The events of the season finale take place two months after last week’s episode. Will’s August 8th newscast is not about any of the top stories viewers might expect – it’s about a woman named Dorothy Cooper.
Eight days ealier, Mackenzie comes to Will’s apartment, but he isn’t there. Lonny doesn’t know where he is either, which throws his ability as a bodyguard into question, although he is the one who notices the drop of blood on Will’s copy of the New Yorker with Brian’s story in it. They find Will collapsed on the bathroom floor, blood everywhere. At the hospital, the doctor tells Lonny and Mac that Will’s suffering internal bleeding from an ulcer, and it was likely self-inflicted with an overdose of his anti-depressants. This is going to be a season two visit to Dr. Habib for sure.
Flash forward to the August 8th newscast: Dorothy Cooper is a 96 year old Tennessee resident whose voting rights are going to be taken away because she doesn’t have government issued identification. She’s one of 20 million people without government ID, and Will thinks it’s wrong that Republicans are effectively denying the right to vote to people who wouldn’t be voting for them by forcing voters to present ID.
One week earlier: the News Night staff is having a story meeting. Well, they start having a story meeting, but then it’s quickly derailed by Jim’s personal problems. He wants to like what Lisa likes, so he wants to know if anyone can teach him about Sex and the City. Tess offers her knowledge, and Neal informs Jim of a citywide bus tour he can take. I just want to know how any work ever gets done in this office because all this romance gossip they engage in seems really counterproductive.
Over at the hospital, Mackenzie is visiting Will, and it’s a record whole minute before she starts wailing on him with his copy of the magazine demanding to know why he took the pills. To be fair, not knowing how to handle strong emotions is in character for her, but it was uncomfortable to watch her shout “comforting” things at Will. He’s in denial, of course, insisting that he’s over the story even though he’s got it memorized.
Will finally admits the reason he cares is because Brian and everyone who was quoted in there was right about him being a fool. He wanted the piece to be his kid from the end of Camelot, spreading the news of what he’s done with News Night to all the villagers, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know what he expected, hiring a man who hates him to write the piece. In any case, he says he isn’t coming back. Mac says he will, even if she has to dismember him and reassemble his body at the anchor desk, which is the creepiest attempt at motivation I have ever heard.
Nina Howard, resident TMI gossip columnist, meets with Mackenzie to give her a heads-up: she knows Will was high the night he did the Bin Laden broadcast. If TMI can find a second source, Nina has to go to press with the story, and because she’s starting to regret her occupation, she’s giving Mac the chance to head her off at the pass. Mackenzie then goes to Charlie to tell him about her meeting with Nina and to admit that Will was, in fact, high out of his mind that night. If the story runs, it’ll be the reason Leona can use to fire Will.
Charlie and Solomon Hancock meet up in the park to discuss his (lack of) credibility as a source. Hancock insists that the NSA fabricated the information Jim got as retaliation, but Charlie can’t just take his word for it. He wants the information Hancock has on TMI so they can start their own story research, but Hancock won’t give it to him because if he does, News Night won’t need him anymore. This is drawn as a parallel to his kids not needing him anymore even though they used to have Sunday night beef stew together all the time. Hancock is even lonelier than Will, I think, and I wish there was more time to learn about his character.
Five days before the broadcast, Don confronts Sloan about her future at News Night. She’s had a more lucrative job offer, and she’s going to take it. Not because of the money, but because she had no impact on the 42% of people who misunderstand the debt ceiling debate. I never really thought the News Night audience was all that significant, but Sloan is disheartened enough to leave.
Don turns the conversation to his love life, and announces his intention to ask Maggie to move in with him. Sloan then gives a pretty good analysis of Don: he was told he was a bad guy, and now he tries to overcompensate by doing things he thinks a good guy would do. Given the fact that we know he’s done some questionable things (like secretly dating other girls while on a break with Maggie), I think this is a pretty solid sum-up of his motivation.
Don, stunned a bit by this, asks Sloan why she’s single. He dismisses her “my intelligence is intimidating” reason, and she tells him the truth: because he never asked her out. I was genuinely surprised by this; I hadn’t noticed any inkling of Sloan’s feelings for Don, and apparently neither did he. Olivia Munn does a great job in this scene, though, since I was immediately sold on her crush. Don’s so flustered that when Jim comes in, he can’t remember why he asked to meet him, though it’s a convenient way to have Sloan tell Jim about Don’s plan to ask Maggie to live with him.
Back at the hospital, Mackenzie knocks Will’s IV needle out of its bag—because she’s written as the most bumbling grown woman in existence—and we meet Will’s no-nonsense nurse. Jim comes to visit as well, bringing actual office news as well as the Don/Maggie news. Mackenzie wants to know what happened to that “gather ye rosebuds” speech she gave him, and Jim admits he gathered the wrong rosebuds and has been dating Lisa for the past two months. Mackenzie proceeds to beat him with a pillow. I have to agree with her sentiment: Jim needs to stop dating Lisa just because he’s too nice to break up with her. Mac also warns Will about Nina’s story, and he says he doesn’t care (he cares).
Jim’s next meeting is with Charlie, and he’s bringing bad news: Solomon Hancock committed suicide by jumping off the Queensboro Bridge. Charlie, voice choked with tears and guilt, dismisses Jim, begging him to call his parents every once in a while. You know, for an episode that has an attempted suicide and a committed suicide in it, there is surprisingly little actual talk about suicide.
August 8th newscast: Will discusses the differences between Republican beliefs and Tea Party beliefs, admitting that he’s a Republican. The Tea Party believes in loving America but hating Americans. This isn’t going to end well for Will, I think, but we have to wait until next season for the fallout.
