REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 12 & 13 (Finale)

Okay, I’ll admit it upfront: I don’t really know what I thought of these last two episodes. I know two things:

 

1)   They didn’t “wow” me, and

2)   They didn’t suck.

 

All right, now that we’ve gotten the pesky extremes out of the way, I need to start parsing the even peskier middle ground.

 

Things I liked:

 

1)   The direction of the reporters’ storyline. Zoe has clearly been humbled by her experiences, and is owning up to her mistakes by treating her fellow reporters with respect and working together with them to uncover the truth. She obviously hasn’t lost her non-deferential streak and is perfectly willing to poke her nose around in places she ought not to be trespassing, much to the chagrin of my journalist brother: “Real reporters can get information without harassing people — that’s not heroic; it’s invasion of privacy.” I still like the other reporters better than Zoe, but I don’t dislike her nearly as much as I did in the beginning when I called her a diva.

2)   The president not being TOTALLY clueless. Okay, he was still a little clueless and didn’t realize that Frank and Linda are working together and that they could figure out what he was scheming, but at least he was scheming instead of being the useless pretty boy he’s been all season.

3)   The scene where Frank gets the tables turned on him by the president’s billionaire buddy and realizes he wasn’t sent to St Louis to convince the guy to take the Vice Presidency but rather to be vetted for the position himself. Nice to see that role reversal.

 

Things I didn’t like so much:

 

1)   I felt like the resolution to Frank convincing the guy to support his promotion to the Vice Presidency was a little too easy. I mean, first he ran around in a panic trying to sabotage the billionaire’s fortune with some complicated scheme involving SanCorp, in order to gain the upper hand. That backfired, but for some reason the guy was sufficiently impressed with Frank’s failed scheme that he decided to support him anyway. So . . . yay, Frank?

2)   I liked that Claire’s decision to enlist SanCorp’s help with the water filters came back to bite her when Gillian found out and rebelled at this deal-making and corporate sponsorship. But I felt like there was insufficient setup for the degree of Gillian’s anger and her decision to go after Claire with a false discrimination suit in order to sully her reputation and the reputation of charities like Claire’s. Peripheral but relevant to this: I also still don’t really understand what is so important to Claire about this particular charity and what she hopes to achieve with it. I feel like that’s a key aspect of her character but it hasn’t been explained yet.

3)   All the cliffhangers! Netflix, I hate you. Everything is unraveling and we have to wait until you put up the next installment? GAH. At least they’re already shooting season 2.

 

Overall, something about these episodes did not feel as strong as the build-up to them. Maybe the success of Frank’s machinations to become Vice President seemed anti-climactic because of the too-easy execution, or because of the theory that the show has lost tension because “Frank always, always, always wins.” Also, I miss Peter Russo and his redemption arc and vulnerability and inspiration and little-engine-that-couldness, and . . . yeah.

Regardless, House of Cards on a bad day is still better than The Newsroom on a good day.

 

Rating: 3.5/5

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REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 10 & 11

So in these episodes we finally find out what Frank’s long game is, and it feels little . . . haphazard? Like the writers weren’t quite sure what they were doing and then decided, I’ve got it!

I just mean, it seems overly convoluted if you buy that this was Frank’s plan all along. I mean, if he was just setting Peter Russo up for a fall, why did he work so hard to get that bill passed and then get so ticked off when it didn’t? I get that he needed to get the timing right and keep Russo in the race long enough so that it would be too close to the election for anyone other than the Vice President to run instead (and then Frank could take the Vice Presidency and later run for president himself), but really? Did they have to put all that genuine effort into a campaign they were just going to torpedo anyway? And was Claire aware of it, how all her work on the campaign was just going to be trashed?

And what exactly was Frank planning to do about Russo to tie up the loose ends? Was he always planning to kill him? That didn’t seem like Plan A. But then what was Plan A? The whole scheme is very intricate and it works in hindsight, but I find it hard to believe Frank planned it the way the show seems to say he did. And did Claire know about Frank murdering Russo? The text Frank sent her was phrased to sound like Russo just turned up dead, not that Frank killed him. Does Claire know Frank well enough to have guessed the truth? Does it matter to her? Is this a time bomb that may go off in a future episode, or is it just another way that Claire and Frank are perfect for each other?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this end of Russo’s storyline “terrible,” as Ryan McGee the AV Club reviewer does, but I certainly agree with him that “Frank’s master plan, as stated tonight, simply doesn’t line up with the season arc.”

