Sunday, 20 June 2010

The West Wing: Season Four

This season, unlike the third, is lined with memorable episodes. I know this because, looking at this episode list, I know what happens in all twenty two. It starts with Sorkin's best season opener (and so the best of any season). '20 Hours in America' combines pretty bleak drama with some of the funniest scenes of the whole show. Josh, Toby, and Donna are stranded in Indiana, having been left behind by the motorcade. Unlike usual. where people are just running between offices, this feels like a real journey. They have to deal with their general real-world incompetence and the distractions of anyone that gives them a ride. They eventually make it back to DC just as President Bartlet is giving one of his more powerful speeches: 'every time we think we've measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we are reminded that that capacity may well be limitless'. Good stuff. In fact the entire season follows this lead, reinvigorating the show with comedy that looks effortless. Toby and Charlie get arrested in California ('Did they rob the bar?'), Leo gets angry about a goat ('I'm gonna put snakes in your car and you won't know where they are or if you got them all out') and the staff start playing poker again. The largely sombre tone of the previous season has been forgotten about.

Unfortunately though, all this comes at a price. For some reason or other, Rob Lowe left, meaning that Sam Seaborn is quietly shoved aside. It's a good storyline - he replaces a victorious dead candidate in California. But after some excellent episodes on the subject, he just disappears. He loses, then disappears. Toby mentioned that he could have come back to the White House, but he was never mentioned again. He apparently became another resident of Mandyville. Just a passing reference to his continuing existence would have been nice. His replacement, Will Bailey, is perfectly fine. This season is the only time he actually fits in though. After a promising beginning he permanently gets into Toby's bad books and alienates himself from the staff for years. It's a shame because the episodes where he's part of the team - 'Inaugration Over There',' Privateers', 'Evidence of Things Not Seen' - are excellent.

At the end of the season 'Commencement' presents itself as the perfect finale, the episode that has everything. It's got comedy ('Yeah, we're in a brook now'), tragedy, horrible sadness, and a brilliantly tense conclusion. Massive Attack's 'Angel' combined with a pile of dramatic scenes is an ominous and overwhelming few minutes. It's so good it's easy to forget that there's still another episode to come. 'Commencement' seems like to the true Sorkin finale, 'Twenty Five' is the coda. It brings to an end four seasons of near perfect television. It zips past so quickly and so confidently that you can only spot the faults after the fifth viewing. I'm not sure how Aaron Sorkin wrote over a hundred episodes of powerful, monumental television and made it all look so effortless. How did he do it? Maybe it was all the drugs. Or maybe he's a genius.


  1. He's definitely a genius... Series 2 & 4 are my favorites but I love them all. Best show ever.

  2. The changed timezones clips is one of my favorites! I hate time-change, too, I think it silly and no longer necessary so Toby's reaction always leaves me giggiling and smirking.

    Congratulations on having recently graduated from University! That's quite an accomplishment. I'm heading into Uni in the fall at U of Manchester, so hopefully 3 years from today I can say I've reached the wonderful part in life you find yourself at now: A graduate! that has got to feel great-all of your hard work resulting in a new chapter in life.

    I know what you mean when you say you miss the people of the landscape. Isn't it an odd feeling, once you take notice of it? It's almost like there should be more to marking the loss of these temporary relationships than just not seeing them passing you by the bus stop anymore. In my imagination, I almost want to go up to one of these people I don't know but see everyday and say, "Hi. You don't know me but I see you everyday at 11am while I go to the bus stop and it's been a nice 3 years not knowing you. You should wear that purple tie more often. I'll miss you." And hand them a flower or something.
    I won't, that would be a little odd (though never did I claim not to be a little odd), but all the same, it seems like more should highlight these life changes.