In the fifteenth episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, Santos attempts to fight nepotism and cynicism in the campaign, but Josh worries that in doing so, the Santos campaign will crash and burn. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
I love this. I LOVE THE CAMPAIGN EPISODES. I love that John Wells and company have taken such a huge risk in changing the very nature of The West Wing‘s narrative. But this isn’t entertaining because it’s different; it’s just really fucking good.
It’s also a frustrating experience, and for at least two-thirds of “Freedonia,” the show gives us one uncomfortable and awkward scene after another. For me, a lot of that was based on the fact that Santos represented a much more ideal candidate, and yet I couldn’t deny that Josh was right. Josh’s pragmatism clashed with Santos’s ideals, which wasn’t exactly a new thing to see on the show, but the way in which in manifested here truly gave us a sense for how this could have been the last thing the Santos campaign did. Ever. Which is scary! And I can see a few ways in which Santos might gain more points from the other candidates. Hoynes will be easier to steal votes from, and Russell isn’t going to perform well in any sort of off-the-cuff debate. But while “Freedonia” shows us how Santos’s creativity and genuine nature is making him a viable competitor, I still don’t know how he’s going to get the party’s nomination.
But I’m jumping way ahead of this episode, of course. The focus in “Freedonia” is on the Herald Democratic debates, where only Hoynes and Russell are invited to participate. This is actually a fairly common occurrence, you know, that all of the secondary and tertiary candidates aren’t invited to be a part of the final debates leading up to the primaries. I’ve always thought this was to the detriment of the democratic process myself, so I’m glad that the show tackled this as they did. It’s unfair, and it implicitly supports those candidates who already had a lot of support and those who can buy their way to a nomination. Of course, there’s also the problem with the way these debates unfold, particularly since they never really feel like an actual debate anyway. However, Santos doesn’t even get to attempt to change the debate rules after the Herald doesn’t even invite him to the debate, and so Josh has to struggle to come up with something â€“ anything, really â€“ that will get Santos in the debate.
Initially, I thought “Freedonia” would focus on the ad that they were going to run on the competitor network, but this evolved into Josh and his team trying to find anything that could get them enough press to get them on that debate. Josh’s ideas weren’t terrible! The chicken suit thing was silly at best, but it ended up getting them some attention. (POOR DONNA, YOU WALKED RIGHT INTO THAT.) And the “feisty” ad calling Russell and Hoynes chickens was clever and certainly would have gotten some traction! But was it worth it?
And really, that’s at the heart of this whole conflict between Josh and Santos: Is it worth it for them to pander for attention? Santos doesn’t think so because he believes he should run as pure of a campaign as he can. It’s why he has so much difficulty while being prepped for the debate by Amy. (HOLY SHIT, WHAT A SURPRISE!) She wants him to fit the same mold that the presidents before him have fit. (Which I didn’t take as an insult to Bartlet; the man does have a presidential voice!) Everything about this centers on Santos becoming just like everyone else.
But isn’t that what separates from the other six candidates? Isn’t the very reason why Josh decided to run Matt’s campaign due to Santos being unique? Again, I get why Josh does what he does here, and I don’t want to ignore that Josh had every reason to feel desperate. THIS WAS IT. As we got more glimpses of the competition, it was clear this really was a last-ditch effort for the Santos campaign. On that note, I’m so happy that the show is giving us time with the Russell and Hoynes campaigns, particularly since DONNA IS CLEARLY SO FUCKING GOOD AT HER JOB. And really, that moment where she openly disagrees with Russell at the end of the episode is indicative of just how knowledgeable she is about what’s best for this campaign. I was also pleased that Santos ripped Josh apart for trying to say that the issue with Amy was that she was his ex. I was a little appalled with his treatment of her in this episode, particularly the lines he said about representation of women in the Democratic party. So yeah, I’m glad that Santos doesn’t let Josh off the hook by the end of the episode.
Bah, I’m jumping ahead of myself again. Let’s talk about the ad, because this episode really is a tense, slow burn that leads up to one of the most memorable scenes in The West Wing history. In hindsight, it seems so obvious that the perfect answer to their problems was to strip the campaign of all its pretension. That’s what Santos does when he tosses out Josh’s ad and FILMS A LIVE ONE AT THE VERY STUDIO IT’S AIRING ON. And holy fuck, it’s so good. IT’S SO AMAZING. It wasn’t lost on me that the studio assistant told Josh that everyone at WMUR was jaded, only to have THE ENTIRE STAFF STAND UP AND STARE AT SANTOS AS HE LEFT THE BUILDING.
It worked. No, it didn’t just work. With one thirty-second ad, Santos pulled all the power in his direction, and his debate became the debate, one that the other candidates had to agree to, lest they look foolish. Oh my god, THERE’S HOPE. IT CAN ACTUALLY HAPPEN NOW. I don’t know how Santos is going to get past Hoynes and Russell, but it’s absolutely possible now. And the campaign did this without cynicism either. Santos wanted a better political world, so he made it.
Bless him. I cannot wait to see more of the campaign.
The video for “Freedonia” can be downloaded here for $o.99.
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