McGee also complains that the structure of the show does not allow characters room to exist outside of Frank’s schemes. I can’t say I entirely disagree, but this doesn’t bother me the way it seems to bother him. Claire and her lover, Adam, have a tryst in this episode, and of course it’s temporary because Claire and Frank are simply too drawn to each other and too tightly bonded by their ultra-ambitious worldviews. I don’t mind that Claire’s decisions are ultimately tied to Frank, and that because Adam has no relevance to Frank he will never be shown having his own independent storyline. I couldn’t care less about that; I’d rather watch Claire and Frank try to take over the world than watch Adam gallivant around being a free spirit or whatever he is. He’s a nice foil to Frank, and it’s gratifying to see Claire’s more spontaneous and emotional side, but overall Frank is a much better fit for her, and she knows it.

Also, it must be said, THE PRESIDENT IN THIS SHOW IS A PATSY. Seriously. He does nothing. Linda should be president. LINDA FOR PRESIDENT IN 2016!!

 

Rating: 3.5/5 for stretching the boundaries of logic a little too far

REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 7 and 8

One thing about binge-watching vs. regular week-by-week watching is that sometimes you don’t notice when a character or storyline is dropped or de-emphasized for a particular episode, because sooner or later they always come back, and since you’ve been watching everything in such quick succession, you don’t always have time to realize they’re gone.

I noticed this in this block of episodes because my schedule has been crazy lately and I haven’t had the time to sit down and binge-watch like a normal person — sometimes I don’t even have a chance to watch an entire episode in one sitting. But I’d decided before starting this pair of episodes that I would give some attention to Zoe Barnes (the journalist that Frank is using to leak information to the public strategically) because I haven’t discussed her since my initial post on the show.

This turned out to be not so simple. Because she drops out of episode 8 entirely. If I were lucky enough to just be binging, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, would have just clicked ahead to the next installment and she’d be back as if she’d never left. But since my viewing experience has been so truncated recently, and because I’d decided to focus on Zoe, I was very aware of her absence, although it makes perfect sense, given that the episode takes place on the road, away from Washington DC where Zoe is stationed.

Zoe is probably the part of the show I have the most issues with, which is possibly why I’ve avoided discussing her previously. I don’t like her, but in a much stronger way than I don’t like Frank or any of the other “unpleasant” characters on the show. I just don’t find her enjoyable to watch. Probably because she suffers from what I’ll refer to as Newsroom Syndrome, which is what I’ll call it when any character is obnoxiously self-justifying about their actions and never admits that they could be wrong or not 100% right. Zoe throws hissy fits, she disobeys instructions, she’s petulant and whiny. She happens to have brains and journalistic talent as well, but she uses those to justify her babyish moments, complaining that she’s being wasted and not given good assignments and yadda yadda, and I just want her to take a chill pill and do her work. Simply put, she’s a diva, and I only like diva characters when they are somewhat self-aware, and/or played for laughs, and/or get put in their place frequently. Zoe is none of these.

The relationship between Frank and Zoe turned sexual at the end of episode 4. Until then, it seemed like Frank had no interest in her in that way, and was simply using her for his own nefarious purposes, and she benefited from the exclusive scoops he gave her. I personally preferred the Frank/Zoe relationship when it was non-sexual — I thought the dynamics were more interesting, because in general I find platonic relationships between men and women to have far more dimension than sexual ones. I also don’t really understand why turning the relationship sexual was a smart strategic move on Frank’s part (it is made clear in the very beginning of episode 5 that this is “strictly a business relationship”). Maybe I’m naïve and sheltered, but I think he’d have a better chance of keeping Zoe under control if sex was not a part of the equation. Introducing sex means that more things can go wrong and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, etc. Perhaps someone more schooled in the discipline of sexual power dynamics could explain to me why this is anything other than a bonehead move.

As for episode 8, which did not include Zoe, I loved it. It humanized Frank in a way we have not yet seen, by sending him back to his alma mater, where we see him hang out with his old buddies and just have fun in a way that’s not mean-spirited, just reckless and immature and silly and male-bonding-y and totally entertaining to watch. There is also an obvious reference to Frank’s past sexual experimentation with one of his buddies and the attraction he still harbors, and since I have a running discussion going with a male bisexual friend in which we complain constantly about the lack of representation of male bisexuality on TV, that was nice to see. Even if Frank is a scumbag.

 

Rating: 4/5

The Newsroom — Season 1 Review

I started off my very first post by saying, “I have so many preconceived notions about this show I have never watched. LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU.”