Four days before the broadcast, Lonny and Neal meet with Charlie to discuss Neal’s idea on how to flush out the person who made the death threat. He has his screen name, and now he wants to claim more credit for making the death threat so “Charizma” will try harder to prove he did it. Charlie says Neal can go for it, but Lonny disagrees. I’d go with the trained professional bodyguard on this matter, but Neal listens to Charlie. Their meeting ends when an envelope arrives for Charlie from Hancock.
Will is torturing himself by watching the YouTube video of his pilot episode speech when Charlie and Mac swing by. Charlie brings in Nurse Cooper to tell Will about her aunt, Dorothy Cooper, who’s been affected by the voter fraud prevention legislation in Tennessee.
Will asks Mackenzie if she ever played his voicemail from the night of the Bin Laden story to anyone because he admitted he was high. Mac never got it. Realization hits them at the same time: Will himself is Nina’s first source, but she can’t admit TMI hacked Mac’s phone to get the information. Final straw broken, Will rips all his needles off to inspirational music while shouting lines from Don Quixote. He staggers out of bed, and heads off the wrath of Nurse Cooper by asking for more information about her aunt.
Will returns to the newsroom to triumphant applause, and we’re treated to a “getting the news ready” montage of the team pulling quotes and information together to systematically tackle the Tea Party problems all in one show. Maggie, exhausted, has been running quotes from the Founding Fathers to Will all night before he and Mac insist she go home. She trips on the way out, naturally, which is the most frustrating part of her character for me. She’s written as being terrible at her job, can’t she at least walk without falling over things all the time?
Maggie meets Lisa for dinner. Don bailed again, but asked her to come over at midnight. Lisa’s in the middle of telling Maggie that it’s hard to watch her be in the same relationship she was a year ago when Maggie finally confesses she thinks Jim came to see her that night, not Lisa. Hurt, Lisa leaves, and Maggie doesn’t quite catch up to her. Instead, she’s splashed by a Sex and the City tour bus a la opening credits to that very show.
Fed up with the tour guide’s claims that Carrie Bradshaw let them see what being a single New York woman was like, Maggie goes on a wonderful tirade about how that show was unrealistic and that she’s the real example of a single woman in New York. And, she adds, when you fall for a guy who’s dating your best friend it doesn’t tend to work out in real life. Jim pops up from the top deck of the bus, and that moment is so genuinely funny to me that I don’t even care that it’s ridiculous for a bus tour to take place at night.
Maggie, embarrassed, runs off, and Jim sprints off the bus after her. The two of them finally get their kiss, and Maggie admits she doesn’t know if she wants to be with Don. Jim asks if the situation would be different if Don committed to her, and she says she wouldn’t be there if he had. Knowing Don’s plans to do exactly that, Jim drops Maggie’s hands and lets her go.
On her way to Don’s apartment, Maggie drafts a speech about not being his midnight girl anymore. Her speech is abandoned, however, when she enters his apartment full of lit candles and he asks her to move in with him. Thomas Sadoski brings a wonderful vulnerability to Don’s proposal, and we can see the good guy that he is beneath his past mistakes and questionable relationship tactics.
Meanwhile, Will, Charlie and Mac meet with the Lansings to discuss Nina’s article. Will readily admits he was high on the air, and Leona fires him on the spot. If Will gets fired, Reese goes to jail; Charlie tells Leona about the hacking Reese has ordered, and about the information Solomon Hancock had sent to him before his death. Charlie appeals to Leona’s journalistic integrity, and asks that she let Will do his show his way and that she shut TMI down immediately. Leona agrees, telling Will not to shoot and miss at the Tea Party. When she examines Hancock’s envelope, she finds only a recipe for beef stew.
At the August 8th newscast, Sloan explains to Will that a “greater fool” is an economic term for someone who thinks he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools, she says, and with her part played in the final inspirational speech that is this ending, she leaves the anchor desk.
Will closes his newscast by calling the Tea Party the American Taliban and says they can’t survive if people like Dorothy Cooper retain their right to vote. The newsroom erupts in applause, and we start to get some season finale closure. Sloan is staying on at News Night because she wants to keep trying to make a difference, though now she’s mortified she told Don her feelings. Maggie and Don are together, and though that breaks Jim’s heart a little, he’s staying with Lisa. Nina meanwhile deletes Will’s voicemail off her computer, so unless he opens up about it, we’ll never know what it said.
Mackenzie is insistent upon finding out what was in Will’s message, but he won’t tell. Instead he tells her about the hallucination he had of her at Northwestern. She, in turn, proves to him that she was really there by showing him the pad of paper she held up that day. He looks like he’s about to kiss her, but instead he just asks her (loudly) why she didn’t tell him that until now.
Will’s also intrigued by the girl hanging around for an internship interview. It turns out she’s the girl who asked him that fateful question at Northwestern. She’s applying because she knows what a greater fool is, and she wants to be one. When he makes her ask what makes America the greatest country in the world again, this time his answer is “you do.”
It’s an ending very much in the same inspirational, preachy vein that the show started out in. I usually don’t love this style, though I’ll admit it’s easy to get swept up in the passionate monologue and the soaring string music.
Overall, this was a strong ending to a fairly decent season of television. I still wish Aaron Sorkin would write a fully developed female character who’s capable of balancing having a love life and being professional. Hopefully season two will be an improvement.
The consistently good part of this season for me was Jeff Daniels’ acting, particularly in Will’s sessions with Dr. Habib. I have a feeling we’ll get to see a lot more angst over Mackenzie from him in season two. Plus, there’s still the fallout from this episode to deal with, as well as his death threat looming overhead. It will be interesting to see how Will handles the stress that’s sure to come after this.