In the twenty-third and final episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, apparently Aaron Sorkin wanted to leave this show in EMOTIONAL RUIN when he departed. WELL, HE SUCCEEDED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
So, admittedly, my thoughts and emotions are a bit of a mess right now. “Twenty-Five” managed to make me feel a range of emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other, so consider this review my attempt at sorting them out. Oh gods.
- The cold open to this episode is completely unfair, and I picked up pretty quickly just how brutal it was going to be. YOU SHOWED US BARTLET AND ABBEY BEING CUTE AND HAPPY AND THEN YOU DESTROYED IT. You are evil, Aaron Sorkin. EVIL.
- Consider this the episode that has the absolute worst timing of the theme music. I will not apologize for my ridiculous behavior in the video commission that accompanies this. It is the truth and YOU KNOW IT.
- Anyway, I noticed that the opening scene was calculated, almost calm. So it was jarring (effectively so) for the post-theme sequence to roar into life. One of the things that’s so impressive about the first half of “Twenty-Five” is how Sorkin and company were able to convey chaos. The visual and aural overload that we’re given is how the show is able to do this so well. There are Secret Service agents running everywhere, so much so that it was impossible to discern any identities aside from Wesley and Ron. The helicopters shout overhead. There are sirens, lights, yelling, dismal colors in our field of vision as framed by the camera… it’s panic rendered before us.
- And watching this don on the various characters is not okay at all. Charlie’s realization is the last to come in this scene, and it’s only after Wesley has revealed Molly’s fate that he understands that this is not a joke or a mistake. It’s hell on earth.
- It’s hell in the Situation Room. Y’all, it takes Sorkin no fucking time to convey the political reality of what this kidnapping means. The various generals and officers in the Sit Room begin spouting off possible options, most agreeing that it’s related to the Qumar issue, and you suddenly begin to appreciate the sheer depth and scope of what has happened here.
- Well, not just there. It took me until long after the episode ended to understand what exactly happened during the scene where Josh, Wesley, and Charlie confront Jean-Paul. I wrongly assumed that he had willingly gotten fucked up and was unresponsive, but I hadn’t put two-and-two together. We later learn that GHB was in Jean-Paul’s blood. I foolishly heard the GHB line and thought they were referring to Zoey, which makes ZERO SENSE AT ALL. So someone drugged both Zoey and Jean-Paul, at least to keep Jean-Paul out of the way. If that’s the case, did they take both ecstasy and GHB? Who poured Jean-Paul’s drink? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
- I think The West Wing has served as a necessary message delivery service, and that message is pretty simple: I would crumble under the weight of pressure that Claudia Jean Cregg is under at any given moment. How she is able to navigate that press conference is largely a mystery to me personally because IT’S SO TERRIFYING. But she is a professional here, despite that she’s deeply disturbed by the very news she is reporting. Also, fuck that guy for the rape question. YOU ARE GROSS AND YOU SHOULD FEEL GROSS.
- If you want perhaps the best example of emotional confusion in The West Wing, look no further than Toby’s arrival into the West Wing, where he has to navigate his frustration for his travel, his despair over what has happened to Zoey, and the joy of having twins born just hours earlier. A general theme of this episode is TOO MANY THINGS ARE HAPPENING AT PRECISELY THE SAME TIME. For what it’s worth, Richard Schiff absolutely steals the show in “Twenty-Five,” and his scene outside his office is a perfect demonstration of that. His nervous energy is palpable because he’s so obviously wavering between such disparate emotions. It was stunning to watch.
- That’s not to say that everyone else in this episode doesn’t give a standout performance. This is just a stellar story from end to end, and the actors and actresses waste not a moment on the screen. So good, and yet so hurt.
- Like watching Janel Moloney go from teasing Josh about his fans to utter horror towards the ransom fax she received. That was an incredible transition.
