The West Wing: Season 7 — a review

My ratings for the previous six seasons of The West Wing plot a straight horizontal line, except for a tiny dip in Season 5. If you’re a betting person, the past is the best predictor of the future.

You already know I liked this season, too. I can’t even fake any kind of suspense here. This was a great television series (another in a series of great shows that I never watched until they were off the air).

We knew this show had to end. It had always been about the presidency of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his West Wing staff. We were witness to Bartlet winning a second term in office, and the president can only serve two.

It is possible that the show might have continued on with a new president. But, it wouldn’t have been the same. If this show was really about the Bartlet administration, then it had to end when Bartlet’s presidency did.

The final season of The West Wing existed to help the viewing public get over the Bartlet presidency. Season 7 is principally concerned with the presidential campaign, which will decide who will replace Bartlet in the Oval Office. Will it be Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), the Democratic candiate? Or will it be Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), the Republican?

I try to avoid talking politics. Everywhere, in real life, not just here.

The truth is I’m only quasi-political by nature. As I’ve always said, my liberal friends think I’m too conservative and my conservative friends think I’m too liberal. I’m comfortable in the middle of the road.

This series has taken a lot of flack over the years for having a liberal bias. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of liberal characters on the show. Because, there are. But, I don’t believe that the more conservative characters on the show are necessarily painted to be boo-hiss villains. Arnold Vinick, for instance, is portrayed—by Alan Alda—as a standup guy. A “California Republican,” he is called at least once, suggesting that he is a little more moderate than hardcore right-wingers. In fact, during most of this season, it felt like we were in an election where both candidates had many laudable traits. In real life, it’s been a while since my voting habits didn’t seem to have a “lesser of two evils” theme.

Spending so much time with characters who didn’t exist for most of the previous six seasons means we spend less time with the characters we’ve come to know and love.

Sure, Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) is running the Santos campaign, so he’s around. As is Leo McGarry (John Spencer) as Santos’ running mate. John Spencer passed away in reality while this season was being filmed, and Leo McGarry also died on-screen on election night. I apologize for the spoiler, but this was a long time ago, and I knew about the actor dying even before I started watching the series.

The rest of our main cast seem to be relegated to B-stories through most of the season. C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) is feeling the pressure of being Chief of Staff. Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) has a particularly stressful story arc that I’m not going to talk about, because it was my least favorite part of the season.

Other cast members continue to exist as characters, but aren’t as present as they once were. Martin Sheen appears in only twelve episodes, as a matter of fact, and Stockard Channing, the First Lady, even fewer. Likewise, we see much less of Charlie Young (Dulé Hill), Will Bailey (Joshua Malina), Kate Harper (Mary McCormack) and Donna Moss (Janel Moloney).

While this is unfortunate—and I genuinely missed having the other characters up front and center—the season was no less impactful and entertaining because of this. Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda shine in every scene that they’re in. There is a genuine feeling of all the characters moving on as the administration changes. The finale ends with the swearing-in ceremony of the new president.

I’m not saying who this is. You probably already know.

In some ways, watching Season 7 of The West Wing was a lot like watching an entirely different show with some similar themes. Maybe a spinoff. Still amazing television, right up to the very end.

Firewater’s He-Was-Neil-Young-to-Your-Neil-Diamond Report Card: A

I like both Neils. I’m middle-of-the-road in music, too, apparently.

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