In the fourteenth episode of the seventh season of The West Wing, I CAN’T BREATHE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
HOW? HOW IS THIS HAPPENING? WILL THIS SHOW EVER LET ME LIVE?
I am still all jangly nerves after watching “Two Weeks Out.” After the past two episodes, which definitively showed us that a Santos win was possible in the election, this episode is a scary. It really is! Of all the things I thought might be in that briefcase that Bruno found, a set of suspicious checks wasn’t even on my radar. It wasn’t. And even if Bruno or Vinick never leak what they know or suspect of Santos, I’m now going to be terrified up until the election itself about someone putting the pieces together.
I think it’s necessary to start this off by once again acknowledging that in many ways, Arnold Vinick represents a version of a Republican we don’t necessarily see that often. It’s not that moderate Republicans don’t exist; it’s that the news often (and sometimes rightly so) focuses on the more extreme versions of the party. So where does Vinick fit in with all that? After the San Andreo fiasco and the loss of Sheila (I STILL MISS HER), Vinick’s campaign is more desperate than ever to get him back to some sort of comfortable lead. Now, Jane Bruan is in charge of the campaign… sort of. I say that only because Vinick fights her on nearly every decision she makes. Admittedly, it can be frustrating to hear her speak so flippantly about “family values” because I find it to be a gross way to be a huge bigot towards non-heterosexual people. I mean, you know that’s what she means, but she and other bigots like her hide from the plainness of their bigotry by aligning themselves with the concept of “family,” because… I don’t know! I can’t have a family? I’m not part of one? Of course it’s an absurd idea because clearly I have experienced a family. Anyway, I don’t want to spend too much time analyzing this because it’s sure to get exhausting. The point is that Bruan believes that the only way Vinick can win the election is to, as she puts it, appeal to the Republican base. She wants him to pander as much as possible, which infuriates Vinick, since he is determined not to misrepresent himself.
Well, it’s more complicated than that. Vinick believes that he has to address his nuclear energy stance or else he’ll never be able to move beyond it; Bruan believes that if he ignores it and discusses issues that “energize” the Republican base, that will guarantee that Republicans will show up to the polls to vote for their party’s candidate. Look, I do think that Bruan wasn’t far off from the truth, especially when she says that Vinick is kind of the lesser of two evils to many conservative Republicans. That’s been part of this whole campaign since we first were introduced to both candidates last season. So, again, she’s not entirely wrong. It’s just that Vinick believes he knows how best to campaign in California, so for the time being, he convinces her that they should follow Santos to Vinick’s home state.
And we get to see the other side of this, since Santos is in California in order to get free coverage versus spending a ton of money in advertising in an expensive market. Damn, Toby was SO RIGHT about this. The unfortunate part is that no one actually expected Vinick to go to California and upstage Santos. WHICH HE DID. HOLY SHIT. I still can’t get over how great it is that this show decided to make both candidates likable and qualified and DECENT PEOPLE and it’s so challenging to watch? My god, it’s so satisfying to watch. Plus, when do we ever see a politician do what Vinick does here? It’s so rare to begin with, and yet, this show just gave us a Republican candidate who spends nearly THREE HOURS in front of the very power plant that is the source of his campaign’s suffering. He spends so much time being honest that HE BORES THE PEOPLE THERE UNTIL THEY HAVE LITERALLY NO QUESTIONS TO ASK HIM.
Holy fuck, he upstaged Santos. He did it.
Now, I think that if you took away the other plot, this still would have been a compelling episode. But the second you figure out that the briefcase that Bruno finds is actually the one Santos is missing, this episode becomes SOMETHING FROM ANOTHER UNIVERSE. I think that the writers were (once again!) very smart to play this so personally because it had the potential to be a little too soap opera like for The West Wing. Instead of turning this into this horrific scandal, though, we’re given a very intimate moral struggle between Bruno and Vinick, one that touches on the very nature of democracy. Does the American public deserve to know the contents of that briefcases if it reveals something about Matt Santos’s moral character? Is it immoral or unethical for either person to know what they suspect of Santos’s life?
And by gods, both Ron Silver and Alan Alda are SPECTACULAR during that scene where Bruno talks about what he discovered. They are able to convey to shock, to convey fear, and to convey opportunity. That is part of what Bruno latches on to. They now have the opportunity to definitively give the presidency to Vinick. Santos would absolutely be ruined by the contents of his campaign journal, sure, but those checks to Anita Morales? They are career-ending. The tension is made even worse because it’s not like this is coming to light from Santos’s perspective. No, his opponent has discovered this bombshell. Of course, I’d be silly not to acknowledge that this is so upsetting because at the time, I was worried that it was true, that Santos was paying off a mistress or paying child support to some secret woman. Did Helen know??? That was my primary thought. DID SHE KNOW? Or was he hiding this from her?
It was uncomfortable to think about, and as this episode led to that inevitable encounter between Vinick and Santos, I was certain that this would lead to Santos’s downfall. WHICH CAME RIGHT AFTER HE HAD THAT SURGE! It was so frustrating, but then Santos wasn’t even denying the checks or trying to explain them and I WAS SO UPSET???? IT WAS HAPPENING. IT WAS TRUE. THIS WAS REALLY HAPPENING RIGHT BEFORE MY EYES.
Except that it wasn’t the truth. Turns out, Santos was paying HIS BROTHER’S CHILD SUPPORT FOR HIM. Oh my god, in one moment, I became EVEN MORE WORRIED THAN BEFORE. Because of course no one would believe Santos. They wouldn’t! And I’m certain that if this does get out, there’s going to be a whole lot of really gross racism attached to it, too.
I just… holy shit. I was on edge for most of “Two Weeks Out,” and that ending didn’t make me feel any better. THESE WRITERS ARE SO CRUEL. I mean, this shit is brilliant, and I’m so excited to see more of this show, but sweet lord. These past three episodes have been some of the most intense experiences for me while watching The West Wing.
The video for “Two Weeks Out” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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