I then listed my preconceived notions, and now I’m going to go through that list and back each one up with evidence from the show, now that I’ve actually watched it.

“First, the good:

1)   It’s an Aaron Sorkin show. To me, this means super slick, rapid-fire dialogue that makes you feel smarter for having heard it, even if you only partially understood it. Sorkin shows know how to build drama, create moral dilemmas, and crack incredibly funny jokes. I loved Sorkin’s previous shows: Sports Night, The West Wing, and even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I don’t think anyone else liked even though Bradley Whitford has the most adorable dimples on the planet. I loved his movies: A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball, although there was way too much silence in that movie to have been written by Sorkin alone (he co-wrote it).

Um, that was kind of my only thing on the list.”

This show did not live up to the previous standards set by other Sorkin works. I chalk this up mainly to the fact that in this show, he consistently shied away from actually discussing the issues he was claiming to be discussing. In The West Wing, at least from the few seasons I’ve seen, the show was not afraid to have an issue or political scenario hashed out in excruciating detail in long, in-depth scenes. It did not muddy the waters with relationship drama that completely overshadows the hardcore issues being addressed. And it was not afraid to have the characters be very smart and well-meaning but occasionally wrong at the same time. The Newsroom is afraid to depict any of the characters as being wrong; they are constantly self-justifying, and the show backs them up by having everything always work out just right. As I pointed out in my review of “Bullies,” the only moment on the show that lived up to that standard was the interview with Sutton Wall, where Will was being self-righteous and narrow-minded and had his head handed to him, like he deserved. And I can’t even give Sorkin credit for that because as I mentioned in that post, Sutton Wall is basically using the exact words of Robert Traynham.

“The bad:

1)   My brother’s a journalist and he hates this show, because it’s about a news team covering actual historic events, but the writer of the show has the benefit of hindsight, which any actual reporters at the time did not have. Which is obviously irksome to a journalist in a similar way that Grey’s Anatomy is irritating to doctors — it’s unrealistic and creates distorted perceptions of the profession. I personally enjoy Grey’s Anatomy most of the time, because I am not a doctor. I’m not a journalist either, so I’m pretty sure this won’t bother me the same way it bothers my brother.”

I’m still not a journalist, but I can absolutely see how this show is incredibly unfair to journalists, due to the hindsight factor. Yes, ideally, no one should have reported Gabrielle Giffords to be dead when she wasn’t, but telling us that and berating all the news networks that got it wrong is not very impressive when you’re making your show two years after the fact. We all know that the coverage of the Boston Bombing was abysmal, but it got sorted out eventually and there were a few news outlets that got it right the first time, just like with Gabrielle Giffords, so it’s really not the huge deal the show makes it out to be. (Except the Post identifying the wrong suspects. That could have ended badly, but fortunately it didn’t. Most shoddy coverage has no lasting effects, however. Hence not a big deal.) Also, the recapper at the Huffington Post points out that Will’s mission statement is hardly any different from other actual current cable newspeople. The show bothers me intensely with its inflated sense of its own importance and uniqueness.

2)   “Also because of hindsight, my brother tells me, the show gets preachy and sanctimonious, because of what the writer, Sorkin, thinks ought to have happened regarding these actual real-world events being depicted. I can handle a little preachiness (all Sorkin shows are a bit preachy and message-oriented), but too much gets on my nerves.”

Holy lord, was this show preachy. It’s like Sorkin doesn’t trust anyone to put any pieces together themselves; he has to spell it out for you. I cannot tell you how much I prefer the Daily Show’s strategy of pulling up a clip or a soundbyte and letting the viewer realize for him or herself why that politician or other newsmaker was being absurd or hypocritical or just stupid. A lot of people apparently liked Will’s whole spiel in the finale about the Tea Party being the American Taliban, but I felt like it was so over-the-top and condescending that I could not stop rolling my eyes at it.

