7:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Newsroom' Star Talks Shocking Fate
Sunday's penultimate episode of The Newsroom delivered a devastating blow to the ACN team as HBO's Aaron Sorkin drama set the stage for next week's series finale.
A week after Will and Mac were married, the hour opens as Jeff Daniels' embattled reporter begins serving his sentence before jumping ahead 52 days to see how Pruitt's new ownership has taken a toll at the network in his absence.
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The network now has the seemingly urine-inspired hashtag of #URACN, with Sam Waterston's Charlie's doing his best to sugarcoat its new trajectory — much to Mac (Emily Mortimer) and Don's (Thomas Sadoski) chagrin. Although Mac, Don, Sloan (Olivia Munn), Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill) are doing their best to deliver hard-hitting news, Charlie's mandate from Pruitt (B.J. Novak) is to expand the audience — and the new Lady Gaga-inspired approach is working.
Naturally, nobody is happy about ACN's downward spiral. Sloan takes it upon herself to take down her digital counterpart's celebrity stalking application — and one of Pruitt's prized possessions. After clashing with the head of digital, she instead opts to invite him on the air where she completely tears him down — with Mac watching and (proudly) allowing it to happen.
Following the newscast, Charlie comes charging into the middle of the newsroom and demands — at the top of his lungs — to know if Mac put Sloan up to taking the application (and Pruitt) down on the air. Charlie, who is working overtime as a company man trying to please the new ownership while keeping the show's integrity and ACN's spirit in tact, calls Mac and Sloan "openly insubordinate." He then asks Don if he was able to deliver the rape victim behind a controversial application targeting her tormenter that Pruitt wanted in the studio. After Don lies that he couldn't find her, Charlie screams and asks if it's a coordinated "mutiny," just as Pruitt storms into the newsroom to fire Mac and Sloan.
Charlie attempts to intervene with Pruitt and, just as the pair are heading to a private meeting, ACN's self-professed Don Quixote falls to the ground while suffering a heart attack.
To make the hour even more devastating, Will — who has been hallucinating conversations with his late father while behind bars — learns of Charlie's passing hours after the fact when he's released from prison after his source commits suicide. (No, sir, he never had to reveal his source.)
"Charlie is one of those characters that doesn't come along very often," Waterston told The Hollywood Reporter. "I thought he was perfectly drawn. It was so clear who he was from the first day. I have no quibbles with how his journey ended. Aaron Sorkin is, to say the least of it, a very special writer and he just made a person and let me pretend to be him. I have no complaints."
The actor, who next stars in Netflix's upcoming comedy Grace and Frankie in which he stars as Lily Tomlin's gay husband, said he learned of Charlie's fate at the table read for the episode — and wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I found out when I read it. I had no clue," he said. "It's the way I like to find out what's happening in the show in general. To find out that this is what's going to happen that way was fabulous. I really enjoyed it. It was at a big table read with all the writers and the company. It was an unforgettable moment and was just delightful. If anybody else knew, I don't think it was many people. It was completely news to me, which was the best."
And while some would have been surprised to learn of their character's fate this way, Waterston said knowing season three was the end of the road for The Newsroom took the sting out of the reveal.
"I thought it was wonderful," he says with a charming chuckle. "We all knew this was going to be the show's last season — and if you have to go, what a way to go!"
Waterston noted that filming Charlie's death was a challenge — and he kept mostly to himself during the day of the scene.
"The day that Charlie bit the bullet, when I came in, I really couldn't look at any of the other actors because they were all so sorry to see Charlie go," he says with a laugh. "It was completely the wrong emotional world to be in to play that last scene. I couldn’t look at them; I didn't look around."
Waterston recalled Sorkin, who wrote the penultimate episode, questioning him if he knew what was transpiring around the set during Charlie's passing, but the method actor held the same line and told the showrunner that looking around would "drag me off in the wrong direction."
After a few more takes of the gut-wrenching scene, Waterston finally paused to take it all in.
"Everybody in the room that wasn't on camera had put on a bow tie for Charlie," Waterston says. "We said our goodbyes. It was a real sense of completion."
As for Charlie's plight, the Law & Order alum says his character died for the cause that they both firmly believe in.
"I think Charlie was right, is right and will be right next year [about the news]. I'm completely in agreement with him," he says. "I've always looked squinty-eyed at the news. So The Newsroom just confirmed for me what I've long suspected: there's much more going on between the event that happens and the citizen being informed than just the delivery of information. There are all kinds of fingerprints all over that information by the time it gets to you and me. And they don't all make for better news for us. So it's incumbent on us as citizens to complain about how much the news is distorted in delivery and to be aware that it is distorted and to look everywhere to get the facts because an uninformed public is the end of democracy."
The actor, who had two weeks to segue from playing Charlie to going into production on Grace and Frankie, remained mum on how Charlie's death will impact Will in the series finale — and if viewers had seen the last of the man in the famous bow tie.
"I can't say anything without giving stuff away! I would encourage everyone to watch the finale; they won't be disappointed," he says.
The Newsroom series finale airs on Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO. Watch a preview for the series finale below.