After playing God of War: Ragnarok, I have been rewatching one of my favorite series, The West Wing. It’s an amazing series. So many people think that this series is how government works, but they are delightfully delusional. However, it is some great fiction. The first four seasons were the ones that Aaron Sorkin was the leader writer, and so many people think that the series went totally downhill after that. I, disrespectfully, disagree. Sure, the first four seasons had Sorkin’s signature style, but the last three seasons found their rhythm, and they produced some amazing stuff. Initially, this was going to be a list of the top 10 best episodes, but I am not able to narrow the list down enough for that, so I’m making it the top 15. Not top 20. That would get tedious. These are the episodes that caught me the most in this series. Let me know your favorites down in the Comments.
15. Five Votes Down
My favorite character in this series is, without a doubt, Josh Lyman. Bradley Whitford is a great actor, and he was able to bring this character to life like none other. He’s a DC heavyweight with years of experience in dealing with people on Capitol Hill. In this episode, we get to see him put the full weight of that experience behind him as he kicks the ass of a politician who won’t get behind their latest piece of legislation. The scene with him absolutely destroying the guy is marvelous to watch. It’s a shame we don’t get as many moments like that to watch him crush his opposition. That entire scene is what gets this episode on the list.
14. A Proportional Response
The first time that Bartlet is tested in having the military do a response to an American citizen being killed overseas. It’s worse because it’s a friend of his who was killed. The ethics of America’s military being a hammer to smash their enemies is a great ethical debate, and it’s nice to see Leo and the President going back and forth. Their debate is really something, and I could watch it over and over again. How it ends is thought-provoking, which is when this show is at its best.
13. 20 Hours in LA
This episode is a great look at how much being the President is weighing on Bartlet and how much he is tiring of it. You have the President and company going to LA, where they will attend some political events and then have a party which doubles as a chance to get donations from the wealthy Hollywood elites. The episode ends with Bartlet and a gay movie producer having a frank discussion about a bill to make gay marriage illegal, and ends with both of them acknowledging their disdain for these sorts of parties and what they represent. It’s a great use of silence and subtle dialogue where both parties are saying a bunch of things at once.
12. The Mommy Problem
As the election between Santos and Vinick is heating up, you have this episode where they acknowledge that Santos doesn’t have the kind of commanding presence that they need. It’s a good episode overall, but the thing that clinches it for me is when Josh learns that Santos has to go do some military service, because he is still technically in the reserves. The elation Josh has when he realizes the opportunity in front of them, to get him photographed on base, in his flight suit, as a pilot for the Marines, is too good to pass up. And yes, the image of Jimmy Smits (the actor) in a flight suit getting into a fighter jet is pretty fucking boss. Josh and I agree.
11. 2162 Votes
The culmination of a bitter primary season between Santos, former Vice President Hoynes, and the current Vice President Russel is in this episode. It shows what an absolute circus this can all be, and we get to see the beginnings of Josh being more and more stressed as the election keeps going. With no clear winner, the President tries to make Santos take Russel’s offer to be VP. But Santos refuses, wanting to go for the whole thing, and it’s the first time we see Josh standing up to both the President, and his father figure/mentor, Leo McGarry. How it all ends is with Santos giving a fantastic speech. I think that Jimmy Smitts is a great actor. I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him in. The showdown between him and Vinick is two great actors fighting for the highest office in the land, and it officially begins in this episode. Great stuff.
10. Two Cathedrals
This episode has so many great things. First, it has the funeral of a character who was so beloved on this show, Mrs. Lanningham. We get to see how her relationship with Jed Bartlet starts, along with some of his history with his father that comes up later in the series. We also have the culmination of the President admitting to the people that he has Multiple Sclerosis and had been hiding it from them. But the thing that REALLY makes this episode amazing is when the President asks the Cathedral be sealed, so he can have a private moment and argue with God. That scene is so amazing. Especially when he starts shitting on the guy in Latin. I’m so glad somebody on YouTube was able to translate that. It’s fantastic stuff. How it ends is incredible. Martin Sheen is an amazing actor, and nowhere was that more expressed than in this episode.
9. We Killed Yamamoto
Another one of my favorite character was ADM. Fitzwallace. In this episode, there is a known terrorist financier who is untouchable by the law. The President wants to go after him, but despite their best efforts, they cannot find a workable way to do so. Fitzwallace, on the other hand, thinks that they have an obligation to not only bring that man to them, but then to kill him. The dialogue between him and Leo is absolutely phenomenal. It’s awesome when characters are speaking and each sentence conveys multiple things at the same time. Sorkin is a great writer, and I have to give him credit. The morality and ethics and appeals to history in the aforementioned scene are spectacular, and only these two actors could have pulled it off as well as they did.
8. Angel Maintenance
This episode is just funny. There aren’t that many episodes in this series, but this is one of the best. Air Force One has a problem. They want to land, but there is an issue with the indicator light that shows that the front wheels aren’t locked. So they have to continually find ways to figure out whether or not this is an actual maintenance issue, or a problem with the actual indicator light. The whole thing and how the President is getting more and more upset and wants to land is too funny. Especially with the people in the White House who are trying to keep the whole thing quiet. How it ends just clinches it. Great episode.
