In the eighteenth episode of the seventh season of The West Wing, SADNESS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and grief.
There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break this up.
Again, The West Wing blurs the line between fiction and reality with this episode, though I imagine there was no way they could have avoided this. I have no complaints about this, for the record, and if anything, “Requiem” felt like a way for the cast to say goodbye to John Spencer. It’s a surreal thing, too, since we see so many faces that haven’t appeared on the show in years, so this really did feel like The West Wing wanted to pay a proper tribute to John Spencer and his character of Leo McGarry. The camera pans over the faces of the main cast before giving us shots of Nancy McNally, or Amy Gardner, or BOB RUSSELL, or all three Bartlet sisters in a single shot (!!!!), or Mallory, and I think we saw Leo’s ex-wife? I wasn’t quite sure on that one. It’s such a sad, bittersweet sequence, made even more emotional when Bartlet, Josh, Charlie, Santos, and Barry Goodwin carry Leo out of the church in his coffin. IT WAS TOO REAL. TOO REAL.
There’s a lot left unanswered by the “Election Day” arc, and some of it I never even addressed in the last review. It’s clear, then, that Santos and his team have a lot of work to do in the days leading up to the Inauguration. There are over 6,000 jobs to fill for the administration, and just three days after the election, there are already people lining up to take them. I love that this episode demonstrates how quickly Santos’s life has changed now that he’s won. On the very first day he sits in his transition office, he is overwhelmed by a potential political disaster: a more conservative Democrat might become Speaker of the House, and Santos’s friend needs help securing the last few votes. This is all complicated by Josh’s struggle with Santos choosing Barry Goodwin as the transition team leader. Even though Santos reveals that he wants Josh as Chief of Staff (!!!!! oh my god !!!!!!!), he knows that Josh is irritated by Goodwin’s role in choosing the new cabinet.
Of course, we know from seven years of this show that Josh wants to control everything. It’s a flaw of his that the writers have explored liberally before, and it’s explored here, too. However, this is a case where Josh’s advice â€“ to leave the Speaker election alone â€“ is actually the best option. It is! Santos can’t start off his Presidency helping out his friend. There’s a lot of talk about doing what’s best for the party, which can certainly be a confusing topic. But I understood what was unfolding here. I got that the Democratic party might resent Santos if he pulled the election away from them. I say that fully acknowledging that Congressman Fields would have been a better choice in terms of efficiency. It’s obvious that Sellner is going to pull the party back towards the center, blocking a lot of Santos’s more liberal agenda. But is it worth it to wade into the disaster of interfering with the vote? Initially, Santos fiercely believes it, which is why I was a little perplexed that we never got to see Josh finding out that Santos eventually took his advice. Perhaps in the next episode? Josh seemed so upset at the end of “Requiem” because he feared Santos was making a huge mistake right off the bat.
Anyway, I know there’s going to be a lot more of this to come. But Josh as Chief of Staff! Ainsley Hayes as White House Counsel YES PLEASE. Amy as Director of Legislative Affairs???? CAN THESE THINGS HAPPEN? Also, I’d love to see Charlie gather up some friends and go kick Josh’s ass for not offering Donna a position at the White House. I am extremely invested in the future of Donna Moss right now, y’all. EXTREMELY INVESTED.
Oh lord, the brilliantly comedic mirror between Josh/Donna and Danny/C.J. was so perfect. To me, it felt like the writers were openly acknowledging both the logistical nightmare of trying to date people you work with and the absurdity of these people avoiding romantic and sexual advances from one another for years. So much of the conflict here is based on a fear of how others would react to the inevitable. BECAUSE LET’S BE REAL: Absolutely no one would be surprised by either pairing featured here. No one! Many of these characters have already hinted that they know about what’s going on anyway. I think my actual favorite moment is when Donna leaves Josh, after saying it was impossible for her to cancel plans with C.J., and then DANNY SITS DOWN AND GIVES JOSH THAT LOOK. My god, so flawless.
We open with a funeral, and we end with a wake. There are two of them, technically; the big, fancy one, where Bartlet breaks all our hearts by turning up all that charm right after expressing his sadness and grief privately with Abbey. It’s so hard to watch because you can see the exact moment where Bartlet puts on that cheerful mask and livens up the room, and then the camera cuts to Abbey’s concerned face, AND I WAS SO DONE. But then, the core characters we’ve been with since the beginning (well, most of them, that is) gather in the residence to share their best memories of Leo McGarry. That’s how my father’s wake went, too. We couldn’t bear to wallow in our sadness anymore, so we just tried to make each other laugh. There’s another detail here that struck me, too. We watch as all three Speaker candidates say the same thing to Santos about Leo’s service. I actually had to warn my friend, who just lost a loved one, that he should be prepared for something no one tells you about when you deal with death: repetition. No one told me that I’d have to say the same things over and over again or that I’d have to listen to people repeat the same messages to me, either. And it does get unnerving and grating after a while, even if you know that the people mean it. It’s just such an awkward situation, you know? But it’s a detail that’s part of the fabric of grief, and since Leo was so well known, it was bound to happen.
I missed Leo a lot during this episode. I know that Josh did, too, and he even vocalized his disappointment that Leo wasn’t around to sort through all the cabinet nonsense. But that sort of vacancy is something you have to deal with when you lose someone. You have to start accepting that they’re simply no longer there, as C.J. points out. It’s such a weird concept, and I admit that I’ve never really gotten used to it. But you learn to deal, and I’m glad these characters got to comfort one another with the joy of Leo McGarry’s life.
The video for “Requiem” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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