In the twentieth episode of the seventh season of The West Wing, both Vinick and Santos deal with massive changes to their lives. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Gods all bless this episode.
It’s an uncomfortable and slow experience, intentionally so. There’s no real thrilling moment until Santos sits Vinick down in his office, but it works so well because of the pacing. The lives of both the Santos family and Arnold Vinick are changing drastically and rapidly, but it’s not always in large sweeps. The mundane details matter as much as the ridiculous ones do.
“The Last Hurrah” brilliantly contrasts the two opponents to show us just how things have changed (or haven’t) since the end of the campaign. As Santos is swamped by the pressure to fill out his cabinet, Vinick is swamped in boxes. While Santos can barely even get a moment alone with his wife and kids, Vinick is surrounded by loneliness. And while Santos wishes he could have a respite from his schedule, Vinick has to artificially inflate his own in order to have anything to do. The year is winding down, and so is his time in the Senate.
Truthfully, it’s one of the saddest things we’ve ever seen on this show. The brilliance in developing Vinick as a full-bodied character is in these scenes, too, because it’s so refreshing. Did we ever get a post-election study of Robert Ritchie? No. And while I understood that Ritchie was a visual reference to George W. Bush, he never had even a smidgeon of the depth and character as Arnold Vinick. (Which is the point of his character, of course.) I cared about Vinick, and I was actually sad we’d never see him again. BUT THEN I WAS EVEN MORE SAD AFTER THIS. I did like using the word “mundane” earlier because that’s what Vinick’s life has become. He has to order his own coffee, he has to get check-ups that are insubstantial, and he has nothing to do with his time.
Meanwhile, as Vinick slips back into normalcy, the Santos family rushes ever faster into the surreal. There’s so much here that I never considered in terms of how Helen’s life would be altered, but the writers do a phenomenal job demonstrating that. The children are introduced to their Secret Service agents; Helen is in charge of a $200,000 remodeling budget for the White House, which includes personalized rooms for her kids; she must face the reality that she’s got an entire staff of maids and cooks and ushers that all work for her. And it’s deeply overwhelming! One of the things that set the Santos family apart was how they’d come from modest roots, particularly Matt. And now… LOOK AT WHAT THEY’VE GOT. I admit it was exciting to see because damn, they deserve it. But the issue is more complicated than that, obviously. The show touched on Helen and Matt’s fears for their own children. I mean, I think Helen was right to want them to finish out the school year in Houston. It would be an easier transition for them instead of uprooting them during a break and moving halfway across the country.
BUT LORD, THOSE LOGISTICS. This is their life now! I know the show has addressed this with the Bartlets before, but never before has it seemed so absurd. I think it’s because we saw them go from that home in Houston to this. It’s such a jarring change that all the details are a million times more overwhelming. So it makes sense that now that the Santos’ have access to a lot more wealth and privilege than they could have ever dreamed of, Helen and Matt worry about spoiling their kids. I absolutely loved that they ended up going with a public school, too, because I have a love for public schooling versus private, and I thought it was very in-character for them to choose that.
The real big turning point in this episode, though, is in the final third of “The Last Hurrah.” Vinick’s desperate plan to run for President again in four years was already decimated by Sheila and Bob, who both knew it could never happen again, despite that Vinick was so certain of it. So I understood why Vinick was on the defensive in Santos’s office. He had no support from his friends, he was bored and lonely, and he was certain that Santos was going to have a go at him. So, one right after the other, Santos offers Vinick the role of Vice President and Secretary of State. I actually thought that after the VP offer, this would be it for Vinick. He pretty clearly laid out why the move looked like a feint to warm up the Republicans so that confirming Baker would be easier. Would this be the last hurrah mentioned in the title? Would he turn down the position and promise to run again in four years?
But oh my god, the second that Santos offered the role of Secretary of State to Vinick, I KNEW IT WAS A PERFECT FIT. It really is, y’all, and I WANTED HIM TO ACCEPT IT SO BADLY. But it’s not like his reservations about the job weren’t justified. If anything, Vinick had every reason to suspect that Santos was toying with him. I mean, THE IDEA IS RIDICULOUS. A genuine Republican Secretary of State! On top of that, we’ve always known that Vinick was a man of principles and that he cared about maintaining his own integrity. I think it was fair of him to demand that Santos take him seriously, that Santos respect his authority and knowledge, and that he not make him part of any partisan bullshit. AND THEN WE GET TO SEE VINICK IN ACTION FOR LIKE 15 SECONDS AND IT’S SO PERFECT AND NO ONE IS FIGHTING AND F R I E N D S H I P.
I love it. I LOVE IT. (Am I allowed to read that line from Sheila, about knowing when to stop, as a meta-commentary on The West Wing? Because good lord, this show is ending with one of my favorite seasons of the whole run.)
The video for “The Last Hurrah” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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