3)   “Since The Social Network, Sorkin has kind of become a target for ridicule and criticism regarding his portrayals of female characters. In fact, the AfterElton recaps that I skimmed when the show was on the air sometimes had headlines like, “The 5 Worst Lady Blunders From Last Night’s ‘Newsroom,’” which contained lines like: “Aaron Sorkin‘s way of establishing [this female character’s] flaws are condescending and unbelievable.” I am not in the business of mind reading and I have no idea if Sorkin is an especially sexist man. I’d like to believe he isn’t. He has a daughter. Female characters on The West Wing like CJ Cregg and Ainsley Hayes were quite awesome. But is it possible for character portrayals to be sexist even if the writer himself is not sexist? I think yes, personally. If female characters are consistently more irritating/incompetent/shrill/underdeveloped/overly sexualized than the men, then that’s a sexist portrayal of women (I know, we have a lot of demands for our fictional representation; deal with it). This can be the case even if the writer doesn’t personally hate or disrespect women. I’ll probably be more sensitive to this while watching The Newsroom than I would be otherwise, since I know about this controversy.”

Well, the women in this show were pretty uniformly awful. But you know what? So were the men. It’s hard to call the show anti-women when it’s actually a lot worse than that — it’s anti-human. All the major characters suck, regardless of gender. They are all ruled by their love lives, they are all repeating the same patterns over and over, they are all maddeningly self-righteous, they are all often or at least occasionally professionally incompetent, and see my previous post for more detail on this. But yes, we never got to see a single woman come up with a great, innovative solution to a problem. Men are given professional supremacy throughout the show, even though Mac is supposedly in a position of authority and expertise.

4)   “I’ve heard that the villains in the show are often one-dimensional straw men, and Professor Dunphy’s comments in class reinforced that idea. I know that sometimes it’s very satisfying to root against a totally evil villain and watch him fall, but I really enjoyed the nuanced and often sympathetic opposition portrayed in The West Wing and thought it made the show feel more honest and rich.”

Simply put, the show needed more Sutton Walls. The Tea Party is the easiest target anywhere, and watching it being blasted week after week was not at all dramatically satisfying. I wanted more of the other side, and I understand that in the case of the Tea Party, there may not be another side, but then I want to know the reasoning of the people who are voting for them. An episode about THAT would have been interesting. As would an episode with a different target. What made The West Wing so great was that the issues changed every week and the opposition changed and nothing ever felt like a retread of what had already been done; each episode found something new and fascinating to explore. The opposition almost always had viewpoints worth hearing that would make you look at things just a little differently. I sometimes find it hard to believe that this show gets wrong everything that The West Wing got right.

I have one last major criticism that I only developed after watching the show for a while, and I summed it up in my Episode 8 review like this:

“And then there’s the show’s blatant hypocrisy and double standards about what is worth watching — evidently it’s okay for the SHOW to be melodramatic and focused on petty relationship struggles, because that’s “entertainment,” but the news is obviously different because the news shouldn’t be entertainment. What the show fails to grasp is that it’s undermining its own message by using the same emotionally manipulative techniques that it accuses the news of using. It’s saying higher standards are important, and then proceeds to scrape the bottom of the barrel with tawdry relationship drama, as if it doesn’t trust the viewers to keep watching unless it pulls all those lowbrow tricks out of its bag. Result is that I feel cheated and condescended to, and wish the show would just be more intelligent and more interesting without trying to play to the lowest common denominator.”

The hypocrisy also includes the fact that the show claims to condemn fear-mongering, yet it simultaneously calls the Tea Party things like “the American Taliban” and manufactures a secret source from inside the NSA to warn us about the government’s invasive and violating practices of wiretapping and interception of private communications and how this will spell the end of the civilization as we know it. Textbook fear-mongering. You can’t have it both ways.

I think these are all fundamental issues with the show, and the reasons I will not be watching next season.

Final Rating for the season: 2.5/5

The Newsroom — Character Evaluation Post

I’ve been dreading this assignment all semester long, because apparently I’m supposed to write 500 words on one single character from The Newsroom, when one of my major gripes about the show is that I don’t like the characters and that they don’t change in significant ways and just repeat themselves over and over again to the point where they are utterly predictable. You know, that whole definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s basically every character. Until maybe the season finale when a couple of them tried something different just because someone must have sent them a memo that it was the season finale and they should stop pulling the same old crap.

 

I can just picture it:

 

Network executive: “Y’know what we were thinking would be great? If you could have these characters behave in a way we haven’t seen before. Like, have an arc. Make progress.”

Aaron Sorkin: “Like what?”

Exec: “Well, you could have Maggie stop being an annoying wide-eyed idiot who’s in denial about her feelings for Jim and have her break up with Don for good this time?”

Sorkin: “Hmmm. I see what you’re saying. Maybe the denial part could change a bit. But we can’t have her break up with Don. She’s far too insecure to leave a man, and besides, we need to have that in place for next season or I might have to come up with an entirely new storyline for her.”

