The West Wing, Season 2

I’ve been having the following conversation a lot lately:

Them: Have you seen The Newsroom?
Me: I saw the pilot.
Them: And?
Me: It’s not as good as The West Wing.
Them: Yeah, but I’m going to keep watching.
Me: Fuck that. I’m actually watching The West Wing.

And that is what I did. While the rest of you may or may not be slogging through Aaron Sorkin’s latest attempt to woo us with his witty banter, I chose to treat myself to his greatest achievement in witty banter. Season 2 was just as enjoyable as Season 1, and actually more so, because there was more Toby (Richard Schiff), more Donna (Janel Maloney), and no more Mandy. Thank God.

Granted, with all this Sorkin stuff happening now, my sense of his inability to write a decent female character was heightened; with the exceptions of CJ Cregg (Allison Janney) and Abby Bartlet (Stockard Channing), there really isn’t a strong female character in his world. I don’t necessarily think it means he’s misogynistic, though, which is sort of what everyone reads into it. It’s just that he’s writing fiction, and he’s better at writing dudes. Whatever. The dudes he writes are lovely. I’ll just pay attention to them, and read Jezebel, and probably regret writing this sentence later.

Back to Toby for a second. Richard Schiff brought it this season. Toby got the chance to be deeper and realer and crazier and grittier than ever before, and even though I’m madly in love with Josh Lyman (more on that later), I can see why Vulture claims that Toby reigns supreme. He’s the most believable character in the Sorkin world, and he’s unpredictable, and Schiff is acting his heart out. Seeing Toby crack a smile is like seeing a comet; it only happens once in awhile, and when it does, it’s worth it. Onto Lyman, though. Bradley Whitford, what a middle-aged dreamboat. There’s something about the way he walks and talks. He commands the Sorkin language like no one else; others fall behind in the hallways, he speaks as though he’s always had that cadence in his speech and his steps. And he got to do a bit of emotional digging this season too, what with his PTSD and his more obvious attraction to Donna coming out. And speaking of Donna, despite the fact that her character is a little clingy, I do like how Sorkin handles her increasing attraction to Josh. We’ve all done it; we see someone we like, and so we drive a wedge to protect ourselves. The wedge is Marlee Matlin, who is also fantastic, and Donna has to deal with the repercussions of her own silly actions. In the meantime, she spits lines like, “If you were in an accident, I wouldn’t stop for red lights,” (“17 People”) and I melt.

The real focus of this season, of course, was how the President (Martin “Ramon Estevez” Sheen) was going to deal with this whole Multiple Sclerosis business. As the season wore on, the tone of the show became frantic, the pace quickened, and it was generally very stressful to watch! But I mean that in the most complimentary way. Though the show has been criticized for being unrealistic (uh, because it’s fiction, duh), I have to say that I feel like I gained a tiny glimpse into the infinitely confusing, multitasking, crazed schedules of the people that work in the White House. They don’t sleep, they don’t concentrate, and yet they manage to operate at very high-functioning levels every day, making mostly the right calls on very important decisions. And in the real White House, I imagine there isn’t as much clever wordplay, simply because they don’t have the time. (That was a joke.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the climax of the season, Bartlet’s soliloquy in the Great Cathedral, and the stamping of the cigarette on the church floor. Shit made me tear up, and not just because of the whole [Spoiler Alert] Mrs. Landingham dying thing. It was so powerful because it was so human. Bartlet wanted this moment to himself, and yet he had to ask Secret Service to seal up the building for a second, he had to ask for a moment of peace. He has protection following him around all the time (which was especially prominent in this season), and yet when he’s alone in that church for the first time ever, it seems like something is missing. His faith, I suppose.

I’m going to take a break from The West Wing for awhile, but I’ll be back. I can’t stay away from Josh Lyman too long, after all.

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