking with bridesmaids?” And on a different level, are we really supposed to believe that the only men Will feels comfortable in his wedding party are the men that work at Newsnight? Will never befriended Tom Brokaw? or Brian Williams? or some average Joe he went to college with? Just a random observation.

Ironically, I just typed the above without finishing the scene. And Brian Williams’ name was mentioned. I’m either ridiculously lucky on that one, or have crossed over out of the Aaron Sorkin fandom and into the unimportant Nostradamus realm.

Less than four minutes into the episode and Mack spots an explosion at the Boston Marathon. Here. We. Go. Immediately Jim starts dividing staff into groups focusing on various agencies (FBI, Homeland, etc). A quick shot of Maggie working out intensely feels like the imagery that suggests she will spend this season rebuilding herself (metaphorically), which is something I’m not terribly concerned with at this point. I sympathize with the character, but I don’t enjoy the character. Back to the story, we all know they are watching the evidence of the Boston Marathon bombing. The beauty of this show is that generally, we know more than the characters. It’s really a wonderful device to play off of. In this case, they have images and no answers to go with the images.

Charlie Skinner: If I learn what happened by watching the news I’m going to lose my fucking mind!

The staff is undermanned in part because Don Keefer is in jury duty. Which creates a wonderful scene Don being Don moment and quite possibly is the best way to get out of jury duty I’ve ever seen. Will tries to inspire confidence in a speech about why they won’t report fast, they’ll report accurate and it fails miserably. In addition, Elliot Hirsch (the other prominent anchor on this show) wants badly to fly to Boston and be their reporter on the ground. He’s from Boston and it only makes sense. They can’t part with Jim or Don, so Jim suggests they send Maggie. If you are unfamiliar with last season, you will not fully grasp the risk of sending Maggie. However, Jim feels she is ready. That this story at this time is specifically suited to her. Will doesn’t feel as strongly. Regardless Maggie and Hirsch are en route to Boston.

Gary Cooper is the first staffer to get confirmation on anything. Two devices detonated near the finish line. FBI and Boston police confirm. Mack gets the control room ready in seconds. In the air studio Will prepares to go live. Don, Sloan, Mack and Charlie join him. Charlie jumps right in. If it was a suicide bomber there will be a body. If not this will go on for a while. A manhunt like we haven’t seen since Dallas in ’63. Then they all go their separate ways.

What follows is a cinematically intriguing montage of Will anchoring what information they do have and Mack controlling the chaos in the control room. Clearly this story is affecting all of the ACN major contributors. Despite popular opinion, Maggie is on her game getting real news confirmation.

Amidst the chaos of the bombing, Neal enters a password to decrypt a sensitive email sent to him directly. I know we alert you with “spoiler alert” but this I’m not willing to go into just yet. Suffice it to say, I know exactly where this story line is going (and I’m sure I’m not alone). It’s a story line I’m not thrilled with because I like the character Neal. And am concerned with what this will mean for him long term.

Sloan finds Reese Lansing in his office avoiding his siblings. Hold on to that one. His two younger siblings are set to become major stock holders in ACN when they turn 25. From what I know and what I can infer, there will probably be a shift in priorities once these two are introduced to a position of influence. That and Sloan is being informed of just how bad their quarter financial projections are.

Mack heads off her basic staff meeting. Everything is typical. Tips that aren’t confirmed. Eyewitnesses who don’t want to go on camera. Everything is typical. Until Mack throws it to Neal. Who is sitting calmly and matter of factually mentions the motivation of the encrypted email.

Mack: Neal, tell us what’s going on with the Nocturnal Nut Brigade.
Neal: Somebody is trying to give me classified government documents.
(Everyone stops everything and freezes)
Neal: Somebody asked for my encryption key.
Mack: That’s not uncommon is it?
Neal: No but then they asked for a higher level of encryption. Less common but not unprecedented. We use a site, cryptoheaven which is for–
Don: Nerds.
Neal: Yeah. And he told me to get an air gapped computer. It’s a computer that’s–
Mack: Never been linked to the internet.
Neal: Yes. There is literally a gap of air between the computer and the rest of the world. Once I do that, he’s going to give me a flash drive.
Mack: How’s he going to get it to you?
Neal: Look, I know you guys think I live in a world of crackpots, and I’ll grant you that there is a troubling normal to crackpot ratio in my field…
Don: How’s he going to get you the flash drive Neal?
Neal: He’s going to tape it to the inside of the tank of a toilet of a public men’s room.
Don: Bulls eye.

