The second season of The Newsroom ended last Sunday night with Atlantic Cable News reporting on the reelection of President Barack Obama and Reese Lansing prohibiting the resignations of the News Night senior staff, but one important question was left unanswered: When the hell did Don Keefer become the best character on this show?
It was difficult to see how truly WONDERFUL Don is back in season one, when his main duty was to be the third side of the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle – and the least sympathetic side at that. I’m all for an unrequited love story, but you gotta give me some character. The audience never bought Don and Maggie; they were a device, not a relationship. And Don was unfairly painted as a jerk, his very existence somehow “trapping” Maggie, oblivious to the longing looks shooting back and forth over his head. The fog lifted in season two when Jim and Maggie became impossibly self-pitying and frustrating, and Don emerged as a knight (A news knight? I hate myself.) in shining armor. Lucky us. Lucky Sloan.
I’ve been aware of Thomas Sadoski as a stalwart New York City theater actor, but haven’t been lucky enough to catch any of his productions. That’s probably because they’ve been (Other Desert Cities, reasons to be pretty) far too popular, and thus expensive, especially for someone who survives on discount theater. His long and impressive stage career poised him perfectly for Newsroom success though – he’s built for that A-Few-Good-Men-cadenced Sorkin dialogue. Take this scene with Neal, one of my favorite Don moments from this past season:
Don: “I too believe Will and Sloan can be a little smug and I think you guys are showing a lot of wisdom by having me be the one to fix it.”
Neal: “You were really the only one left.”
Don: “The only guy for the job.”
Neal: “The only one left.”
Don: “The only one who could get it done.”
Neal: “There was nobody else.”
Don: “Nobody but me.”
Neal: “Left in the office.”
Don: “One man-”
Neal: “There she is.”
Sadoski’s obviously handsome, but in an almost chameleon-like way. When Don was the obstacle to Jim/Maggie, he was slick and smarmy. Then he’s crusading for truth and championing Sloan and, look out, we got a dreamboat in the house.
Whether you ship Sloan/Don (Doan? Slon? The ship name possibilities are far too unsexy for these two.), you must admit that it was largely their budding friendship that humanized Don. (More on that later, don’t you worry.) Though, he was already making strides into likability by the end of season one. Don’t forget that, in the pilot, Don jumped the News Night ship for Right Now with Elliot Hirsch after Will’s rant went viral and tried to take Maggie with him. He balked at Will and Mac’s movement to revolutionize TV news, a plan that he found foolish and resented because their loss of viewership would chip away his numbers in the 10 o’clock hour. Don was the ratings guy, towing the company line. He was also an amalgamation of two character sketches, which Sorkin combined and beefed up once he saw Sadoski in action. It took a while for it all to gel.
But Don lives and breathes the news, and this kind of take-no-prisoners, have-no-personal-life singlemindedness is almost always worshiped in the Aaron Sorkin universe. It’s romantic. It’s tilting at windwills, in the best possible way. (He even made that Zuckerberg guy a hero.) And in that idealistic universe, it’s possible for Will’s values and work ethic to transform everyone in that building. On The Newsroom, the bad guys aren’t even bad guys any more. At least not internally – Don manned up and joined the right team, Leona and Reese are already won over. ACN is a unit now. You come at one of them, you come at them all. Jerry Dantana, the outsider, was a common villain for the office to unite against and for the audience to loathe. Like on The West Wing, it’s much more fun to keep the conflicts between the coworkers either light, personal, or both and keep the real threats coming from outside the bubble. It just wasn’t in the cards for us to stay mad at Don forever, especially after he stood up to Reese and refused to rush a story without the facts just to stay ahead of the competition. We knew we were meant to start rooting for him because our patron saint and leader Will McAvoy went from describing him – not inaccurately – as “dickless” to giving him the highest compliment available to the ACN team of greater fools: “You’re a fucking newsman, Don. I ever tell you otherwise, you punch me in the face.” Don’s response? “Okay, but you’re back in 30.” Like a boss.
And then, there’s Don and Sloan.
In each other, Don and Sloan each found a friend, confidante, and colleague who believed in them more than they believed in themselves. If the self-esteem boosting seemed skewed in Sloan’s direction this year, it’s because Don was repaying the attitude-adjusting reality check that she gave him in the season one finale.
Sloan: “Somebody or something convinced you of it, because you think you’re a bad guy… and you’re just not. I’m socially inept, but even I know that. So because you’re a bad guy you try to do things you think a good guy would do. Like committing to somebody you like, but maybe don’t love. A sweet, smart, wholesome midwestern girl. I could be wrong. I almost always am.”
Spoiler alert: she wasn’t.
I have issues with the character quirks and tribulations Sorkin selected with the intent of making a brilliant economist who looks exactly like Olivia Munn relatable, but I have no issue with the way he wrote Don’s relationship with her. By the time Sloan gives Don her assessment of him, he’s already alienated almost everyone in the office. She gets him, he realizes, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t free to ask her out when she basically invited him to. Instead, they became allies. Don knows Sloan’s a hell of a lot smarter than him (“She’s got 50 IQ points on both of us, there’s nothing I could ‘put in her head.'”) and Sloan knows that Don sees her as a full human being and doesn’t cherry pick from her smarts, looks, or insecurities. After an old boyfriend leaks naked pictures of Sloan on the internet, Don knows instinctively how to be the exact kind of friend she needs in that moment. I love how, even in that incredibly intimate scene where he sits next to her on his office floor while she cries, Don doesn’t make any move to hug her or wipe her tears. He knows that the last thing she’d want right then is a guy – any guy – to touch her. He just sits with her, calls her “impressive” (swoon), and helps her move from the humiliation stage to the rage stage. I admit that I groaned at the first mention of the naked picture subplot, but it revealed so much about the character of the guys Sloan usually runs into and how hard Don puts them to shame. The ex – I can’t recall his name, so let’s just call him AIG Asshole – is so threatened by Sloan’s existence – so offended that someone who looks like that can be also be so much more impressive than him – that he doesn’t even treat her like a human being. When it comes time to give AIG asshole the literal kick in the balls that he needs, Don lets Sloan do the honors and serves as a reliable second. Did you scream? I screamed. A little bit.
The book bit that finally got them together in the finale was very sweet, but it was in “News Night with Will McAvoy” that Don earned Sloan. I can’t wait to see what season three (ANNOUNCE IT, HBO) has in store for them. Keep your life jacket and water wings; I will go down with this ship.
I miss the ACN newsroom already, but Don? Don I miss the most. What did you think of this past season, readers? Are you as enamored with Keefer as I am? Leave it in the comments.