I'm grieving. Because it's over. And I already miss it so much.
My thoughts on the Newsroom finale are nuanced. I thought it was imperfect and I wanted more/different things from it, but it was still the end and life went on and things changed but everyone was looking forward and it was so joyous and hopeful ... so of course my logical next step was to sit down and write fic that looks back and is pretty dark and depressing.
So let's talk about MacKenzie McHale and bowling and this thing I wrote called i am the hero of the story. (And if you know the end of the lyrics, it's don't need to be saved. So that's the title concept in full.)
I’ve never read this character like this before. (And to be fair, Sorkin started it. Day-drinking and in a bowling alley I can see, but MacKenzie McHale, in sweatpants, in public? Holy shit she's really losing it.) Obviously we know right from the start that Mac’s experienced some heavy trauma, but she shows up so optimistic in the pilot that I’ve always read her with a really unshakeable hopefulness: she’s a little bit unrealistic in her vision for News Night and she knows she is, but by George is she gonna try anyway.
To me this makes it a pretty fast turnaround from bowling alley Mac, who doesn’t think News Night is a better job, to Don Quixote Mac … but I guess Stella got her groove back, or something.
That’s just one of the ways in which the bowling alley scene didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me at first. A lot of the innocuous details littered throughout the show aren’t contradictory based on these flashbacks, just incongruous in hindsight.
(Except for the fact that everyone’s a little vague on the details of Mac getting stabbed.)
There are things that felt implied right up until the episode that turned out not to be true, and there was a certain vibe in the pilot that doesn’t feel consistent with the tone of the flashback to me.
Enter fic! Because when my viewer brain can’t make sense of something my writer brain steps in.
And so. I can get myself from Mac and Charlie being strangers and Mac day-drinking in a bowling alley, but it’s probably going to require her suffering a lot more than I had ever thought she did.
I’ve always read her as unstoppable, not necessarily because things don’t affect her, but because she’s unafraid of being vulnerable and having feelings and just sort of charges on anyway, in spite of everything. With maybe a touch of “when the going gets tough, the tough get a passport” or … avoidance behavior, denial.
(Actually I’ve always thought it was quite poignant, that in the pilot we start out with this enthusiastic tour de force of a character who’s obviously been through a lot but is still upbeat and you see her shift and change over the course of the first two seasons into a much more serious person, like everything that’s happened to her is catching up to her bit-by-bit, right up until Election Night when she’s starting to crack.)
And I guess bowling alley Mac contradicted that to me. So that’s the starting point here: why bowling? Why sweatpants? Why despair?
So. Public transport. MacKenzie McHale. Oil and water? I thought a lot about the Mac-in-DC transport situation. Like. Way too much. An insane amount. It seems to me that if you lived in DC you’d really want to have a car, but I can’t see her driving because … I just have this idea that at her heart she’s a bit nomadic: she's never had a house, her father was a diplomat, she’s lived on both sides of the Atlantic, that kind of thing. (Also I've had some thoughts about driving on the left vs. the right and no sir, it was regular negligence.)
A car seems sort of permanent and three years is the longest contract she’s ever signed.
Also, inexplicably, I’m quite fond of public transport. And I was definitely inexplicably fond of the DC metro? (It’s not really all that useful in many respects, but it tries anyway?)
(As an aside: my dates here are all over the place. I didn’t even bother because at this juncture it feels like canon details were just a papier-mâché of whatever would make the next script sound the best anyway.)
Her unemployment reading is Proust (In Search Of Lost Time) because I tend to write her with overly literary reading ambitions – when she has the time to read, she’s going to read an Important Novel – and it’s really fucking long. (Kafka was my second choice but I felt that would have made her even more depressed.) Plus I always think of French writers because of that time she jokes that she read Don Quixote in the original French.
I imagine she’s bookish more than a TV or movie fan – because TV is her job and because she’s a little bit intellectually snobby: to me Mac is a film festival/documentary/Oscar nominee movie viewer (we would be friends, I’m the asshole who picks a documentary about the war in Syria for Friday movie night), who occasionally watches BBC period dramas, who prefers to read for her escapist narratives. Which brings me to something she’d never, ever keep on her bookshelf because – I always imagine that she sits down to read Big Serious Books and gets halfway through them before picking up something more lighthearted. (Or all out shameful … like historical “romance” novels.)