This episode is told from the perspective of one of my favorite news programs – FRONTLINE. They even got the same narrator to do the narrations. Sounds so much like Robert Stack, but he had passed away by this point. I could listen to him describe things for hours, and the situation that he is talking about is pretty crazy. Not much more to say about that. It’s like watching an episode of FRONTLINE and The West Wing at the same time, and I love that.
6. Live Debate
This entire episode was based around the debate between Santos and Vinick. It’s spectacular. Alan Alda is a great actor, and his portrayal of Vinick, the Republican candidate for President is spot-on. But Jimmy Smitts is similarly amazing. Seeing these two play off one-another, in a Presidential debate that takes up almost the entire running time of the episode is perfect. It’s like the real thing, back when debates actually debated ideas, and not just candidates bickering like we are dealing with in the real world. Two amazing actors doing a verbal jiu-jitsu battle. I couldn’t ask for more.
5. The Supremes
Let me take this moment to talk about two of my favorite, CRIMINALLY UNDERAPPRECIATED actors – Glenn Close and William Fitchner. I do not understand why these two are not in more great stuff. They are two power-house actors who bring so much to the table. And in this episode, the way they play off one-another is phenomenal. A Supreme Court justice has died, and now the goal is to replace them. There is a female justice that they like, but there is the reality that they would never be able to get her onto the bench. She’s WAY too liberal for a Republican controlled Congress. However, Toby has a brilliant idea that lets them get her in – by having another elderly justice who refuses to retire because he sees the idea of him retiring as a betrayal because of all the work he has done and believing that he is the better justice than any of the rest. They convince him to retire, so they can get her, and in return, they are letting the Republicans pick whatever justice candidate they want. They get one played by William Fitchner. When those two are in a room arguing, it’s amazing stuff. I could listen to them argue politics all day. I also love that while they make Fitchner a stark conservative, they don’t make him an intellectual lightweight. He made some good arguments for his position. This was an amazing episode with two fantastic performances that I cannot praise enough.
4. In God We Trust
This episode is on this list ENTIRELY because of the conversation between Vinick and President Bartlet over ice cream at the White House. The discussion about Vinick’s loss of faith, and seeing Alan Alda playing off Martin Sheen is spectacular. These are two heavy-weight actors who bring their A-game to this scene. It’s just one scene, but I could watch it over and over again. Makes this episode.
This episode has so much going on. Zoey Bartlet, the President’s youngest daughter, is kidnapped. A desperate father, trying to find and secure his daughter’s safety, he gets more and more desperate as time goes on. Eventually, he realizes that with this and his worsening medical condition, he cannot be expected to handle this situation and run the country. As such, he decides that he is going to use the 25th Amendment and step down for the duration of this crisis. However, with Hoynes having resigned due to an affair, there is no VP to take his place. So it falls to the Speaker of the House, who is a Republican, who is portrayed by none other than John Goodman. I have always loved John Goodman as an actor. Always. And man does he bring the heat in this episode. The way he is able to take control of the situation by using a parable of the beginning of World War I is fantastic. Great historical referencing, told by a man who has a genuinely commanding presence. With so much tension in this season, it ends with such a fantastic scene.
2. In The Shadow of a Gunman (Parts 1 and 2)
Following an attempted assassination when the President is leaving a speaking event, everything is thrown into chaos. The President is shot and rushed to the hospital. It looks at first like things are okay, but then we find out that Josh has also been shot, and it is much more serious. As things are spiraling out of control, and the staff is being pushed to their limits, it is a tour de force of great acting from so many involved. We also get to see the history about how Josh was involved in the Bartlet campaign and how he got him elected as President, not to mention how the rest of the senior staff came into the picture. The scene where CJ, their press secretary, is able to make an AMAZING analogy as to way more guns at the scene wouldn’t have helped as spectacular. There isn’t a scene in this episode that isn’t great, and I could watch it over and over again forever.
And my favorite episode of The West Wing is…
I cannot applaud this episode enough. I already did a post about it, which you will see down below. Months after the events of the shooting, Josh is brought before a trauma psychologist and has to relay the events of the last couple weeks where you see him slowly losing control and getting more and more upset, culminating in a Christmas party and a cello performance by Yo-Yo Ma. The entire scene where they talk about the party, with the music and how it ties into Josh’s memories of the shooting, not to mention the reactions that Josh has during the event and how well it is performed is incredible. I could watch that scene over and over again. It’s perfect. But what really clinches it is after Josh realizes what is wrong, and finally accepts what is happening and the shrink puts him on the path to getting better, he has this amazing conversation with Leo about it, and his fears about losing his job are put to rest with one of the most touching scenes between a father-figure and the son he never had, which shows that he would never abandon him. It’s beautiful and tragic and this episode is perfect. That’s all I have to say.
What are your favorite episodes? Let me know down below.
Until next time, a quote,
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep that he can’t get back out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘hey Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a friend comes along. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?’ Then the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy goes, ‘what are you, stupid? Now we’re both down here!’ And the friend goes, ‘yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.'” – Leo McGarry, The West Wing