Saturday, 17 April 2010

The West Wing: Season Two

Season 2 is (probably) the best season of The West Wing. It's made up of a few arcs, along with some of the show's best standalone episodes. It comes straight from the first season with a solid set of characters, having inexplicably trimmed off the waste, and goes off in a new, more focused direction. The opening two-parter, 'In the Shadow of Two Gunmen' includes flashbacks that flesh out the character's pasts for the first time. It fills in the gap before we first saw them and shows the beginnings of this tight group that is now threatening to come apart in the hospital. When Bartlet goes to meet Josh at the airport and asks him if he wants company on the plane, despite having to give a victory speech, we see the start of his fatherly connection with the staff. It's all a bit traumatic but obviously Josh isn't going to die. Obviously.

The White House then settles back to normal, introducing Ainsley Hayes, the 'blonde leggy Republican' who 'actually knows something'. Her 'interesting conversational style' is part of some exceptional episodes, including 'And It's Surely to Their Credit' - the first and only appearance of Lionel Tribbey the Cricket Bat Man. This episode, apart from being one of the comedic highlights of the entire show, is just made up of great scenes. It builds to Ainsley being accepted into the staff with blaring Gilbert and Sullivan music and a freshly decorated office. Some shows are made up of awful, spiteful characters - this is the opposite. And another 'comedy' episode that stands out is the vastly titled 'Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail'. It's not really about the comedy, but it's the second and last Big Block of Cheese Day, so that takes precedence. 'You're probably wondering what all this has to do with social equality.' 'No, I'm wondering where France really is.' It's a shame all this didn't come back. Where did it go?

In a different way, 'Noël' is also brilliant. It's framed around Josh's psychotherapist meeting, in which he looks back on the last few weeks. He's having a bit of a breakdown after the shooting but doesn't want to admit it. Over the course of the episode the truth is coaxed out of him as the doctor cuts through his pride and stubbornness. The final act includes one of the show's more powerful uses of music. As Yo-Yo Ma winds away on a cello Josh is forced to dredge up an answer to the question 'How did you get cut your hand?', the music like sirens in his head. It also ends with Leo's 'now we're both in the hole' speech, which is another instance of senior staff parenting.

And then the final five episodes deal with the President's MS, culminating in 'Two Cathedrals'. Even though nobody gets shot, it's still my favourite season finale. Everyone loves flashbacks, and this has them going back about fifty years. Seeing Bartlet as a schoolboy may seem pointless, but it shows that even then he was the same ambitious - 'stick your hands in your pockets and look away and smile' - free-thinker that he is as President. Mrs Landingham describes him as 'a boy king', 'blessed with inspiration'. And that definitely comes out in his cathedral monologue. Television doesn't get much better than this:


  1. You know I agree wholeheartedly. This is an amazing series and one of the best scenes I've ever had the honor of watching. Season two is amazing. Intelligent, powerful, emotional, real and inspiring. It's, in a word: wonderful.

  2. A great series—one of the best. And Season Two stands out as the best of the best in very many ways.

    As the series fades from memory into cynicism and the Emmy's start to tarnish, it is important to remember the work and just how good it actually, truly is.