Exec: “Ah. Flawless reasoning. Well, maybe then you could have Jim stop being such a sad sack and actually try to move on with his life?”

Sorkin: “No, don’t you understand? Sad sackiness is Jim’s entire appeal. He has like nothing else going for him. Ladies love sad sacks. Take that away and he’ll be just another boring dude.”

Exec: “Well, I’m sure you know what the ladies like; far be it from us to question that. So never mind Jim and Maggie. How about Mac? Do you think maybe you could have her work on getting her meltdowns under control?”

Sorkin: “But that’s what makes her relatable to the viewers. No one can empathize with a coolly professional, endlessly competent woman — it’s all her constant screw-ups that earn sympathy, and her hysterics are adorable.”

Exec: “But do you really think it’s realistic that a person so prone to hysterics in stressful situations would have been able to earn two Peabody awards for work in Afghanistan?”

Sorkin: “Hmm, what did you say? Sorry, I was counting my money.”

Exec: “Maybe her hysterics are a manifestation of PTSD. That could be explored, right? In therapy? You like putting characters in therapy, right? Will MacAvoy in this show, Josh Lyman on The West Wing. . .”

Sorkin: “I suppose. Maybe next season. But Mac in therapy would take time away from Will’s therapy screen-time, and Will’s the main character so we can’t have that.”

Exec: “But it would be a great excuse to have more David Krumholtz on the show!”

Sorkin: “Can’t argue with that. Ladies love David Krumholtz.”

 

 

Basically, the only character that seemed to have a substantial arc was Will. Two basic arcs, personal and professional.

Professionally, he started off in the first two minutes of the show being blandly inoffensive, then exploded and we saw his true opinions on the state of American journalism, then was convinced by Mac to become a crusader for the Greater Good of News. This held true for the entire season, where every episode was essentially more of the same of this idea of Better News, whether that meant bashing the Tea Party or insulting people for watching trashy reality TV, until the season finale, where Will was forced to doubt the effectiveness of his actions for this cause. That lasted about half the episode before he returned with renewed conviction. The finale also contrives to show him that he is having his desired effect by bringing back a character from the beginning of the show who has now been inspired and fundamentally changed because of Will’s proselytizing. So this arc was designed to test Will’s beliefs and reaffirm them. Kind of like high school was for me, not a transformative experience but more of a, “Yup, I was right all along. Glad I never have to go through THAT again.”

Personally, he started off insisting that whatever he and Mac had in the past was completely and utterly over and that he hates her to the point of taking a pay cut in order to ensure that he can fire her any time he wants, although it is obvious to the viewers that he will never fire her and that he has unresolved feelings for her that he sucks at dealing with because he’s a repressed, arrogant jerk who will never admit to weakness, and forgiveness is weakness. Will thrives on self-righteous anger. I am of the opinion that if no one in the world ever did anything wrong or stupid again, Will would implode for sheer lack of anyone to lambaste and feel superior to. I can’t say I don’t understand that — life is easier when you feel like you have a better handle on the world than the people around you — but it’s not pleasant or entertaining to watch, at least not in the way it’s been portrayed here.

Will makes incremental progress on his relationship with Mac throughout the season, progress that is so incremental that it often seems completely frustratingly absent. It’s clearest when Will confronts his psychiatrist, David Krumholtz, toward the end of the season and demands, “Why can’t I forgive her?” At that point, he had heard enough apologies and been around Mac long enough to know that he still has feelings for her and she still has feelings for him and that they might still be able to have a relationship, and part of him wants to forgive her, but he can’t. And by the end of the season, it’s unclear if he has still not forgiven her or if he is simply too proud to tell her.

So sad, y’all. And yet I completely lack sympathy for Will. I’ve talked about this with my brother and we can’t figure out if it’s the writing or the acting — is the character just so fundamentally obnoxious that no matter what Jeff Daniels does as an actor, he can’t make him sympathetic? Or is Daniels’ completely warmth-less performance partially to blame? Or maybe it’s because I just can’t stand Mac and can’t root for anyone to be with her.

 

The crux of the matter remains this: as with the rest of the show, the characterization contains a lot of interesting ideas. Sorkin is an incredibly talented, smart, articulate, witty guy — let that be stated for the record. But in this show, his ideas, in plot and character, never cohere into a satisfying and entertaining whole. As Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com puts it: “I understand wanting to believe in the message here. I just wish I didn’t dislike so many of the messengers.”

