Recap: ‘The Newsroom’ S3E4 “Contempt”
Things are really looking dire for both Will (Jeff Daniels) and ACN as the final, fantastic season of The Newsroom nears its end. What began as a return to form with the opening episode has become an explosive, dramatic way for the series to end and for Aaron Sorkin to big farewell to TV. The Newsroom is continuing its final run without mercy for its main characters. However, in “Contempt” – one of the most emotional episodes of the whole series – there is a great bitter sweetness as the sadness and joy were juxtaposed and blended perfectly, creating a very strong episode.
Everything really kicks off in “Contempt” during the conclusion of the Coorespondent’s Dinner. Even as the news team is still reeling from the shock of Will’s subpoena, their phones buzz with an alert as a story from a gossip website goes viral, citing the hypocrisy of Will railing on the very dinner he is attending. Though a seeming blip on the PR radar, Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) becomes very suspicious when he hears that the site that broke the story is the one that Hallie (Grace Gummer) works for – the one he is vehemently disapproves of. As they continue to battle over the morality of her employment choices, Hallie reveals that she told her colleagues how to find the story, citing that she was simply doing her job. As he tries to leave the party to avoid the repercussions of the story, Will, Charlie (Sam Waterson), and Mac (Emily Mortimer) are pulled into the scheduled meeting with new-age media mogul wannabe Lucas Pruit (B.J. Novak). The tensions rise to breaking point between the old and the new as not only does Pruit reveal that he used the party meeting as a power play to put the news team in their place, but also his social media ambitions for ACN.
Will’s first day in court goes exactly as attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) predicts, and he must appear before a judge, who grants Barry Lasenthal (Brian Howe) his order to force Will to reveal his source or be held in contempt. The pressure of Will’s refusal to admit that everything won’t necessarily turn out peachy keen is more pressing on his fiancée, especially as Mac seems to be fighting a losing battle as one obstacle in their way to reporting of America’s fixing of elections in a foreign nation turns into twenty. Don (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie (Alison Pill), Jim, and Mac work around the clock to lockdown the specifics of the story as well as who would be put into danger with the report. They find the false news stories’ author and attempt to move heaven and Earth trying to get him out of the country.
As the team keep on the phones to make the writer safe, Mac’s patience and any faith in Lilly Hart (Clea DuVall) is pulled to breaking point when the woman refuses to allow ACN more time for the story regardless of the danger to others. Mac’s frustration becomes palpable as Will prepares for his final day in court where he believes he will walk away while his future wife knows better. Mac reveals that she knows who the source is and Will tells her to never repeat what she said to him. Things come crashing down for Mac with the sale of ACN looming. Just as Maggie tells the team that the writer and his family are safe and that they can report the story, Mac is called up to Reese’s office (Chris Messina), and he tells her that she can’t break the story because Pruit will pull out of the sale. Though defeated, Mac and Don come up with a way for the story to still go out – an old professor of Don’s working puff pieces for the Associated Press.
Though ACN’s sale to Pruit is almost complete, Charlie refuses to believe that no one else exists who wouldn’t want to buy the news outlet. To come up with a better solution, he enlists Sloan (Olivia Munn), who pitches the idea to Toni Dodd (Talia Balsam) at a secret meeting. Even with the pitch feeling like the key to their salvation, Charlie dares to hope that his feelings of unease after the meeting are unfounded. Nearly moments before Pruit is to sign the papers, Sloan reads a report of movement on Dodd’s part and Charlie runs to end the deal with Pruit. However, as Sloan consults her Bloomberg terminal, she notices that ACN was merely bait for another sale Dodd was fishing for, and that was the deal Dodd was reporting. She gives Charlie the news, but not before he had already barged into the signing proclaiming victory. Instead, Pruit keeps his smug smile having known full well of Dodd’s financial intentions.
Personally, our news team is surfing the rocks continuously. Jim and Hallie are at each other’s throats over her new job through the whole episode, neither of them ever coming out smelling like roses. Hallie looks to have finally broken their relationship when she writes a very personal article about their most explosive fight and Jim calls her on her bullshit. Simultaneously, Maggie’s feelings for Jim are yet again at odds with her current relationship with Jack Spaniel (Jimmi Simpson), and they may be on the verge if not already broken up. Despite their continued run-ins with HR Head Wyatt Geary (Keith Powell), Don and Sloan continue to be a solid couple, and their fears over transfers are put to rest when Geary revels that he actually doesn’t care.
The episode ends in the aftermath of Will’s final day in court, where he is found in contempt after once again refusing to reveal the source. He has until 5 in the afternoon to be free, and Mac decides it is the perfect time to push their wedding up. The whole ending is a beautifully edited montage of silent sequences and short scenes as the news team collects everything for the impromptu ceremony while the US Marshalls prepare for Will’s arrest all to an acoustic rendition of “Ave Maria”. As Will and Mac finally tie the knot, the bitter sweet tone of the episode escalates as the ceremony is intercut with Lasenthal and the Marshalls ascending the courthouse steps, and in the end Will goes quietly.
Even if Sorkins’ penchant for writing quick, snappy dialogue – sometimes a little too much so – isn’t to everyone’s tastes, he knows how to create and write for his characters. “Contempt” was an episode we knew we would be getting with the last one ending the way that it did, but the emotion generated by the situations of our characters still grips us. There were very few things this week that went right for the news team, but those that did were very well composed moments that created a very strong episode.
Though the entire cast of The Newsroom is to be commended for the strength and consistency of their performances, Sloan and Don together remain favorites because of their absolute perfection for each other, and the performances by Sadoski and Munn are again the highlights of the episode. Though there were less grin splitting moments for Charlie in this episode, Waterson is still able to be intellectually eccentric, a trait the show couldn’t survive without. B.J. Novak also delivered a brilliant performance as the smug Pruit, so good that we wanted to punch him in the face, which is, of course, the intended effect.
The basic themes of The Newsroom are very much at work and intact in the latest episode, as it focuses mainly on the conflict between old and new media, embodied in the rivalries between both Charlie and Pruit, and Hallie and Jim. What makes “Contempt” stand out from the three episodes that came before it is that it has a much more serious overtone to it that leaks to its core. The Newsroom has always been a drama, but every episode had several lighthearted moments. “Contempt” was much more about hitting our characters with reality, taking away some of their safeties, and seeing what they can make of it. What we got was a very emotionally charged, dramatic episode leading into the penultimate one perfectly. The game has changed, and with so many new doors open we don’t know exactly what to expect.(4.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: HBO)