- As I mentioned before, that first scene in the Situation Room is a horrifying reminder of the international powers that the United States possessed. Well, still possesses, but you get what I mean. However, after the fax is received, this became deeply uncomfortable to watch, and Bartlet knew the conflict of interest was glaring. How much of the military activity was based in current standards? How much of it was the military acting to retrieve Bartlet’s daughter? Could you ever distinguish the two? And would a retaliation by the United States against Qumar make things worse? I mean, there’s one thing that I felt Nancy was the only one to touch on, and she didn’t do it directly. WHO KIDNAPPED ZOEY? There are some hints that it was Qumari operatives, but how can they be sure? What if they attack Qumar and it turns out it wasn’t them? OH GOD.
- Hey, remember when I said that Aaron Sorkin was just waiting to destroy us? THINK ABOUT TOBY’S SCENE WITH LEO. Oh my god, oh my god, no. I know people who expressed the very same sentiment as Toby. They feared they could not love their own children. Of course, for Toby, this has a much more immediate explanation, at least in part due to Andy’s confrontation from earlier that day. (Jesus, it’s still the same day.) If Toby really is the sad, angry man she said he was, can he still love his children?
- OH, LEO. THE THINGS YOU SAY TO THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT. What a treat, y’all.
- And then we’ve got Stockard Channing’s scene-stealing bit where she nearly storms the press briefing room in grief and terror. It’s just so raw, you know? She wants to be able to do something, and despite that she recognizes why she can’t go into the briefing room, she still mutters about what other mothers do in this situation, and it’s right about there that my heart shatters.
- But Sorkin isn’t done with us yet. Oh, no. This episode went by so quickly, but now that I’m recounting as much of it as possible from memory, I think it’s a lot denser than it seemed. So much shit happens in “Twenty-Five”!
- I mean, there’s that whole sequence with the unidentified plane that is just way too fucking intense. But it signifies just what kind of crisis the country is in. They have to suspect the worst of everything. In this case, they nearly blew up drunk frat boys in order to protect a nuclear plant that was never in danger in the first place. It’s enough to completely detach Bartlet, so much so that he realizes he can’t even focus anymore. As professional as Bartlet is, as good as he is at dealing with international and domestic disasters, this is his daughter. This is his health. He can’t do all of this at the same time. Despite that I recognized what Bartlet meant when he told Leo to assemble the Cabinet, it still didn’t prepare me for the ending.
- But let’s talk about Richard Schiff again. I’m fairly certain that nothing I could say about his first scene with the twins will be original. It’s easy to imagine that it was highly praised over ten years ago when it aired, and I’m sure a lot of you cried ugly tears while watching Toby realize that he could love his children. The hand holding bit was definitely NOT OKAY, and was the exact moment I lost it. Jesus, how is this show real? How do you take me from terror to doom to joy to hope in a matter of minutes? Seriously, right after Sorkin reveals that the President is going to recuse himself, this is the scene we get.
- I WAS ALREADY A WRECK and then, as if this wasn’t enough, we get a glimpse of the future. Look, this is the end of the season, and Sorkin is gone after this. I know this much. I don’t think it’s going to affect my enjoyment of the show very much, and I went into this finale just hoping that something would be resolved from “Commencement.” But once the characters of The West Wing stepped into the Oval Office, it was scary to realize that THIS WASN’T GOING TO BE RESOLVED AT ALL. Nothing would be resolved at all. But not resolving Zoey’s kidnapping or Bartlet stepping down temporarily was fine as it was. (Meaning: already too much to deal with.)
- Glen Allen Walken.
- OH MY GOD
- First of all, I’m not entirely sure that John Goodman’s name was in the opening credits? Did I miss that? Probably. Regardless, seeing him was surprising, BUT I WAS NOT EXPECTING EVERYTHING HE SAID. He doesn’t say all that much here, but Sorkin gives us glimpses of the future, and season five is going to be rough as hell. Walken isn’t anywhere near Bartlet’s charm, and the few things he utters here give C.J. a start. The rest of the staff stares on in horror. This is who will run the country until Zoey is found. Oh my god, HOW IS THIS GOING TO WORK??? Will Allen respect the staff that’s already there, or is he going to be antagonistic? (The same goes for the reverse, too.)
- Y’all, Sorkin just left a doozy for the next showrunner to resolve.
- HHOOOOOWWWWW. I DON’T GET IT.
The video commission for “Twenty-Five” can be downloaded right here. We will recap my season four predictions on Friday and start season 5 on Tuesday!
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