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 10 — “The Greater Fool”

Huzzah, it’s the last episode! FINALLY!! I’ll never have to watch another hour of this show EVER AGAIN! *fires confetti cannons* I’m gonna get ice cream and bake cookies I have no idea how to bake and run into the streets singing and hug strangers and, and —

Um, I mean. I’m going to sit here, watch, and critique this episode in a calm, professional manner.

*surreptitiously brushes off confetti*

Ahem.

 

 

—   Will is on the air talking about how all the news programs are DOING IT WRONG. Well, that’s a note this show has never struck before.

—   Flashback to 8 days earlier (non-linear storyline alert!): Will seems to be missing from his apartment. This is a problem because there is still a DEATH THREAT out there, and he didn’t take his bodyguard to wherever it is he went. Will, you’re a stupidhead.

—   Wait, no, there’s a trail of blood! Ooh! Please tell me he got shot and is unable to be on the show anymore — hang on, no, he’s on the show 8 days later plus there’s a second season coming out in July with Jeff Daniels on the posters. Scratch that idea for improving the show. Will, you’re still a stupidhead for not having your bodyguard around. How did this happen?

—   They find him in the bathroom, covered in fairly small amounts of blood. Mac shrieks, “Billy!” and it took me a second to realize she was referring to Will because she has never, ever called him that before.

—   Oh, boo, nobody shot him, it was just a bleeding ulcer.

—   Doctor’s asking about Will’s medical history and Mac is shocked to learn he’s on anti-depressants, even though if anyone on the planet needed some Prozac, it’s Will MacAvoy.

—   Apparently Will overdosed on anti-depressants because he was super depressed because Reporter-ex-Brian did a “hatchet job” with his article about the show. “Well, THAT was a shock,” said no one ever. Will, see bullet points 2 and 3 re: “stupidhead.” (Please don’t think I’m not mocking depression; depression is a serious thing and this show does it a disservice by having characters do blatantly stupid things that backfire on them and cause a sudden depressive downspin, just for the sake of season finale drama.)

—   Flash forward to Will anchoring the news again. Talking about Dorothy Cooper, who for once is a real person, not one made up by the show to make a point.

—   Will is basically saying exactly what that thinkprogress post said, how voter fraud is a miniscule speck of a problem and that forcing people to have photo IDs to vote will disenfranchise millions of people like Dorothy Cooper. (It still bugs me when the show acts like it’s doing something no one else is doing when plenty of news outlets at the time clearly covered the story just like this. YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL, NEWS NIGHT. GET OVER YOURSELF.)

—   Republican-bashing! Because that’s also something we’ve never seen on this show before!

—   Flashback to 7 days ago! Jim interrupts an important news meeting to ask about Sex and the City in order to know enough to impress Lisa. Jim, you’re being unprofessional and you’re not charming enough to get away with it.

—   And I find myself much more riveted by the croissants on the table than the conversation about Sex and the City tour buses. Again, the show CLEARLY doesn’t care about the news it purports to care so much about, because as soon as the conversation turns news-y again, the scene is cut.

—   Cut to Will in the hospital with Mac. Either they’ll get together by the end of this episode because it’s the season finale, or they don’t  because . . . I don’t even care.

—   Mac — sooooo surprisingly — has another hysterical fit. I think they must be contractually obligated, one per episode. Golly gee, I would never want to be her boyfriend.

—   HAHAHAHA Reporter-ex-Brian basically wrote what I’ve been writing on my blogs about the show’s sheer pretentiousness and delusions of significance. High five on the astral plane, Reporter-ex-Brian. But having one villainized character point this out does not count as self-awareness, Sorkin. Because I’m sure you’re not going to stop preaching, even if Will’s character has this momentary self doubt.

—   Although it is finally satisfying to hear someone say it and have Will admit, “He’s right!” Because he is.

—   Will says he’s not coming back. But this is not in the least suspenseful because we already saw the future where he does.

—   Hope Davis the gossip columnist is back. I thought we paid you to go away.

—   She has a tip that Will was high on the air back in episode 7, which of course he was. She says if she finds a second source, she has to go to press right away. Why? Because of journalistic ethics? Did she forget she doesn’t have any?

—   (I bet Will was her first source. Self-sabotage.)

—   And now the show is making a play for our sympathy, trying to get us to care about the plight of a gossip columnist. Nope, sorry, don’t care enough to feel bad for you.