I transcribed the previous because through a number of reasons, I have been lead to believe that this will be the defining story line of season 3. I could very well be wrong, but if I’m right, this is major. We’ll call this the “Snowden” story line for the time being. After the meeting breaks, with most of the staff thinking this is another Twitter Troll gone crazy, Neal walks back to his desk looking dejected. Then Will pulls out his wallet, calls Neal over and tells him to buy an ‘air gapped computer’ as he extends a credit card.

Sloan has been working on an angle that some financial group is about to buy another. She has no concrete evidence, but is working to solve the ‘puzzle’. In typical Sloan fashion the financial story takes priority in her own head. This feels like something is going to get muffed down the line.

CNN had to retract their previously reported story that they had arrested a suspect. Giving a little breathing room to why ACN hasn’t reported the same as of yet. Charlie and Will tag team a quick speech about if anyone should empathize with getting knocked down by misreporting it’s ACN. Then he and Will share a subtle behind the back hi five for dodging a bullet.

Neal ventures out to the restaurant that is to be the drop for the flash drive. There’s a little speed bump, but Neal gets in. And as predicted, the flash drive is there. In the tank of the toilet. Back at ACN, Neal opens the brand new ‘air gapped’ computer and inserts the flash drive. Anyone who’s bought a new laptop knows there are some realism issues with him reading the flash drive 10 seconds after taking the computer out of the box, but I digress. Immediately, the flash drive spits out what looks like 40-50 documents. The range of topics are vast.

Elliot has unknowingly eaten walnuts, which he is seriously allergic to. His prevailing wisdom is that while his face blows up like a balloon, Maggie needs to go on camera and report the story. Maggie puts on the clothes found in Mack’s go bag. She gets ready and looks incredibly nervous. To my significant surprise, Maggie was as close to flawless as one can expect their first time on camera. And a wave of pride swept the ACN studio.

Reese invites Will and Charlie to an office balcony where he is drinking a beer and enjoying the nice night. This is where Reese says he’s proud of the job they’ve done this week as an ice breaker before he and Charlie relay the information of just how far in the ratings News Night has fallen. Reese explains that he wants Will to do the news and do it well, but they can’t do the news if the station doesn’t make money. This is where Will’s personality brings upon our first real shocker of the season.

Will: Well… … …I think it’s time for me to quit.

Neal makes his way out to the terrace and begins to tell Will and Charlie (and Reese who is close enough to hear) that he is in possession of a little over 27,000 stolen government documents. Half of which are classified.

Reese: Yeah…I’m just going to jump off this railing.

Neil tells the story of exactly how he came to be in possession of these documents. Three times. On the third time, Will hears a new detail that Neal neglected to mention. By asking for a couple documents to pass along to his bosses, he in fact is an accomplice to commit espionage.

Throughout this entire episode, I have hesitated on the Sloan Sabbath story line because it feels slow developing. Like her digging and Reese’s concern over the numbers is something that will take time to come to a head. I was right that her digging in the numbers would unearth something. I was wrong about the time table.

Sloan: What is everyone doing out he–Reese!
Reese: We’re kind of in the middle of–
Sloan: When’s their birthday? The twins?
Reese: Why don’t we meet in my office?
Sloan: The Twins! When is their birthday?
Reese: The party’s…
Sloan: Not the party. Their actual birthday. When do they turn 25?
Reese: I honestly don’t…sometime next week. The 25th or 26th.
Sloan: Get your mother on the phone. She has to call the board to an emergency session. Right now. Tonight.
Reese: What are you talking about?
Sloan: You went to Wharton Reese. Wake the fuck up. You’re in the middle of a hostile takeover.
Reese: What?!?!
Sloan: Somebody is trying to buy this company.

Just then Jim walks out with the newest development that they have one of the suspects, but he’s hiding in a boat in someone’s back yard. Then we get our Will McAvoy eruption of the episode. You may have seen this in our preview article or even on the promos aired by HBO. The culmination of which is “there’s a guy in the back of a boat in someone’s back yard. I’d like confirmation on that before I say it on the news”.

Just like that ladies and gentleman, the stage is set. Set but with inevitably more conflict and drama to come. Neil needs a lawyer because he’s in a lot of trouble. Two other financial institutions are vying to buyout ACN, presumably so that the ‘twins’ can profit off their trust fund quick enough so they don’t actually have to work. News Night is at the bottom of the relevant news shows and will need to fight their way out to stave of television death. And at the very least there is a Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale wedding to plan. Wrap your noodle around that, and make sure to join us again at notjustanothertvsite.com following the conclusion of each Newsroom episode. As well as all of the other top notch high quality shows we’re covering for you. Only at NJATVS.