By Josh Axelrod
I never thought “The Newsroom” would be the kind of show to kill off its characters. Well, its major characters at least. There have been brushes with mortality on the show before, but the stakes for the ACN staff are rarely life and death. So when Charlie Skinner collapsed and banged his head on that desk, it came as a total shock. His death wasn’t quite as crushing as Beth’s on “The Walking Dead,” but it was pretty damn close.
But before Charlie’s death, we had to deal with every other subplot under the sun. The main one of course was Will’s incarceration. We opened on Will reaching his jail cell and quickly jumped to 52 days of Will sitting on his bed reading books from the prison library. He had a very chatty cellmate who kept asking about his family and fishing. It turned out he was in prison for domestic violence, and Will correctly guessed it wasn’t his first offense.
This was the first time the show ever used Jeff Daniels’s size to its advantage. When the cellmate threatened to beat him up, Will stood up and was clearly at least four inches taller than him. Will snarled, “Raise your hands above your hips and I’ll knock you the f*** into next week.” Anyone who says Daniels didn’t deserve that Best Actor Emmy is crazy.
Back at ACN, Pruitt’s attempt to attract younger viewers appeared to be working. ACN climbed from fourth place to third in that 52-day stretch. Mac hated the new emphasis on citizen journalism and fluff pieces, but Charlie seemed weirdly into the new business model. You could tell something was wrong with him by how defeated he sounded.
Mac learned that Lilly hart shot herself in the mouth in front of the Department of Justice. Her death should theoretically meant that Will could give her up as Neal’s source now. Mac told Rebecca Halliday that she knew Lilly Hart was the source, and Rebecca told Mac that she’d get Will out of jail immediately.
Sloan was chewed out by Erin Andrews (fun name drop!) because an app developed by ACN called “ACNgage” that tracked celebrity whereabouts led paparazzi to her. Sloan and Don yelled at Bree, Neal’s replacement web editor. The guy was rude, had no concept of privacy and clearly couldn’t have cared less about journalism. Sloan hatched a plan to interview him on his show under the guise of promoting the app. We’ll get to her epic takedown later.
Lucas Pruitt wanted the team to cover the story of a Princeton student named Mary (“Veep’s” Sarah Sutherland) who was raped and started a website where victims could publicly shame their accusers. Pruitt wanted an in-studio interview with Mary and her rapist. Don was opposed to this story on a lot of levels, but Charlie told him to track Mary down. Again, this was all incredibly uncharacteristic of Charlie.
Jim and Maggie were in Moscow trying to board a plane to Havana so they could get pictures of Edward Snowden. ACN failed to book them seats and the plane was full. Yawn.
Will’s cellmate was a really nosy guy who kept asking him personal questions. He called out Will for feeling superior to working class guys like him, which Will readily admitted he did. Rebecca and the Department of Justice guy visited him and tried to get Will to admit his source was Lilly. Will still refused because he knew outing Lilly like this would disappoint Neal.
Charlie continued to baffle Mac by forcing her to set up an interview with Lady Gaga’s manager about something she tweeted. Charlie insisted all he cared about was viewers and followers, but his words were all so hollow. Mac, Sloan and Don all saw it.
Don found Mary at Princeton. He impressed her with his knowledge of Princeton, specifically Hoagie Haven, which I have been told by a Princeton native is an awesome reference. Don told her about all the detective work he did to track her down before letting her know he was there to persuade her not to do the interview.
I’m just going to breeze through Jim and Maggie’s storyline because of how little I cared about it. Maggie urged Jim to call Hallie, which he didn’t. Maggie and Jim finally got on the plane and missed Snowden. Jim confessed he liked Maggie, and at first she recoiled. Later on she changed her mind and kissed him. Yay, whatever. Hallie’s more attractive than Maggie. Moving on.
Don’s conversation with Mary was way more fascinating and topical considering the complicated issues surrounding the Rolling Stone UVA article. While Mary argued that she had every right to tell her story and bring the guys that raped her to justice, Don made the slightly sexist but logically sound case that her website is a recipe for women to make false claims against men.
Don said he’s the kind of guy who believes O.J. Simpson is innocent because a jury said so. Whether he believed Mary’s story or not, Don said he didn’t want to open her up to scrutiny from a TV and Internet audience. Mary told Don that her website scared men, including Don, and that she was most concerned with seeing that justice was served. Don said that a faceoff with her rapist would just cause a “lawless food fight” that wouldn’t get justice for anyone.
Will’s cellmate continued to grill him, this time asking questions about Mac. He was irked by Will bringing up Mac’s Cambridge education, and Will accused the cellmate of hating women smarter than him. The cellmate then brought up Will’s “mission to civilize” from Don Quixote, something we haven’t heard about for quite a while. Will admitted that it’s not going well.
Rebecca told the DoJ guy that she was going to file a motion to get Will’s original contempt verdict overturned, and the DoJ guy wouldn’t stand in her way. He said it’s clear that Will won’t give up his source and, since they basically know it’s Lilly and she’s dead anyway, there’s no point in keeping him locked up anymore.
Sloan absolutely destroyed Bree in that interview, destroying the credibility of the ACNgage app. She also proved what a dick Bree is by getting him to say, and this is a direct quote: “People don’t read this with the expectation of it being true.” And that came from a man working for a news network. Holy crap.
Charlie was livid, yelling that he wanted to see Mac and Sloan fired. He asked Don if he got the college rape story, and Don said he couldn’t find the girl. Charlie straight up lost it and screamed, “Is this a mutiny?!” To which Mac replied: “It’s an intervention.” Pruitt entered the scene, also screaming that he wanted Mac and Sloan gone now. Charlie came to his senses a bit, telling Pruitt that only he had the power to fire people.
The rest happened so fast. Charlie collapsed and banged his head hard on a desk. In a montage, Charlie was rushed to a hospital. Will is let out of prison, but before he leaves we get a look at a picture of he and his dad fishing…and his dad was that cellmate! Will was hallucinating with his dad the whole time! Full disclosure: I wasn’t paying close attention and missed this. This awesome twist went completely over my head and had to be explained to me later by a friend with less ADD than me.
The episode ended with a tearful reunion between Mac and Will outside the prison. Mac told Will that Charlie had a heart attack that evening and died. No ambiguity or hope for him pulling through. Charlie Skinner died over the stress from his inability to reconcile his journalistic integrity with Pruitt’s vision for ACN. I take back the nasty things I said about Charlie last week. He was a news dinosaur, but he didn’t deserve to go out like this.
RIP Charlie Skinner. I hope you’re have a glass of good scotch in a better place.