It’s not exactly the wedding that “News Night” anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his executive producer, Mackenzie “Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer), originally planned for themselves.
Instead of elaborate nuptials at a Catholic church with 300 guests in attendance, Will and Mac get hitched in an impromptu ceremony at City Hall on “Contempt,” Episode 23 of HBO’s journalism drama “The Newsroom.”
And instead of jetting off to Europe or wherever on a honeymoon, Will is taken away in handcuffs for refusing to reveal the name of a federal whistleblower to an investigative grand jury.
Will put himself in this dicey predicament to protect Lilly Hart (Clea Duvall), a U.S. Department of Defense employee who illegally downloaded thousands of classified files and passed them to an ACN staffer via a flash drive.
The secret documents reveal how the Pentagon used a public relations firm to plant inflammatory news reports in a troubled African country. The fake stories fulfilled their purpose of preventing Islamic fundamentalists from dominating an election. But the reports also sparked riots that left 38 people dead, including three Americans.
Barry Lasenthal (Brian Howe), a zealous U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, admits this is a “tragic story of unintended consequences.”
However, Barry argues, the whistleblower -- who still has access to classified information -- must be identified and apprehended before additional espionage is committed.
“My heart is with the prosecutor,” Will candidly tells Judge Cedarman (Casey Sander), because the leaker committed a crime and ACN obtained the documents illegally.
But as a journalist, Will adds, he’s not allowed to expose his confidential informant. And sitting behind bars won’t change his mind.
“There are no number of prison days after which I will reveal my source’s identification,” Will politely insists.
“Well, I hate to say this,” the judge announces, “but we’re just going to have to find out.” With that, he orders Will to surrender in a few hours to the U.S. Marshals Service.
Will’s sacrifice may be for naught, however, because ACN President Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) ordered Mac to kill the story. Brash billionaire Lucas Pruit (B.J. Novak) intends to acquire the cable news network and thereby save it from liquidation. But the deal is off if the controversial report airs.
Will’s indefinite prison sentence doesn’t bother Lucas. In fact, he wants Will to send tweets from his cell. The main concern is that the feds might impose crippling criminal fines that could drive the network into bankruptcy.
“It was for nothing,” Mac yells in frustration at Reese.
“Selling the company is the only way you get to live to fight another day,” Reese counters.
Then Reese offers a layman’s psychoanalysis of Will, claiming the photogenic anchor wants to win Mac’s approval by demonstrating that he’s a “real journalist” as opposed to someone who’s “just good on TV.”
“It’s not Irish stoicism, is it? This is some kind of internal baptism for you,” Mac says to Will in the middle of the night. “I just want you to say you’re scared.”
As for ACN suitor Lucas, he’s created a “sworn enemy” in news executive Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) for vowing to attract 18- to 25-year-old viewers by crowd-sourcing stories from amateur reporters and extending the network’s tentacles into “every reach of the Internet.”
“You believe the best reporting is done by anyone with a phone and the time it takes to write ‘epic fail,’” Charlie angrily tells Lucas.
“You’re going to love me, Charlie,” Lucas arrogantly responds. “I’m going to take you into the 21st century -- right after I drag you through the 19th and 20th.”