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And that, my friends, is how you do a season finale, with all plotlines (save one) tied up or moved on to their next natural place of progression before saying goodbye for a good ten months until season two.
THE SHORT VERSION: We bounce back and forth between Will giving a fiery condemnation of the Tea Party and events that started eleven days earlier. In the flashback, we learn that Will got himself hospitalized with a bleeding stomach ulcer brought on by stress and mixing alcohol and antidepressants; Mac and his bodyguard find him unconscious and bleeding in his bathroom. So, that's how we start.
Meanwhile, Charlie goes to his NSA contact and confronts him about the shakiness of his background. His contact says he's right, that there's illegal surveillance going on and Reese knows about it, and then goes off in a weird direction about beef stew recipes that worries Charlie further. Turns out this guy is probably legit, but wants to be seen as a hero by his family. The meeting doesn't go well, and the contact commits suicide by jumping off the Queensboro Bridge that night.
On the Jim and Maggie front, Don is considering asking her to move in with him, and Jim decides to deepen his connection to Lisa by researching Sex and the City, her favorite show. Lisa and Maggie have a big fight about Jim being into Maggie, and it leads to Maggie assaulting a Sex and the City tour bus...which Jim is inexplicably on. Anyway, they share a kiss in the street, and then go back to their respective not-in-love significant others. Mac points out that Maggie should be with Jim and Don should be with Sloane. Interesting. Sloane, by the way, is taking a high-paying job at another network; her last day is Friday. She also tells Don he doesn't love Maggie, and that she knows Don is a nice guy, despite what he thinks of himself. And Neal's fake death-threat plot to shake out the real threat doesn't really go anywhere this episode.
The big plot of this episode involves Nina from TMI approaching Mac with a source saying Will was high the night Bin Laden was killed; Mac denies it, but Nina's adamant she has proof. Will, from his hospital bed, is thinking of throwing in the towel completely, because Bryan's piece in New York magazine made him look awful, and he's continuously referencing a voice mail he left on Mac's phone from the night of the Bin Laden broadcast. Mac realizes she never got a voice mail, and Charlie pieces it together: Reese hacked Mac's phone, and that's Nina's source--he lifted and deleted the voice mail. Will climbs out of his hospital bed in a vaguely awesome sequence set to "Baba O'Reilly" as he rallies his team to seriously attack the Tea Party...
And we cut to a meeting with Leona and Reese, with Will flanked by Charlie and Mac. Leona fires Will for being high on-air, but Charlie leaps in with the wiretapping news, and Leona, who knew none of it, switches sides. It turns out she may not be so bad after all. Will is exonerated and goes to give a scathing indictment of the Tea Party and a delination of what a Republican should be, versus what the Tea Party is, on-air. It's a great civics lesson, and Sloane, spurred on by Will's efforts, decides to stay.
Oh, and there's been a girl sitting in the newsroom waiting all day. Turns out she's interviewing for an internship...and she's the girl from Northwestern from Episode 1, who asked the stupid question. Will hires her on the spot, after asking her to ask him again.
"What makes America the greatest country in the world?"
It's awesome. And then, Mac reveals that she was there, and wrote on her notepad, setting this whole thing in motion. And they almost kiss, but burst into a gentle fight, instead. And then, we see everyone leaving, moving on into the next day, and the next season, as Will and his bodyguard climb into his car and head home.
THOUGHTS: It almost feels like they weren't sure they were going to get Season 2, because of how tidily everything (except the death threat plot) wraps up. That said, this was a hell of a finale, and all of the characters--women included--acted like thinking, rational people. Everyone had a reason to be there and something to lose. I had moments this season where I wanted more to happen; when looked at like a big, ten-hour movie, this season delivers. The moment at the end with the Northwestern student felt a little bit contrived to begin with, but ended perfectly.
The point there--and with Leona, and with Will in general--is that the very idea of news is to present ideas in such a way that they can be absorbed by the public and change hearts and minds. The point isn't to vomit opinions--it's to fight the fights that need fighting, and to ensure that the stories that need to be told get told. It's noble, and a little bit childish in its idealism--but this is a show that has changed how I view the Tea Party, down to its roots, and I'm not sure I'll ever watch the evening news in the same way again. We came full circle, and got to know the amazing and amazingly flawed Will McAvoy and his staff. And yeah, there's a lot of hackneyed Sorkin conventions in this show, but The Newsroom works because Will is unique; there isn't another archetype like him anywhere in the Sorkinverse. He's the engine of this show and he's fascinating. And while this show pisses me off sometimes, I have to confess that I just can't let these characters go.
What did you think, friends? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And we'll all gather back here next June for season two.