So I just finished The West Wing. I will tell you right now that there are going to be spoilers all throughout this post, so if you haven't seen the series yet and don't want to be spoiled for it, you should probably just stop here and come back to this later! And then question yourself and all of your life choices to figure out why you haven't watched this incredible show yet.
...Do they really count as spoilers if the show has been finished for ten years? I dunno. But I'd hate to ruin it for someone who is in the same position I was in just a few months ago.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still a little bit of a mess from that finale. So much of it was primarily manipulative and I loved it. I mean, Donna getting her own massive office? CJ, Will, Kate, and Charlie having to move out of their own? All of the talks between Presidents Bartlet and Santos? Bartlet for America??? It utterly wrecked me. It was great.
As for the show overall... I think it can really be split up into three separate shows. There's Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing. There's post-Sorkin West Wing. And then there's the season in between, season 5, where it all just kind of really sucked. God, season 5 was rough. But aside from that, the two others both have their merits and their negatives and everything, but I think it's also very difficult to discuss them as if they're the same show.
Sorkin's West Wing is sexy. It's fast paced, it's the walk-and-talk, it's multiple storylines going on at once, it's the slow development of relationships that build on each other, it's being utterly unable to watch just one episode. I mean that both in a good way (I've spent literal days watching as much of Sorkin's West Wing as I had hours awake in my Saturday) and also in a bad way (if you don't start at the beginning, you'll be pretty lost). But I really don't think that this series could've gotten off the ground with anyone other than Aaron Sorkin. And I think that he is the master of the emotional arcs of the characters he really cares about. "Noel" is, to date, one of my favorite television episodes of anything ever. ("Noel" is the one where we find out that Josh has PTSD. The scene where we see that he actually put his hand through a window? At the end when he and Donna come across the carolers outside the White House? Bradley Whitford's acting??? It's the episode where I realized just how much I love this show. Like, I already knew that I loved it. But this episode is a turning point. It's extraordinary television.)
Post-Sorkin West Wing can be really interesting too, though. For starters, can we discuss how much better women are treated post-Sorkin? Like, women aren't treated horribly in the first few seasons - I have a deep love for Ainsley Hayes, for instance, and no one can ever tell me that CJ Cregg isn't a wonderful character straight from the start, not to even start on Donna Moss - but they're just treated so much better post-Sorkin. I particularly loved the decision to make CJ chief of staff, especially when we expected the position to go to either Josh or Toby. And I love how Josh and Donna didn't really come together until they were equals. I really kinda doubt that Sorkin would've done that, but I loved it.
(Incidentally, everything about Josh and Donna makes me so happy. That is the way you have will-they-or-won't-they characters come together. That was perfect.)
I also think that post-Sorkin West Wing was better at long plotlines than Sorkin's West Wing is. Sorkin's West Wing is great in that it has smaller multi-episode arcs come up and they overlap so it feels natural but season-long arcs are slow and small and subtle, which is nice. But, especially when it came to the end, that's a very different style from the Santos vs. Vinick campaign. And that presidential campaign was so intense! I was genuinely nearly as nervous and stressed about the outcome of it as I get about real life campaigns!
I'm not going to discuss season 5. It's just not worth it. That's not the show that I love.
And finally... the finale. The thing that made it particularly special was how much it focused on the transfer of power. That transfer of power - the "peaceful revolution" as it was called when it first happened from Washington's presidency to Adams's - is one of the greatest things the US has and continues to accomplish every four or eight years. The idea that someone who is literally the most powerful person in the world just gives up his power? That transfer is one of the most difficult things a person can do, and it's very much the most dramatic thing happening every inauguration day. Especially considering how it's a series that focused on Bartlet, even if it just came to the end of a season that focused on Santos, that transfer of power that then brings to light the emotional journey of the both of them was the right choice.
And you guys, it made me cry so, so much. Tears everywhere. I am so glad I knew not to wear makeup today.
I have many more thoughts about many more aspects of the show - Vinick as Secretary of State, for instance, and what they're doing about VP, and what's coming up for Margaret and everyone whose futures we haven't explicitly been given - but this is already a hella long post. So if you're interested, please feel free to ask me! I'm clearly dying to talk about it! But I definitely need to cut myself off here for now.
So I guess, to take the utterly cheesy route, the only thing left to ask now is...