The Newsroom Season Finale: A Greater Fool

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Picasso’s Don Quixote

“I’m a loafer by nature, I’m too lazy to go hunting for authors who say what I already know how to say without their help.”
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Volume 1, Prologue, pg. 8

by Glynn Wilson

I have a confession to make. I realize I’m a “greater fool,” perhaps like Don Quixote.

But I don’t give a damn. Like the 16th century hero of Spanish fiction, I will keep on charging like a heroic knight until the end.

“The Greater Fool” was the name of the season finale episode of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” on Home Box Office (HBO). It was used to describe the show’s main character, Will McAvoy, because of his belief in doing “real news” in a media world now dominated by celebrity news, sensational crime and two-sided political coverage where the liars are held up as equal to the truth tellers. This is considered a naive and hopeless thing to do, maybe even crazy, just as Don Quixote was looked upon in his time.

McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, realizes the futility of this so-called “Newsroom 2.0,” but the smart and sexy financial reporter Sloan Sabbith, played by Olivia Munn, tells McAvoy: “The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.”

Written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Greg Mottola, the season finale begins when, after reading a New York Magazine hit piece on him, McAvoy mixes painkillers, anti-depressants and alcohol and ends up vomiting blood and passing out. Lonny and MacKenzie find him lying on the floor of his apartment unconscious and take him to the hospital, where he’s diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer.


As Will lies there recovering, MacKenzie wants to know why he did this to himself. Will’s taken the article completely to heart-memorizing it’s more devastating passages-and wants to quit doing the news.

Gossip columnist Nina Howard informs Mac she has an unimpeachable source who says Will was high on the air while reporting the death of Bin Laden. If she finds another, she’ll have to go to press with it.

Charlie meets with Hancock to let him know they can’t make him the face of the NSA story because of his character issues. He asks his source to hand over the proof that TMI was hacking phones, but Hancock refuses. Instead, he tells Charlie about the beef stew he used to make for his children, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Later in the week, Jim informs Charlie that Hancock committed suicide by jumping off the Queensboro Bridge.

Even after Mac, Jim and Charlie bash the article, Will won’t want to return to work. Charlie brings in Will’s surly nurse to tell him about her 96-year-old aunt, Dorothy Cooper. She lives in Tennessee and for the first time in 75 years, won’t be able to vote because of new voter ID laws. The nurse wants to know why she hasn’t seen this story on the news. Inspired, he pulls out his IV and tells the nurse he needs more information about her aunt; he’s going to tell her story. He returns to the newsroom and the staff prepares to uncover the lies that have been spreading throughout American politics.

In a meeting with Reese and Leona, Will cops to being high on the air the night of Osama bin Laden’s death. Leona immediately fires him, but Charlie and Mac reveal that Reese only knows about this because he’s been hacking phones. Charlie produces an envelope he received from Hancock to prove it. Leona looks to her son incredulously, and Reese admits he’s been committing a felony, if only to stay afloat in a competitive market. After producing a tape recorder, Charlie agrees not to bring forth the evidence in exchange for TMI killing the story about Will, and AWM killing TMI. And they’re going after the Tea Party-hard. When Leona tells Charlie she doesn’t negotiate this way, Charlie assures her it’s no negotiation. Before he leaves, Leona shares some advice for Will, “Don’t shoot and miss.” She opens the envelope from Hancock and finds a recipe for beef stew.

Will goes on the air that night, but instead of discussing the S&P downgrade of the U.S. Treasury or the Dow’s worst day of trading in three years, he leads with the story of Dorothy Cooper. He then pivots to discuss the fact that Tea Partiers would call him a RINO-a Republican in Name Only-but he has another term for them. With their denial of science, belief in scriptural literalism, fear of progress, need to control women’s bodies, tribal mentality, and pathological hatred of the government, he considers the Tea Party, “The American Taliban.” “And,” he ends his broadcast, “The American Taliban cannot survive if Dorothy Cooper is allowed to vote.”

Will realizes that the student who asked the question that started his troubles in the first episode is waiting in the conference room. After unleashing a tirade on her for ruining his life, he asks why she’s there. She tells him she’s applying for an internship because she knows what a greater fool is and she wants to be one. He makes her ask him her “idiot question” again. She asks, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” Will responds, “You do.”

Other Don Quixote Quotes

“Here lies a gentleman bold
Who was so very brave
He went to lengths untold,
And on the brink of the gave
Death had on him no hold.
By the world he set small store–
He frightened it to the core–
Yet somehow, by Fate’s plan,
Though he’d lived a crazy man,
When he died he was sane once more.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

“I do not deny that what happened to us is a thing worth laughing at. But it is not worth telling, for not everyone is sufficiently intelligent to be able to see things from the right point of view.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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