This week on the penultimate episode of The Newsroom, we get some insight into the network news election night process as the News Night team covers the 2012 presidential election. However, our fearless leaders are still focused on mitigating the Genoa fallout. More on Election Night, Part I below...

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This episode had a healthy dose of Sorkin dialogue, but ultimately I was left perplexed. It's a familiar feeling for The Newsroom viewers: The sense that characters' actions and decisions were written in to serve a predetermined plot point, not out of an organic progression related to any sense of continuity of character. But if I have to pick a theme for the evening, it's guilt, punishment, and redemption.

Let's start with Sloan. She's a member of the Election Night 2012 anchor desk, but the focus of the evening for her is the results of a recent charity auction. She feels guilty because someone bid on a signed copy of her book for $1000, but...she didn't sign it. Gary Cooper forged her signature because she wasn't around to do it at the time. (He insists he didn't use hearts over the i's or anything.) Neil is supposed to find out who did it before the end of the evening, which they reserved for the season finale. Sloan feels guilty about the fraud and wants to redeem herself by giving the recipient a legitimately signed book.

We know it's Don, right? It's totally Don.

Speaking of Don, he gets the fun news that Jerry Dantana (who really is going balls-to-the-wall with this lawsuit stuff) is suing Don because in a job reference, Don called him a sociopath. Don will have to take out a second mortgage to cover the expenses if he wins, and pull $20M out of his ass if he loses. (Which, if Becca is his lawyer, he'll soooo win, amirite?)

But legally, did Don call him a sociopath? He said "if you want to hire a sociopath, Dantana's your guy," didn't he? Which to me sounds like there's some wiggle room in its legal interpretation. But, I am neither a lawyer, nor Marcia Gay Harden, so we'll see, I guess.

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We get some bonus behind-the-scenes looks at the election night process during this episode. Most notably, ACN brings in and sequesters a group of PhDs in statistics and political science and whatnot, and has them use computer models to call the elections as the data comes in. I didn't realize politicians were so reliant on news organizations to determine the elections; I figured the news media got their data from some government organization in charge of these things. But they specifically say that politicians are using the ACN ticker to determine whether or not to celebrate, so it sounds like this is really an important responsibility.

Which I suppose is why Charlie comes through waving around a Department of Sanitation job application, saying no one had better make any mistakes tonight. This whole part of the episode rang untrue to me. Charlie doesn't seem like a threatening type; I would have expected a rousing motivational speech like "ok team, let's do this right and start redeeming ourselves," instead of "ok team, don't fuck up." But they needed to create tension for when Jim screws up, so Charlie had to take on this role of negative reinforcement. Jim screws up and feels guilty, but doesn't flaunt the error and quietly corrects it.

The big story of the night, though, is Mack and Will. (I had a good laugh at the bit about Will being in charge of morale, by the way.) Mack is unraveling because she now feels twice as guilty with respect to Will. She ruined his personal life before, and now she has ruined his professional life. The first time, Will dumped her and Mack fled to cover international stories. This second time, Mack hasn't been punished and is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. (She also thinks she should be the scapegoat, and that firing her as the cause of Genoa will allow the public to trust News Night and ACN again.) Plus I get the sense that she never felt properly punished by Will for the first transgression, like he just got sad and never spoke to her again instead of being angry and letting her have it.

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Well, he finally lets her have it, and fires her. But then we see him at the anchor desk, saying his co-anchor should rip into him. Does that mean that he feels guilty for punishing Mack? Is this just a vicious cycle of betrayal and punishment, with no end? Will is the only one who can end it, with forgiveness, but it's been years and he still hasn't been able to do it. What will it take for Will to forgive, and let go of his resentment, so that he and Mack can be at peace?

One other note about this episode: Our friend Taylor, recently fired from the Romney campaign, is the aforementioned co-anchor. She was brought on to News Night for the election night coverage and serves as a foil for some great Sorkin moments, particularly with Sloan. She also provides Maggie a tip about a candidate, which leads her and Don to a scoop regarding the Petraeus scandal...but Charlie doesn't think they can touch any stories about the armed forces, so he has a characteristic Charlie moment at the revelation. It doesn't seem like they're going to run the story.

Candidates for best line of the episode:
- I look hot. Liquid sex. - Becca
- Be less desperate for female friends! - Elliot
- I apologize, I was trapped by my own sentence structure. - Will
- Your hair is the color of goodness. - Jim
- Have you located the cha? - Don
- Look at my face. Does it seem like I want to be sassed? - Sloan
- What if I keep talking in rhetorical questions until you can't take it anymore? - Sloan
- AREYOUWHATTHEFUCK?! - Charlie
Who do you think should win?

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Next week: Will Mack really be fired? What happens when Will takes the gloves off in the broadcast? Will Jim undergo an involuntary career change? WILL THE WHOLE THING UNRAVEL???
(Probably: No, Something inspirational, No, and No.)