Aaron Sorkin's world is all about conversation and the sparkling nature of words above plot. This can lead to some truly awesome moments, but it can also be frustrating when we've seen him meld plotting with his gifts (as in the past few weeks). Sometimes, it all just falls apart, and the very pretty words and strings of thought are just placeholders that get us from scene to scene.
And here is where this episode had the potential to be really cool--Genoa, and the loss of credibility suffered by ACN as a result, is on the top of everyone's mind, but it's also the elephant in the room that everyone is AVOIDING talking about, because it's election night 2012. If I were Sorkin, that would be a fun exercise for me as a writer; he's not usually one for subtext, and it could be a neat twist on his usual formula. Instead, we get a fallback into the soapy, perhaps least-interesting parts of the show: idealistic proselytizing, women wrestling with technology and non-professional issues, personal side-stories we don't care about...well, it's back to normal for The Newsroom. And with just one episode left, I don't see us soaring to any new heights before this is done. It's not like this episode was out-and-out insulting like some of the offerings early in the season, but it absolutely failed to deliver on the promises of a new standard of quality as seen in the last few weeks.
So it's election night, and everyone is abuzz with coverage on that front, but it's also sort of morose and overly personal. There's no strong spine to unite all the stories and the energy here, and so we're stuck going in all these directions. What really gets me into this show is when attention is paid to the details of working in a round-the-clock newsroom; I loved the patter with the Decision Desk, and it gave us a great opportunity to see Jim and Maggie interact professionally in a way that made them both look competent while also showcasing a mistake on Jim's part about not specifying which races to call. It was a cool education in how the Decision Desk works, and how incomplete information can be used to accurately call an election, and it's always good when we see these people we're supposed to love and respect act, well, competently.
The thing is--this wasn't a particularly dramatic election, and Sorkin knows that, so we get a whole bunch of other fluff here and there. My big question is still--WHY didn't Leona accept the team's resignations last week? Reese claims it's out of honor, but that rings incredibly hollow to me. And meanwhile, Sloan freaks out about a Sandy charity receiving a book with her signature that isn't her signature, and she mentions Genoa on-air because...she's distracted? It's not clear. And it made me rub my temples in frustration. I hate that the dumbest moves on this show are always tossed to the women. It's nowhere near the worst use of Sloan in this series, though.
Let's talk about Will and Mac, though. I think Sorkin wants us to care about this romance more than we do. I do like that Mac, knowing Will, was anticipating an explosion from him at her about Genoa, with the semi-abusive anger of their relationship as the kindling for that fire. I just didn't really care, and I don't see that changing; I think the issue is that we've seen none of this relationship, we've just been told about it. Every other Sorkin series has employed flashbacks in this sort of relationship to build up importance; why hasn't it happened here?
Finally, we get the redemptive clutch of the episode--that kernel by which the team might regain the trust of a nation, as Don semi-stumbles onto the Petraeus scandals via a tip from a friend. Can we also mark time at how often that seems to happen here? Serendipity is sloppy writing, gang.
Overall, this seems to be some water-treading as we head into thefinale. I'm hopeful we'll get a big finish, but it's got to try harder than this.