Friday, 29 October 2010

The West Wing: Season Seven

The Santos and Vinick campaigns dominate the final season of The West Wing.The last presidential election (back in season four) was mainly comedy. Bartlet was always going to win that one. The Republican candidate was hardly seen, and when he was he looked ridiculous. The entire campaign didn't last long. There was no tension but it was obviously very good. Now there are entire episodes from the Republicans point of view and as the season builds, including a 'live' debate, it's really not clear who's going to win. The White House is having some problems too, including nuclear reactors and military leaks. Perhaps the best episode is the last but one - 'Institutional Memory'. It's a sign-off for a lot of the characters, away from all the ceremony of the final episode. Where 'Tomorrow' focuses on the future of the White House, 'Institutional Memory' is more of a look back, a goodbye to the characters and to the building. But through all this there are two questions that hang over this (very good) season. Questions that will probably never be answered. First of all: what did they do to Toby? After being integral to the show and the staff for the entire run, he's shoved off into a sidenote. It doesn't help that the arc makes barely any sense. Toby Zeigler would never, not in a million years, betray the president. Richard Schiff said as much in an interview. So when he says 'I was the leak', the obvious reaction is 'No you weren't, why are you saying that?' Are we meant to believe that he's lying in order to protect the Santos campaign? Seems unrealistic. He'd always been critical of Santos, and going to jail would be to abandon his two young children. So he must he must be telling the truth. Which is also ridiculous. Either way, Toby is not treated fairly.

And it isn't clear whether Leo's death was planned, or just made sadly necessary. John Spencer's death is announced before episode ten, 'Running Mates', with his last appearance being in episode thirteen, 'The Cold'. Leo dies from a heart attack in episode seventeen, 'Election Day Part II'. It would seem that this was a last minute change to accommodate for the loss of an actor, but where was Leo in episode one's flash forward? The season starts with a scene from three years in the future, where most of the characters are waiting for the new president to arrive. Leo isn't there, or even mentioned. It was aired several months before John Spencer's death, so there's no way they could have re-filmed it. So Leo must have had a reason for not being there. Maybe, as the Vice-President, he'd just be somewhere else, or they'd planned the character's death all along. Although, from a writing point of view, giving a character two heart attacks in two seasons doesn't make much sense. Either way, 'Requiem' has a sense of finality about it, a tragic end to one of the show's finest characters.

Statements from the producers contradict each other about a planned Vinick or Santos win. Whether John Spencer's death forced them to change their minds or not, the final script was written long before. Overall, The West Wing might not be entirely consistent in quality - a brilliant first four years followed by a scramble to find itself again. Sometimes things get lost in Mandyville, but there's no doubt it's one of the best television shows ever made.

Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 | Season 4 | Season 5 | Season 6

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree with Toby's actions being beyond out of character. He, like the entire show, never quite found its feet after Sorkin's departure. While it is still obviously one of the best TV shows ever I'm glad the show ended when it did. As enjoyable as the glimpses of the other side (including the ever reliable Stephen Root) were in Season 7 I don't think it would've felt right with a whole new cast in The White House. Unlike E.R which was able to function with a constantly changing cast.