Television Revision: ‘The West Wing’ – Season 7

The West Wing S7

By Andrew Williams
July 29, 2014

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).

Now, this is a story all about how… The Bartlet White House has to deal with one last scandal as focus shifts to the Presidential election between Congressman Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda).

The West Wing S7

Happy days? For a series that produced some of the most dramatic finales in television history, this final season of The West Wing is surprisingly low-key, given it features the death of a beloved character and a Presidential election. Showrunner John Wells chooses to eschew the thunderous approach his predecessor Aaron Sorkin took to ending things, instead opting for a calm, almost documentarian tack in filming the battle to become the next President of the United States – and it works like gangbusters.

The season’s astonishing prescience aside (it pitted a charismatic minority-race Democrat against a long-serving ‘maverick’ Republican long before Obama v. McCain was on the cards for 2008) the realism with which Wells depicted a modern Presidential election is nothing short of remarkable. Alda and Smits excel as the candidates and Bradley Whitford anchors the whole season as Josh Lyman finds himself relocated at the centre of the show. The contest ebbs and flows as a real contest would, and there’s even an ambitious live debate episode that works perfectly. The only thing that doesn’t ring true is the alarming amount of mutual respect on display between the opposing sides.

If the season falters at all, it’s back at the White House, where a skeleton staff is basically running out the clock until the new mob comes in (much like the real world, mind you). The ‘leak’ plotline that dominates the White House action for much of Season Seven is controversial, as many feel it betrays a character we’d known for seven years (I think it’s exactly the sort of thing this character would do) and the whole thread feels a bit too much like a lame duck storyline.

The final frontier: The West Wing may have transformed from passionate to dispassionate in its seventh season, but I haven’t. This is the best show ever made, and Season Seven is a worthy part of that legacy.

The West Wing S7

Top three episodes: 7) The Debate. Only The West Wing could stage a live presidential debate between two fictional characters and make it compelling. 6) The Al Smith Dinner. The show tackles the divisive issue of abortion with the kind of intelligence and even-handedness that would come to define this final season. 22) Tomorrow. The show goes out on a minor, but quietly inspiring note.

Worst episode: 5) Here Today. As mentioned, the White House portion of the season is not its strong suit, and this episode situated almost entirely in the White House off the back of a shocking revelation can’t help but leave us impatient to get back to the darn election already.

Season MVP: Whitford’s Josh Lyman would come to be The West Wing’s most crucial original character – from so close to being fired in the pilot to its heart and soul by the finale. He’s the bridge between the old and the new, our familiar pair of eyes with which to view this unfamiliar situation. It’s a credit to Whitford that even as the character begins to come under unbearable pressure, he never loses the twinkle in his eyes while still modulating his performance to fit this new paradigm. He’s the standout member of an impeccable cast.

4.5/5

Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 1

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 2

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 3

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 4

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 5

Television Revision: The West Wing – Season 6

The West Wing is available on Quickflix.

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