Midway through the first episode of the third season of "The Newsroom," Mac McHale makes reference to Euripides and traditional three-act story structure. Going with that reference, the second season of the show felt very much like the end of Act Three, as the season finale played very much like a series finale. Because of that, the show really doesn't have much story left to tell, right?
I'm more forgiving of the show's fatal flaws than most are, probably because I enjoy dialog-heavy television more than zombie-slaying. But even the typical razor-sharp banter here wasn't enough for me to shake the feeling that I was watching a lame-duck show.
"I work very hard at cultivating no friendships outside work, and, to be honest, I was doing fine cultivating no friendships inside work until you came along," Will tells Mac as the season opens. Mac is planning their wedding, and Will needs to find nine groomsmen to go with Mac's nine bridesmaids. It's difficult for me to imagine Will having friends at all, let alone nine friends.
The planning quickly takes a back seat to the news of the day, as Mac's attention turns to a monitor showing a Boston television station. The date is April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. We see Maggie crunching away at an exercise class before darting off to work when she hears of the crisis. Don has jury duty, but uses some Sorkin-speak to talk his way out of the courtroom.
The "News Night" crew works on confirming what exactly happened. They need to be sure, given the credibility hit that they took last season. In the process, Aaron Sorkin manages to get jabs in at Twitter and Fox News. "If I learn what happened from watching the news, I'm going to lose my f------ mind," Charlie screams to no one in particular in the newsroom.
"Do you guys understand that the explosion took place in the 21st century?" asks Hallie.
"Don't reach for common ground, reach for higher ground. Am I saying this right?" asks Will, as he launches into a stop/start version of one of his trademark mansplaining monologues. "I think I blew that speech." This was clearly Sorkin taking an opportunity to poke fun at one of the oft-repeated criticisms of his work. ACN will be the last of the major cable networks to run with the story, but the crew collectively decides that they're fine with that, as long as they get it right.
Another common critique of this show is that the Maggie character is a horribly written mess, that she is wildly incompetent in just about every area. Sorkin seems to have taken that to heart, as ACN sends her to Boston as the field producer for Elliot, a job that we're set up to believe she'll ace.
Elsewhere, Hallie relays a mysterious message to Neal, apparently from a hacker. We also see Sloan eating breakfast with someone from Goldman Sachs, who tells her of a potential job opportunity at Merrill Lynch. More on these secondary stories as they develop.
"Did The Titanic miss New York Harbor by a little?" Sloan asks, as Reese drops by her office later, informing her that Atlantis World Media, ACN's parent company, will miss their quarterly earnings projections "by a little."
This scene served to plant the seeds for two plot threads down the road. One, more corporate volatility for ACN. Second, a Sorkin trademark love triangle, between Sloan, Reese and Don, as we see that Sloan and Don are still dating. "You know how there are tall women who don't mind dating shorter guys? I don't mind that you're dumb. And Don, I mean that," Sloan tells Don.
"I'm from Nebraska, I'm not like the rest of you. I can eat food without fear," Will yells at Jenna, his assistant, after she swaps out his breakfast order for a healthier version that Mac has approved. Mac's version of breakfast includes Greek yogurt, as mine also does. Will starts to rant on Greek yogurt's popularity surge, but stops himself.
Perhaps if I didn't partake, I'd be with him. But while we're here, have you seen German yogurt and Icelandic yogurt try to elbow their way onto shelves in grocery stores lately? Now Big Yogurt is just messing with us, seeing if we'll buy anything.
"News Night" begins their second day of coverage with a rundown meeting, where Neal reveals that the hacker he's in touch with wants to give him classified government documents, as long as he promises to keep them on a computer that hasn't ever been connected to the internet. Charlie and Don pass on the offer, but Will slips Neal his credit card, telling him to buy that computer and pursue the lead.
Day Three of coverage comes and goes with little of note, except for CNN being forced to retract their story that there had been an arrest made in the bombing case. The newsroom breaks into applause, before Charlie scolds everyone for taking delight in CNN's misery. "They got knocked down, we didn't get taller," he says. On the fourth day, Neal retrieves a flash drive from his contact that in fact does contain thousands of classified documents.
On Day Five, the rundown meeting consists of Don and Jim explaining to the crew how a group of Redditors and a BuzzFeed reporter engaged in some wild speculation about a potential suspect in the bombing, which led to an innocent woman receiving death and rape threats. In the field, meanwhile, Elliot has his walnut allergy flare up, forcing Maggie to go on air with a story. She nails it, leaving everyone back at News Night impressed. Elliot's allergy was high comedy.
Reese and Charlie tell Will that their coverage of the Boston story saw their ratings dip even further. "I've always been able to live with second. Our motto around here has been 'go for the silver,' but fourth?" complains Will. "We did everything right.
"My mother and I can only protect you from the board if you're making money," Reese tells Will. This ties in with the scene with Sloan earlier, and it seems that doing a news show well versus doing a news show that makes money will be a key theme here in the final season. "Let's do sports, Charlie. We love sports," Will says to his friend. "You mean try out for a team?" Charlie, ever the joker, asks.
Their misery soon gives way to something else, as Neal tells them what he has. The documents in his possession were stolen, yes. But they reveal that a series of stories planted by an American firm doing contract work for the Department of Defense led to rioting in Kundu that killed 38, including three Americans.
In telling his story to Will, Charlie, Reese and Mac, Neal reveals that he asked his source to provide him with more documents. This could be a double-edged sword, as the documents may have provided "News Night" with the story that can save the network, but Neal technically committed a crime by asking the source to steal more documents.
While that meeting takes place, Sloan pieces together another major story. AWN did not see its stock drop, even after the disappointing numbers that Reese revealed earlier. Sloan is able to deduce that the stock stayed the same because a hostile takeover is in the works, involving Reese's two half-siblings, who will hold enough stock to execute the takeover when they turn 25, in just a few days.
As Sloan alerts the group to what is going on, Jim breaks in to tell everyone that the second suspect in Boston had been found hiding in a boat.
"You know who did great this week? The police, the FBI, the DOJ, Homeland Security. In less than a hundred hours, they found two needles in a haystack the size of the world. You know who sucked? Everybody else," Will declares. "I'm not so easily surrendering to citizen journalists or citizen detectives... We're going to do a good show."
Then he says to Reese, "If you have our back, then we're not going to let you get shot in yours, and, apparently, we're all up for sale."
"You were wrong. We're not in the middle of the third act," Will tells Mac. "We just got to the end of the first."