—   Charlie is meeting with Secret Contact man to tell him he’s a sucky witness with a sucky reputation. Secret Contact does not take it well. Starts giving a Sorkin ramble that he can’t pull off because he’s not Martin Sheen.

—   Secret Contact promised incriminating info about the magazine where Hope Davis works, but doesn’t want to give it since they’re not letting him be a witness.

—   Flashback to 5 days ago! Sloan and Don, talking about the news in the most uninformative way, because they’re much more invested in the Will drama of the moment.

—   And evidently Maggie/Don drama too? I thought they broke up, but apparently he wants to ask her to move in with him. And now Sloan is giving a weird speech about how Don thinks he’s a bad guy so he tries to do good guy things. This would be a million times more interesting if we’d seen any meaningful storylines for his character that didn’t have to do with breaking up with Maggie. SHOW, DON’T TELL.

—   Oh, god, now we find out that Sloan’s had a crush on Don forever. Can we please have anyone on this show have really good solid interesting friendship that isn’t immediately all about romance? No? Never mind, then.

—   Most Insincere Enthusiasm About Don Moving In With Maggie Award goes to Jim.

—   Mac is being incredibly fake chipper and annoying at Will’s bedside.

—   And now Jim is spilling his relationship woes to Mac, which no one should ever do, because Mac is an irrational hysteric about relationships.

—   Jim has been going out with Lisa again for TWO MONTHS? Gah! Dude, grow a pair. I mean, she’s obviously the better girl, but you’re an idiot and you belong with Maggie because she’s also an idiot. Leave Lisa out of it.

—   Another Mac freakout! Never saw that coming!

—   Mac is trying to talk Will back to work, and breaks the news to him that word could get out that he was high and that could be the end of his career. He doesn’t seem fazed; I’m still betting he was the source.

—   Secret Contact man killed himself. I wish I cared, but I don’t. He just felt like a cheap, misplaced plot device, not a character.

—   Back to Will on the air. Uber-liberal Sorkin is once again using Will to tell Republicans what their party should be and why they suck at it. I just cannot take the show seriously when it’s this sanctimonious.

—   Flashback to 4 days ago! Neal is asking permission to continue “smoking out” the hacker who claimed to have left the death threat. Right, that happened.

—   Charlie got a letter from dead Secret Contact, but we don’t see what’s in it. Oooh, the suspense. Not. I’m sure it’s the incriminating evidence against the network and the magazine.

—   Will is watching the opening of the first Newsroom episode in the hospital — I mean, a viral youtube video that just happens to have been shot from the exact same angle as the show.

—   Charlie brings in the nurse to guilt Will into going back on the air, asking why her aunt, Dorothy Cooper (I see what you did there, show), isn’t being allowed to vote and why this isn’t on the news. So it’s up to Will to get it on the news — except in real life there was no Will or News Night and it made the news just fine without them. But hush, let’s not burst the show’s self-important bubble.

—   Ah, Will didn’t tell Hope Davis on purpose that he was high, but he accidentally left her a voicemail that was meant for Mac. Or Mac’s phone was hacked. Whatever. That’s even more uninteresting than my self-sabotage theory.

—   Dramatic Baba O’Reilly music as Will miraculously finds the motivation to go back on the air, naysayers be damned even though they’re right.

—   Montage of the whole newsroom gathering republican-bashing materials. You know, Sorkin, I want to see some democrat-bashing materials, because I’m sure they pull shenanigans too. But no, that’s not what this show’s for.

—   Lisa/Maggie confronting each other about Jim and Don. Oh dear god these storylines are tired. They were tired after one episode. And this is the tenth.

—   Of course the Sex and the City bus is there. And of course Jim is on it so that he can see her have a meltdown and confess to being in love with him to a whole bus full of strangers. That was THE most predictable thing I’ve ever seen.

—   And Jim’s chasing her and she’s hiding like a baby because all the people on this show are babies.

—   And she comes out and they kiss. Aww.

—   Argh, Jim says they can’t be together because of Lisa and Don. Let’s drag this out even more for no reason.

—   Will on the air to bring us more Tea Party bashing. Sigh.

—   Maggie’s preparing a breakup speech for Don and he’s asking her to move in with him. And just like that Maggie picks Don over Jim even though she CLEARLY WANTS JIM MORE.

—   Network people are confronting Will about him being high, Charlie pulls out the magic envelope from Secret Contact that shows that they hacked Mac’s phone and please can this storyline be over.

—   Oh, haha. Once they’ve got the network guy to admit to hacking and recorded it, it turns out the envelope had no evidence in it. Like I’ve never seen that trick before.

