In the twelfth episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, Leo returns to the White House officially, but brings with him some uncomfortable questions. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
I love season six. I love season six.
Like the previous episode, the singular focus of “365 Days” is what makes this so much fun to watch. Leo is at the center of this story, which addresses his return to the White House. But as what? That question is never actually answered, which is okay! It doesn’t need to be, at least not yet. It’s a source of tension in this episode because Leo’s return to work is mostly marked by confusion. What’s he going to do there? Why is spending his time watching old States of the Union and Inaugural speeches? Why are my eyes so misty?
From the start of “365 Days,” it was obvious that Leo had come back to the White House on one of the most hectic days imaginable, but now I can see why the writers did this. With just 365 days left in Bartlet’s presidency, how is the staff and the White House using this last year? On this particular day, Kate and C.J. are wrapped up with crises in Bolivia and North Korea; Toby is eager to duck any compliment about his State of the Union speech, which is universally praised in the media; Annabeth is distracted by being a professional babysitter for an adult who CLEARLY SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO HIS JOB WITHOUT HER HELP; even Charlie is doing his best to work on making the EITC (which is a real thing!) more palatable and less likely to be cut. And while most of these issues are important (and Leo can’t deny that sudden events in the world will always pull staff away into their own little worlds), where should they spend their own energy? Running about the White House and reacting to the world? Or should they be crafting their own world?
It’s neat to see how many people also find their own inspiration or solution to their problems by coming to Leo. It’s a fascinating parallel because that’s precisely what Leo is doing in this episode: seeking inspiration. He sits down in his minimal office, easily taking appointments or pushing people off into their own conflicts while he keeps to himself. There’s some obvious awkwardness throughout, especially since no one is exactly sure what Leo is supposed to do while he’s here. (It’s both adorable and crushing to watch Margaret interact with Leo because OH MY GOD THEY’RE BACK TOGETHER, but then they aren’t. And it’s clear that she’s now completely gotten used to working for C.J., and my heart.) But that odd sense is intentional; Leo is thinking of shaking up these people in a huge way, and it’s why he purposely stays out of the way. And yeah, it’s partly because he doesn’t want to step on C.J.’s toes, which is a wonderful acknowledgment on his part. But he’s observing over the course of “365 Days,” and it’s a quiet performance from John Spencer that I love.
And really, it’s not until his confrontation with Will that we actually understand why Leo is so introspective and silent in this episode. No one bothered to question why Bartlet’s final State of the Union was so well received aside from congratulating Toby. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Toby always knew it wasn’t his best, despite that it’s uncomfortable for him to hear what Leo tells him. And the same goes for Will, who has an INCREDIBLE scene with Leo that follows the one between Leo and Toby. I do think it’s fair that Leo asks if Will truly believes in his candidate, and Will’s bumbling of the answer is SO TELLING of how he actually feels. Oh god, I NEEDED SO MUCH MORE. You can’t give me that sort of hint and then NOT FINISH IT UP. Will, you don’t believe in Russell, do you? Do you? And like, let’s say that somehow, Russell doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, which I WILL CHEER IF THIS IS THE CASE, where does that leave Will? Or Donna? How am I going to cope with all of this?
But y’all. Bartlet and Leo have one of my favorite fictional friendships ever, and watching those two interact with one another was just so beautiful to me. I can’t help but think back to “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet,” and how that episode was about getting shit done. It also featured Leo dealing with (and observing) the chaos of the West Wing and coming up with a way to let the staff off their leashes. So it’s not lost on me that this is like a sequel to that, but it’s done in a way where Bartlet and Leo both have to acknowledge their own mortality and the inevitability of this job coming to an end. It’s time for a last hurrah, and it should last 364 days.
Oh god, I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT’S GONNA COME FROM THIS. I genuinely love the direction this season is taking, and if it alternates between the election and the White House, I’ll be so pleased. BRING IT ON, THE WEST WING. BRING IT ON.
The video for “365 Days” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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