Warning: this post is more full of spoilers than an instant noodle is of transfats. Do not read if you don’t like them.
So we finally got to see how the Genoa story went out, and how it collapsed. In Sorkin’s most skilful bit of flashbackery so far, the immediate run-up to the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the immediate fallout from the broadcast, the climaxes of everyone’s depositions, and the ultimate clincher were all crammed with Chinese-box neatness into one hour. I don’t always admire (because I’m not always able to follow) Sorkin’s penchant for the flashback, but here there was never any doubt about what was happening when.
Jerry’s cardinal sin, that of falsifying interview footage, got found out, of course, by Meredith; it had to happen sooner or later and sure enough it was the general’s insistence on having the basketball game on in the background that eventually brought the whole thing down. This struck me then and strikes me now as something that only a more stupid person than Jerry is supposed to be would have thought he’d get away with, especially as we saw him doing various complicated kinds of digital image manipulation earlier on (that looked like a lassoo select he was doing on the general, for example). But never mind, that’s Jerry’s tragedy, the fact that he’s so driven by hatred of the terrible things that America has done in the name of freedom that he’s willing to falsify evidence in order to bring them to notice — except that if he’s falsified evidence he’s not really bringing anything to notice, he’s just lying, and it pretty quickly stopped being his tragedy when, on being fired, he promptly sued ACN for a seven-figure sum for wrongful dismissal, claiming that it wasn’t just his fault but was ‘institutional failure’. As Hit-Girl would say, What a douche.
It didn’t help, mind, that Charlie’s supposedly reliable DoD source turned out to be angry and resentful because his junkie wastrel son, who had been an intern in ACN much earlier, had been fired for not doing his job properly and had subsequently relapsed back into addiction and died, and the DoD guy was angry not with his son or with himself but with Charlie for not giving the son some kind of special treatment, and had forged the weapons manifest, writing ‘FUCK YOU CHARLIE’ on it in the kind of invisible ink that shows up when you heat the paper, i.e. urine. ‘You bide your time,’ he sneeringly told Charlie after slapping him in the face. (Anyone who dares to slap Sam Waterston in the face is good only for conversion into pet food, in my book.)
You’d have thought that Charlie would have recognised a piss-soaked piece of paper when one falls into his hands, but it seems not. Also, it seems to me that feeding false information to a major news network because they weren’t nicer to your fuck-up son, in the full knowledge that the story, when broken, might lead to massive and violent repercussions against American servicepeople, is the kind of act that is surely punishable by a massive prison sentence. But apparently no.
The best thing about this episode was that it showed ACN failing spectacularly. Jeff Daniels’ offhand admission ‘We weren’t very good’ is almost up there with his classic Season 1 Episode 1 explanation of why America isn’t the greatest country in the world. The team seemed properly chastened, and when Mackenzie finally realised that Jerry had faked the tape and that they had to retract the story, there was a real sense that everyone in the room was facing the end of their careers.
Except that we’re only 7/9 of the way through the season. Something had to happen, because we can’t have two more episodes of the entire cast sitting around in their apartments looking at job ads. Charlie, Will and Mackenze foregather (it’s the only word for it) to hand in their resignations to Leona Lansing, and with hindsight it should have been clear that the only person who could get the show back on the road was Jane fucking Fonda. And get it back on the road she did, in a bravura scene in which she failed to remember Mackenzie’s name (‘Twiggy over here’), leched after Daniel Craig, gave every appearance of being on very expensive cocaine, but also made it clear that her flagship news station was important to her precisely because of its not-quite-quixotic insistence on high-mindedness. ‘You make me so proud,’ she woozed at them, and it was nice that there was more than a hint that it wasn’t just sentimentality, that she liked ACN because it was also financially good for her empire to have a news network that staked itself out as being more interested in real debate. Charlie and Will pointed out, very reasonably, that there was no way, after this, that they would ever be able to make her proud again. ‘We’ve lost the public trust,’ Charlie sighed. Leona glared at him. ‘So GET IT BACK!’ she barked — and the screen went to black.
It was one of Sorkin’s most skilful, most ridiculous, most unlikely and most gloriously exhilarating pieces of writing, the kind of stuff he lives for. The person you expect to be the bad guy turns out to have bigger balls than anyone else, and in the cause of the angels, too. This does rather bear out the notion, floated in this Grantland article and backed up the AV Club’s excellent coverage of the show, that Sorkin can’t bear conflict between people and always seeks to defuse it. (We never see Jerry getting fired and, indeed, we never see him at all after it’s become clear that he faked the footage.) But who cares when Jane Fonda herself is telling you to man up and get back in the saddle?