—   Sloan gives a defense of blind obnoxious idealism by saying that the country was made by “greater fools.” I see what you did there, Sorkin. It’s not convincing. Nobody who doesn’t already agree with this show’s politics is going to be swayed by it.

—   Mac is pestering Will to tell her what was in the message, even though it was obviously a love confession.

—   Yowch. Will just called the Tea Party the American Taliban. Because conflating things with terrorism and brutal oppression is always a sound argument.

—   Awkward Maggie/Jim talk where she tells him he’s a good guy and he says Don is too. Show, being “a good guy” is not enough for a relationship. Demonstrate to me WHY characters are compatible, aside from the fact that they like each other, because “a good guy who likes you” is NOT ENOUGH. It’s a start but nothing more.

—   Mac is harassing Will about the message, and he confesses that he thought he saw her that first day in the audience and she confesses it was her but she didn’t tell him because she’s a frigging moron. (No, actually she doesn’t say that. But it’s true.) And in this relationship, the characters have a clearly demonstrated compatibility but it’s because they’re both obnoxious idealists, which doesn’t make them likable and so doesn’t make the relationship compelling.

—   Neal’s plan to smoke out the death threatener led to 100 new death threats. Whatever.

—   Sorority girl is interviewing to intern on the show. I guessed that.

—   And they bring the show full circle by having Will say that wide-eyed, easily influenced idealists like sorority girl make America the greatest country in the world.

—   Hope Davis deletes the voicemail message and the show is over!!!!

 

Final Thoughts:

As you can see, I like this episode about as much as I’ve liked the rest of the show, which is to say, not a whole lot. Same issues as always — too much relationship drama involving weak/underdeveloped characters, not enough interesting angles on stories that haven’t already been done, the show beating the same dead horse over and over and over again, Mac being Mac, Will being Will . . . I will go into all of these things in more detail when I review the season as a whole.

As for the particulars of this episode, the death threat failing to pay off in any way was a disappointment. The network trying to fire Will was a retread of what had already been covered in several episodes and the villains didn’t take on any more depth over the course of it, so that was boring and seeing the good guys win wasn’t particularly satisfying because it was so obvious. Mac and Will and Maggie/Jim/Don/Lisa were the same mess of miscommunication and bad decisions as ever, so that was boring. The show being all meta and critiquing itself for its failings through Brian’s article was mildly interesting but not really because there were no lasting consequences and I knew from the start that there wouldn’t be any.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: In-class viewing of “Good Night and Good Luck”

I have to say, there is definitely something lost in the viewing of a movie like this in a classroom setting. What do I mean?

I mean, look. George Clooney and other handsome men in suits? Robert Downey Jr. in crisp black-and-white close-ups? (Seriously, there was a Buzzfeed list about why Robert Downey Jr is the sexiest man ever and it is a travesty that there was not one mention of how incredible he looks in black and white. I mean, for real:

Mmmmmmm.) Point is, in a classroom setting, there’s no one around to squeal with you about these wonderful gifts of cinema, and that’s just tragic.

Okay, I’m emerging from the shallow end of the pool now.

On a more intellectual level, I would compare this movie extremely favorably to The Newsroom, and consider it to be about on par with House of Cards, which, if you’ve read my reviews, is high praise.

It’s better than The Newsroom because it features the same message but gets it across so much more effectively and less annoyingly — instead of having characters rant and rave and speechify about how idealistic they are and how much better the news should be and explain over and over again what they’re going to do to make it better, the characters in Good Night and Good Luck just do it. When they know they’re going to lose advertisers over a controversial segment, they just immediately agree to pay the difference out of their own pockets. Actions speak louder than words, yo. Consistent problem with Newsroom is that its words far outweigh its actions.

The House of Cards comparison is mostly on the level of pacing. Both are what I’ve heard people refer to as “slow” but are what I tend to think of instead as “atmospheric.” There is such a thing as too much atmosphere and not enough story (see: Star Trek: The Motion Picture), but in my personal opinion (and hey this is my blog so who else’s opinion were you expecting), both House of Cards and Good Night and Good Luck found a good balance for the stories they were telling. While watching, I felt completely immersed in the world of the movie/show, and felt like the story unfolded and developed at an appropriate speed. In politics and newsmaking, things don’t happen all at once, people don’t constantly shoot spitfire dialogue back and forth, high drama isn’t constant, and I enjoy its depiction here.