We’re now halfway through the final series of Lou Grant‘s final season and after last week’s stumer, we had a three-cornered story in which all three elements came together in a technically and logically satisfying completion.
We began with a confusing open, in which a photographer is allowed by the Sheriff’s office to enter a private residence and take copious photos. The place is a mess, a complete craphole. The photis show this clearly. This is og peripheral importance to the overall story but it makes a point that resonated strongly with me, with particular regard for the actions of the British mainstream press this last several decades.
I’ll beat that drum a bit later on. For now, let me establish the cornerstones of our plot. In order of appearance these consist of Charlie Hume being appointed to the Western States News Council, a journalism self-regulating body, Mrs Pynchon persuading Billie Newman to write her memoir for a book of profiles, and Joe Rossi and Ruben Delgado bringing to Lou Grant a copied tape of Councilman Garbers telling anti-Latino jokes.
The story spaces out its threads carefully. Charlie’s first experience of the Council is in considering the case from the opn. He’s met with barely-concealed hostility by Dean of Law Doctor Meredith Hall-Sutton (Karen Carlson) who, it rapidly transpires, has a grudge against the LA Tribune.
Billie’s only agreed to do Mrs Pynchon’s memoir if she has a free hand, if she can treat it as an unfettered story. Mrs Pynchon bombards her with facts, and talks with an affecting wistfulness of her life with Matthew Pynchon, when she was a socialite with no cares or responsibility. But when it comes to the transition, when Matthew, fifteen years older than her, died and she transitioned into the unexpected role of Publisher, naive, inexperienced, terrified, this is something Mrs Pynchon glosses over, brushes off, deflects.
And there’s Rossi and Ruben’s story. Garbers threatens to ue and is told the patrician equivalent of ‘do one sunbeam’. So he raises a complaint to the News Council.
There are mixed feelings about the News Council. Charlie believes in it as a good. Mrs Pynchon supports it financially. Lou and Rossi hate it, regarding it as a ridiculous intrusion upon their professional judgement, by misguided laymen who don’t understand Journalism.
Here is where I get to bang my drum. The Council debates the photos taken in the open. They are accurate, they are honest, and as such both the editor of the paper printing them, together with Lou, Rossi and Animal, regard them as unimpeachable. They show an old man who’s a dirty slob, a dirty house, uncooked food on his stove, unwashed dishes in his sink, piles of comic books around. This is called slant. It’s the lousy, miserable, dirty and vicious practice of only telling those parts of the story that support the biased point you’re trying to make.
The old man was a victim of an airplane crash. He was fying to Germany for the first time in forty years bcause he’d been notified his sister had had a heart attack, and didn’t have long left. He didn’t have time to finish cooking, or clean, or wash pots before heading to the airport.he bought comics for his grandchildren but read them himself first to make sure they weren’t too violent. Slob? Deranged? Feeble-minded? Not when you knew all the story, not when you knew the parts the newspaper didn’t print. And Lou and Rossi supported this? I don’t. I hate and loathe it. Tell the fucking truth, you bastards!
End of banged drum.
So the Trib attends the hearings. Doctor Hall-Sutton remains hostile. Charlie recuses himself. Billie digs deeper into the transition period. There’s an old clipping that refers to Matthew’s presumed successor, Managing Editor Jack Hall. So Billie goes to visit Lou’s nightmare, former City Editor Thea Taft (played by Margaret Hamilton, the Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, in the penultimate role of her life). Thea tells her that everyone expected Jack, a very popular, very knowledgeable, very sexy man, to take over, but one day, after a meeting in Mrs Pynchon’s office, he was gone, for good. Lost everything after twenty dedicated years. Never made it back. Left a daughter behind him, Merry. Not Mary, Merry. Short for Meredith.
And suddenly everything clicks into place as one whole story. Charlie persuades Dr Hall-Suton to abstain, though the vote goes overwhelmingly against the Trib anyway. And Billie pushes Mrs Pynchon into a moment of anger, a threat that Billie not merely resign from the memoir but from the Trib…
It’s a moment of shock, to none more so than Margaret Pynchon, taking her back to that day in her office with Jack Hall. She tries to explain how it was to Billie, how in those days things were limited for women. She was a socialite in her forties, with a husband fifteen years older. The ‘good times’ were supposed to be over for a woman her age. But here was Hall, attractive, sexy, growing closer. Nothing had happened but the signposts were there. And Hall was ambitious. He wanted to be Publisher, all or nothing. It isn’t quite said in so many words but he gave her the feeling that all his… attentiveness had had this as its purpose. She doubted. She fired him. On her first exercise of power she abused it. And she has rigidly refused to do that ever since.
So all things fall together. Billie needed to know to write the story but she didn’t need to write that part (I can’t help but reflect that we are once again back to the topic of slant). And the Trib won’t sit down under censure. but all of this aftermath is just that, aftermath without consequence, a way to ease out of the story and cue up the closing music.
An illuminating episode, though I doubt that the light I saw shining was meant to enter the corners where I saw it. Sometimes the important message is not the one you meant to send.