In the fifteenth episode of the seventh season of The West Wing, Toby faces off with the U.S. Attorney for D.C., and Santos and Helen cope with the increasingly frustrating schedule of the last few days of the campaign. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
THIS WAS SO STRESSFUL.
I still don’t really like what they’ve done with Toby this season. The writing for his character in this episode is fine, and Richard Schiff’s acting is incredible, but the whole thing feels so strange. As I said in the video, I find it bizarre that the show has waited this long to show us Toby with his kids, who, in retrospect, seem impossibly older than they should be. Weren’t they born two seasons ago??? Do I just not understand how children work??? THAT IS A POSSIBILITY.
And yet, going off that, it was nice to see Toby be… well, Toby. This plot here – about the game of chicken he plays with the U.S. Attorney – highlights Toby’s idealism and his desire for the government to be better than it is. I think his stance against Blake is vital and thrilling to watch, but I also realized how much Toby’s motivations have changed, at least in how I perceived them. You know, I admit to being completely ignorant as to what clearly happened here. I technically knew that C.J. had “leaked” the information about the shuttle through that hypothetical question she asked Toby, but I never really put that much thought into it. It’s obvious now that this was her mistake, which makes Toby’s actions here protective. He wants to protect C.J. Cregg and he wants to protect the reputation of his brother. And while I don’t really care for this story all that much, I do like that Toby has come to represent something that’s so noble and so risky. He’s willing to go to prison for seven years to protect these people and these ideas, and that’s so quintessentially the Toby I know and love.
ALSO: HIS KIDS??? WOW. THERE IS TOO MUCH CUTENESS. It was also nice to finally see Andy again, however brief it was, and get to hear more about what’s going on in her life. Her own campaign is coming to an end, too! Oh gosh, I hope she wins. (Now I understand why they didn’t trick or treat at the same time. She didn’t want to be seen with her currently-indicted ex-husband.) Also: oh my god his kids are too cute. WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG FOR US TO SEE THEM AGAIN???
Hi, Jon Bon Jovi, you’re in this episode just hanging out half the time? It’s actually completely distracting and not distracting at all at the same time. I actually had a number of flashbacks or recalled memories during this episode because of the time I spent on tour buses in my twenties. I toured with a lot of bands, and there’s something both familiar and scary about how accurate the scenes were in this episode in terms of how that bus was depicted. I imagine that Santos’s campaign bus doesn’t have the section in the middle with the twelve bunks, but lord, I have spent many nights sleeping in bunks on a bus. Actually, you know that back office that Goodwin and Santos are often in? I once spent an entire tour sleeping back there on a couch. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much, but fuck it. I’d do it again.
Anyway, the brilliance of “Welcome to Wherever You Are” is in the way the show is able to convey chaos, which is something The West Wing has definitely done well in the past. Here, though, the show ratchets it up a notch through clever editing and overlapping lines of dialogue. I have no idea how the actors were able to pull this off, since everyone is constantly speaking over one another, pursuing their own conversation often with themselves. Stuck in the middle of this is Matthew Santos, who is appearing in up to five different states a day during the final five days of his campaign. (Which makes this a Thursday, yes?) It’s dizzying to watch, and I felt so TIRED by the end of this experience.
Just bless Jimmy Smits for his performance here. He captures Santos’s frustration and exhaustion extremely well, and it’s a very physical portrayal. And a lot of that frustration isn’t just because of the schedule being busy; it’s because he is irritated by the tone of what he and his wife must do in the sprint to the finish line. Throughout this episode, he urges Josh and his staff to get him a meeting with Nancy McNally (I MISS HER) to discuss the crisis in Kazakhstan, hoping it’ll give him a better idea how to shape his foreign policy in the coming days. But as it’s pushed aside repeatedly, Santos finds himself having to deal with a billion other tiny disasters. Nothing is particularly overwhelming by itself, and I think the team navigates these problems well. But, as I said, the show gives us the sense that it’s all these things happening at once that’s so upsetting and frustrating. Helen makes a statement about felon voters that could have been catastrophic, but ends up being a plus for the campaign. (And let me also say that I agree with Santos here; I truly believe that those laws restricting convicted felons of the vote is a method of disenfranchising mostly men of color – specifically, black men – by stacking the deck against them in the first place. I don’t believe that violent offenders should be included in this, but how many felony drug charges have stripped the right to vote from these people? And given that our horrific “War on Drugs” disproportionately affects people of color in our country, I don’t think it’s at all illogical to connect the two things together.) Then we’ve got the Halloween photo-op, which is a literal mess because of Santos’s lateness and because… well, you can’t give kids free reign to pursue candy and ice cream on Halloween without some ill-effects. Then there’s the fears of voter fraud in Florida and other states, and Russell’s work in Colorado, and Leo is hard to get ahold of and –
You get the idea. There are only a few days left to this campaign, and everything is more or less on fire and screaming. Jimmy Smits looked like he purposely didn’t sleep during the filming of this episode, either. But he’s closing in on a victory, one that looks possible, and I gotta say: it’s incredible to me that we’ve come this far. In season six, we weren’t sure Santos was even going to get nominated. Then, the writers gave us a Republican candidate who was extremely likable, more moderate than we expected, and had a clear lead over Santos. How was Santos going to overcome this? It’s been a rough and entertaining ride this season, one I’ve enjoyed watching, and now I get to appreciate how Santos and his team got him to where he is. It’s amazing to think about. IT ALSO MEANS THE ELECTION EPISODES ARE COMING SOON, DOESN’T IT? OH MY GOD, MY BODY IS NOT READY.
The video for “Welcome to Wherever You Are” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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