'Old Media Guy And New Media Girl: An Analog Romance'
Aaron Sorkin makes two nice, talented actors play out idiotic relationship fights no professionals would ever actually have, and it's not okay.
The thing about watching The Newsroom is that you know it's going to be bad -- probably really bad -- but you never know what kind of bad it's going to be. Even when one shitty thing gets addressed, as the chronic haplessness of Maggie's character has been this season, smoothing out that bulge just makes another one pop up somewhere else. Sorry, Hallie: it must have been a real drag to get these scripts and realize that new bulge is you.
When we met Hallie in Season 2, the situation was that Jim was trying to escape the pain of everything that had happened between him and Maggie by going on the road to cover the presidential campaign -- something, it turned out, that he had no fucking idea how to do. Jim was so far out of his depth, in fact, that he had to pick up tips from someone who produced content for -- get this -- the internet. Jim, our young and vibrant stand-in for the idea that TV 24-hour cable news is still an admirable field to enter and serves the public trust, taking advice from a mere Internet Girl? I mean, it was a real indication of how far Jim had fallen, if this was a position he could find himself in! Okay, sarcasm off: at that point in the series run, my recollection is that Hallie was portrayed as pretty capable and even a little famous in her orbit -- certainly more than Jim was, or is, in his. If Jim couldn't be with Maggie, Hallie was at least a more appropriate stand-in for her than Jim's last girlfriend had been.
But now, Aaron Sorkin only has six episodes in which to wrap up the series, which means that the chess pieces have to start getting into position for him to achieve his endgame. The most obvious example in this episode was, of course, Will getting sentenced to do time for contempt over his refusal to name the source on ACN's now-spiked Kundu story and MacKenzie impetuously deciding that they should use the few hours they have together before that to throw together a City Hall wedding first. There's also all the boring business stuff around the sale of ACN and the eleventh-hour attempt by Sloan and Charlie to find a buyer other than Pruit, ending in a shambles of misunderstanding that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Three's Company. But the assassination of Hallie's character feels the most unjust.
This whole season, Hallie has gone from being a human female character to the embodiment of Irresponsible Internet Sensationalism. It is she, in the Season 3 premiere, who tries to bully her upstanding ACN colleagues into using Twitter as a legitimate source for all the great reporting they're so proud of (that ends up leaving them fourth in the ratings). It is she, in Episode 2, who gets herself fired over her choice to be arch and inflammatory on the network's Twitter feed. Never forget:
From there, Hallie has to star in a torture play about the wages of internet sin. She's forced to take a low(ish)-paying job at a gossipy news startup with performance bonuses or incentives (depending on whom you ask -- her or Jim) tied to how much traffic her posts attract. Thus she also incurs the judgment of her boyfriend, who is apparently under the misapprehension that he works for ProPublica or something, for her complicity in a system that will shower her with pieces of silver for betraying journalistic integrity. He also believes she's being used as an unwitting tool for rival media companies to exploit in their conspiracy against his employer, as if rival media companies really need to bother fucking with an outfit that, as previously mentioned, is literally fourth-rate. When Hallie starts at Carnivore, with a mandate to do first-person essays about her own experience -- initially, on her experience using the emergency contraceptive Plan B -- Jim pretends he's okay with it, and then accuses her of producing pornography. (So in case you're keeping track, Sorkin is still so bitter about Mandy Stadtmiller that he's gotten his revenge on her through, to date, not one but two fictionalized avatars.)
Jim's knee-jerk Penthouse forum dig at Hallie is, as ever, less a reflection on her than evidence of how out of touch Aaron Sorkin is with the current landscape of journalism in all its forms. The entire premise of The Newsroom is the extremely outdated notion of TV news anchors bearing the awesome responsibility of telling us, the masses, what's important for us to know. Whichever character has the bad luck of having to tell old media colleagues what's happening on the internet -- Neal or Hallie or probably, eventually, this clown Pruit -- will always end up learning how dangerous it is to place any importance on information that may come from this sloppy, unserious medium. For Sorkin, and his mouthpiece Jim, the internet isn't a democratic setting in which Hallie may want to share the details of her own personal experience for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with racking up page views; it's a peep show where Hallie is being forced, against her will, to expose herself for greasy singles.
So Hallie ends the way all internet gold-diggers must: by writing a thinly veiled, one-sided portrait of her relationship with Jim and publishing it online. By living down to his worst expectations. By shaming him using her evil medium, knowing that the shining beacon of journalistic rectitude he works for doesn't provide him with a similar space to respond in kind. By proving to him that the right woman for him isn't and can never be one who would deign to give her labour to the slavering maw of the internet. Lisa the clothing-store clerk was too dumb; Hallie the internet sensationalist was too shrewd. And Maggie?
Maggie is just right.
As I already said, I know that Sorkin is placing his characters where they need to be in order for the show's last hours to play out the way he wants: I also know there's no way the show was going to end without Jim and Maggie being in mutually requited love. But maybe there was a way to get there without Jack's having to mansplain Maggie's own feelings to her after having hung out with her two and a half times, and without Hallie's exposing her relationship for an internet referendum.