In the eleventh episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
The white title card at the opening of “Opposition Research” is a sign of things to come, of a change to the focus of The West Wing. And as many things as season six has introduced that have changed the very nature of this show, it’s the focus on the beginning of Matt Santos’s campaign that filled me with so much hope and joy in this show. It’s fitting, then, that we open with a white screen, a light image instead of a dark one. This is a rough episode to watch, and at one point (WHILE THE CHARACTERS ARE STANDING AROUND IN DARKNESS HELLO VISUAL METAPHORS, YOU’RE GREAT), it doesn’t seem like Matt Santos as the President can happen. Granted, I’m still not sure that this is the show’s endgame because good god, this is going to be an uncomfortable journey. I can already tell. But y’all, IT FEELS SO GOOD.
“Opposition Research” is as much about Santos (and the audience getting to know him) as it is about Josh, and I loved that we got to see how Josh struggled with his own ego, his desire to control Santos, and his fear that he’d made a mistake in choosing to pursue Santos as a candidate. In part, that’s due to the fact that Santos questions the very foundation of running a campaign. We learn that he tends to want to have his hands in everything. He wants to address big issues from the very start. He’s uninterested in focusing on anything other than policy, despite that… well, as Josh points out, he can’t escape this. God, it’s so frustrating to watch, isn’t it? We’ve got Santos’s idealism in a constant battle with Josh’s frantic pragmatism, and IT HURTS TO WATCH. Because I want Santos’s world to be real. I want campaigns to be about policy and the issues themselves and what a candidate will do to change the world in their own way. I don’t want trashy, gossip-filled disasters. I don’t want them to be about images; I don’t want them about being nice over being honest. It’s a huge reason why he’s such an appealing candidate for me. He’s so real. Even watching him interact with the people of Litchfield and Nashua, he’s not polished. He’s awkward at times because he’s clearly new at this type of campaigning. He’s straight-forward at others, such as when he spars with Doug Weston.
It’s jarring to go from that (and from Santos’s makeshift office) to the polished campaign of Bob Russell. He’s in the lead for a reason. (I’m glad that Josh said he had “institutional support.” That was a great moment.) His campaign has money – lots of it – as well as organization. And Will, who knows what he’s doing. AND DONNA. OH MY GOD. DONNA. I’ll get to her, I promise. But Santos is facing an entire system that’s stacked against him, and it’s not just because he’s new. There’s money. Tradition. The color of his skin. His background. And y’all, I WANT FOR HIM TO WIN SO BADLY.
But as I said, that’s not going to be easy. Again, this clash is ideological in a certain sense, and both Josh and Santos are going to have to learn how to work together. I could tell that Josh wasn’t used to the candidate running the ship, but that’s what plays out here. Santos unintentionally leaked his education plan; he complains about the slow pace; he refuses to back down from his COMPLETELY 100% TRUE perception of the primaries. WHICH… OH MY GOD. I love that white people believe that color doesn’t matter and race shouldn’t be addressed in most matters, but call something out for not being diverse, and then they’re real quick to claim that they’re 1/4th French or German and suddenly, ethnicity matters. WHOMP. I was scared that Santos would have to apologize publicly for his comments just to placate people, but I also knew that this was the start of a long line of infuriating moments that Santos would have to face. It’s precisely what Leo warned Josh about: he needed to have the “conversation” about what this campaign was going to be like. His past and his policies and all of his quotes are going to be thrust into the national spotlight, and it’s going to be relentless. WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Oh god, let’s just talk about Donna because THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. There are two vital things that are brought up in this episode, and it’s uncomfortable because my Josh/Donna ship has sunk violently, but you know what? I’m more invested in the direction of Donna’s character than in a romantic relationship. So I’m pleased that Will calls out Josh for causing his own guilt. Because Donna quit and got a job with Russell’s campaign FOR HER OWN REASONS, and I highly, highly doubt that she did this just to make Josh feel guilty. I doubt that her own desire for respect and for an appreciation of her talents is second to making Josh feel bad. So no, Josh, YOU NEED TO STOP. And even if it’s unfortunate that they’re being pit against one another, Donna deserves this. She’s not doing “make work job” for them! MEDIA TARGETING FOR THE NORTHEAST AND PACIFIC NORTHWEST. oh my god DONNA I LOVE YOU.
I also love the Bartlets. Y’all, that phone call. I DO NOT DENY THAT I DANCED ON MY COUCH. IT’S SO GLORIOUS. Bartlet gives Josh the key to shifting the education debate to guarantee a “vigorous” primary and IT’S SO GREAT. So Liz’s appearance here is both meant to take a shot at Josh in a humorous way and to give Santos some help in the upcoming primaries. Her husband is a major jerk here, but no one is surprised by that. Oh my god, that scene in the diner was so awkward, y’all. BUT SHE GAVE TWO GRAND TO THE SANTOS CAMPAIGN. PUBLICLY. I adore it, and I love that she has no qualms about doing so. This might be a rocky start for the Santos campaign, but shit like this? It can provide the momentum that they need. So will events like the one at the end of the episode, where Santos can show people that he’s more than just a punchline.
But nothing represents just how much I am into this pairing than Matt and Josh’s talk outside the house in New Hampshire. There’s an implicit trust between these two, and it calls back to Josh knowing that Santos is the right candidate and Santos knowing that Josh is the right manager. They just have to confirm it more, and they both need to listen to one another. Oh my god, I’m so happy that this episode focused entirely on the primaries, y’all, and I cannot wait to see if it will happen again.
The video for “Opposition Research” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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