Distraction has always been her armour, she keeps moving, and now there’s nowhere to move to, MacKenzie vs. life, check-fucking-mate.
Like I said, I’ve always seen Mac as a bit waify, that the cornerstone of her coping mechanism is the idea of moving beyond whatever is currently troubling her. So I do think she’d take unemployment pretty badly.
And I always saw her as the sort of person that keeps being surprised by how she’s been hurt by her past. She thinks of herself as strong and unstoppable and she just keeps moving and then things happen and she realizes she’s actually not completely fine about her past or really all that self-aware about it. Life catches up to her: which is what this is all about.
These bits are all very self-explanatory and maybe a bit project-y on my part:
Ever since then her life has felt like something that should be happening to somebody else. Not her.
Her forearms itch sometimes and she's scratched them raw on more than one occasion but it doesn't help. The itch just moves to her stomach and she'd have to turn herself inside out to be rid of it.
But again, the idea of being disconnected from her traumatic experiences has always been how I’ve read her character in the pilot.
And this bit about the militant/protestor, about how she sees all these young people, essentially kids, radicalized is definitely me Sorkinizing. I guess I feel fairly strongly that the fact that we view all men of a certain age in Pakistan as militants is probably a little bit a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I write Mac’s politics more in line with the ones I’d want her to have than the ones I think she does have. Actually Mac is fairly apolitical, canonically. It’s implied that’s she more liberal than conservative, but I also think she likes to think she’s above partisanship.
(I imagine her and Will having political arguments and she gets offended when he calls her a liberal because she’s a centreist thank you very much, she just wants the facts. And he’s always like well if it quacks like a duck.)
She’s spent at least part of her childhood/life in the UK though so I imagine it’s a similar experience to being from “the colonies”: it’s inevitable that compared to America, you come off slightly socialist. (National healthcare, gun control, minimum wage, no capital punishment. We take all these things for granted.)
But still, I’m very conscious that I give her more progressive views than I think she’d have ever had in canon, often because I’m writing her next to Will who is canonically conservative and if Sloan or Maggie aren’t around, she plays counterargument.
The Hemmingway (mis)quote is from A Farewell To Arms. (And actually was unintentional - when I wrote it initially I misquoted it ooops.)
I know I said this referenced suicidal ideation in the vagueset terms, but I have to say, I think it was the most hopeful mention of not wanting to be alive ever written. So does it really count?
There's good everywhere, if only you know where to look.
But again, I’ve always seen this in her. She’s Don Quixote! She’s going to change the world! And she knows better than all that, but she’s a romantic anyway. (In The Greater Fool she says being a cynic is easy.)
So um. Sexual assault in the military. Sorry for going there. But this has been rattling around in my head for a while. Probably everyone’s read about it because, quite rightfully, it’s become a hot topic. This article was the first I stumbled across this particular Google spiral: I was doing some research for another story I’m writing (largely now jossed by this very scene, also set pre-canon) about … access to birth control in the military and acceptable hairstyles for female marines? Which led to reading a discussion board for female defense personnel and let me tell you, that shit was harrowing.
So I think it would be really easy to gloss over the genderedness of her experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, but fuck that, basically. And fuck what happens to female soldiers.
Ambien. Again, this has been a standard of my head canon since Bullies (1.05) when she asks Will if he’s tried Ambien when he can’t sleep. Not quite so dramatically as I’ve done here, but I’ve always thought denial!Mac would be self-medicating to a slightly worrying extent.
(Taking Ambien as described here is more than slightly worrying so please don’t. Especially not if you’re going to take up day-drinking to numb your pain. I understand both strategies in isolation but they’re exceptionally inadvisable, medically speaking.)
in the fog after he left her she had decided that dental hygiene was the cornerstone of her admittedly illogical strategy to win his forgiveness
This is also maybe a tad autobiographical, it’s the thought that: “okay, if I do all the right things and read all the right books and make myself into the perfect person then he’ll love me again.”
