I started to get better at writing in my final year of university. Not even that I was good -- just that I started to get better. Really useful, eh? I get a four-year degree and I don't know what I'm doing until it's far too late to matter, until it's already set in stone that I'll be moving on at the end of the year and I won't be an A student when I do.
Anyway, in my first semester I got back this research paper and my mark was something just slightly above average -- probably a 76. The final paragraph of this six-page paper was circled in red and the comment read, "This final paragraph should be the first paragraph to a truly great essay."
It was a compliment but also a shot fired. Although the criticism was positive, the mark meant the essay was missing something, that it wasn't the "truly great essay" he was hoping he'd read.
Question: Is it worse to just not have the talent, or worse to have it and ignore it?
And do you see where I'm going with this?
Because as brilliant as Aaron Sorkin's writing is, as wonderful as the acting has been, this dream team of production and performance couldn't quite get it together all at once until their first, middle, and last names were already chiseled on their tombstones.
And Sunday night's series finale, it's obvious, would have made a much better premiere than the pilot did. It was probably the show's best hour.
That whole Northwestern speech McAvoy gave in 2012 was awesome and all -- star-spangled awesome, actually -- but it would have made a better ending for episode one than it did an opening.
Because this whole time, this whole series, we've only been told that Will was a jerk before the Northwestern speech. We've only been told he was the Jay Leno of the nightly news, that he had basically given up on being tough, that he hadn't asked a tough question since probably September 11, 2001.
But in tonight's finale, they actually showed us the whole thing. It was concrete and blunt and it flowed fast.
(NOTE: Prequels shouldn't exist. Whenever I see a prequel, I just think, 'Why wasn't that the first one?')
It never made sense to me, over three short seasons, that Will even had to change. Because all we saw of him was the guy at Northwestern and after, when he was all ideals and anti-money.
We've only seen the crusader McAvoy, not the fake-smiling coward McAvoy that Sorkin's script only occasionally alluded to, like he was some ghost at the bottom of a pit ACN had crawled out of.
Until tonight, that is. Until the showrunners decided to take us back to Step 1, and then a couple paces before that.
The whole thing makes sense now, and the battle was actually finally defined -- so often, The Newsroom's sloppy attempt to tell us what journalism's missing and what's wrong with TV and radio and the Web just sounded like a bunch a high-minded, academic twist on Irish guilt. Like you couldn't enjoy a meal unless you struggled to swallow it -- the whole 'eat your vegetables' crap that, while it's good advice, isn't very much fun to watch. Sunday night became a chore on HBO, just like Sunday mornings are a chore when you're at church.
But after the finale, it's pretty clear what Sorkin and his characters, as extensions of himself -- mostly Charlie Skinner actually, not McAvoy -- were trying to say, and trying to achieve...
Just give a damn.
Just try a little, and don't be afraid to ruffle a feather, especially if you believe you have to.
In the finale, the script goes back to when Mackenzie was unemployed and searching for a job -- before she got the executive producer's job bossing around her ex, Will -- and we see her first meet Charlie, and he offers her a brand new career that will save her from spending another Monday drunk, in her pajamas, at bowling alleys in D.C.
She tells Charlie that she's watched from afar at Will's "descent into complete surrender."
And Charlies responds, "You're not exactly slaying him in the aisles here at Lucky Strike."
It wasn't really that social media was evil or that interviewing Kiefer Sutherland and covering the finale of 24 was lazy. It wasn't that posting articles about "The Most Overrated Films of All-Time" was worthless or that you couldn't inject your opinion into a broadcast, or that arguing ruined debating.
It was just this: if you're going to do the news, then do the news.
And this: if you're going to criticize someone else, try earning the right to.
And, just maybe, you don't know all you think you know. (Dev Patel's character Neal Sampat proved that over and over, by shutting down Will's and Mackenzie's and Charlie's fossilized theories about the Web and how awful it was with his own hard work, ethics, and conviction.)
Instead of all the sobering, boring lectures, where Sorkin was trying to instruct us all to be more interested in something he probably isn't even interested in -- the hard truth, real news -- and probably couldn't do if he had to -- ah whatever, he's a screenwriter not a reporter - we were finally handed the secret, at last given the meaning to "Rosebud".
It took the show an awful long time to get there, right up until it didn't exist anymore.
But hey, as I learned in my last year at Western, that's often how it goes.
All you can do is smile, shrug, and find a new channel.
*This was originally published on White Cover Magazine...
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