Spoiler alert: he won’t.
All the rest of it is self-explanatory, I suppose I could have put in something about the night light. Previously I've thought (and probably in my large head canon extended universe in which I have written quite a few things that intereference each other in small ways) the night light existed pre-break up rather than being a PTSD, post-warzone thing. Because Will knows about it. So I guess this is a contradicted detail here. W/e. When in doubt retcon right?
Mac and cereal is one of my weird otps. I always think of her as being too busy/lazy to really cook for herself, not because she can’t – although at some point she has definitely lit a fire in the kitchen and it was probably Will’s kitchen and he probably had a strict “don’t touch anything” policy after that but hey, who hasn’t accidentally set something on fire once or twice? – but because when you work long hours and you live alone it often doesn’t seem worth the effort to make proper meals for one person.
(Also it can be kind of sad.)
So I have this head canon that Mac kind of eats things that come pre-packaged that she can eat straight away, like cereal (I mean proper health conscious cereal) and yoghurt and salads (overly pretentious, health craze trendy ones with things like kale and mixed seeds and ancient grains in them that are sometimes vegan), and that she does this with not a huge amount of regard for what time of the day it is.
And that Will very much does not understand or consider any of it real food and quite often wonders how she survives on a diet he sees as more fit for a rabbit than an actual person.
But also cereal because sometimes when you’re too depressed to move food becomes something you have to do rather than something you want so basically you just eat whatever you can manage to procure. (So in this story the cereal is definitely cheerios or something.) This is why I once ate ice cream for dinner for an entire week.
With respect to MacKenzie McHale's lonely fucking hearts club:
I’ve also had this idea that Mac keeps dating guys who tell her all their relationship woes, because she can be a little bit nosey sometimes, and she feels so sympathetic that she’s happy to play the rebound.
(Her and Wade, such head canon about this.)
This section kind of makes her sound like she’s sleeping with a whole bunch of people though, and I don’t really read her like that. I actually write her a little bit sexually reserved. (E.g. pre-break up with Will? I really don’t see her picking up someone in a bar. Not necessarily because she’s “uptight” but because that kind of connection is meaningless to her.)
But here this is part of her guilt thing: it’s an act of attrition. And there’s the power/control aspect she talks about too which in the state of mind I’ve written her in is important to her.
Plus “patron saint of pity sex” is quite fun to say.
Aaaaand look, a happy ending, canon compliant even! Despite the fact that actually I wanted them to end up with dogs instead of babies. Like this, exactly like this:
(Mac as dog-mummy to a corgi, DON’T LIE, IT KILLS YOU.)
But I begrudgingly have to admit that the idea of her having kiddie birthday cake in her hair made me laugh: I wanted to write this as Will picking it out for her, but that didn’t quite come together. I even gave them two offspring! (Mostly because I wanted this line:
In the fall she watches school children, her children, jump over cracks in the sidewalk and there’s just this part of her, that never forgot how to hope.
- and trying to write that with only one of the children being hers became grammatically unwieldy.)
All that stuff about the future is stuff I truly believe. Uplifting, I hope. And that’s where I started with the whole concept: Mac getting her perfect game.
(Believe it or not, this was going to be a 500 word ficlet. At one point in its life.)
In the original draft it happened pre-canon, when she goes back to the bowling alley for the last time, but then I just had this need to write that as imperfect because she’s getting there but she’s not there yet: it’s not, but it can be .
My favourite Mac-ism and I think my favorite line in the entire show. Tattoo it on me, write it on my walls. Because it’s so important: we’re always in flux, things are always changing. So if things are bad right now, and you’re eating cereal for dinner and sleeping on the bathroom floor, that doesn’t mean they always have to be that way or even that they always will be.
Forget America and the state of journalism and whatever else Sorkin wants to soliloquize about. That’s the message of The Newsroom to me, that it’s about the journey, progress is slow but I’m in it for the long haul.
That can be about social change or just life in general. I don’t have a one-liner to tie all this together, just:
It’s not, but it can be.