Well, the move was smart on two counts – plot and demographics. Old people and Hispanics. And me.
Last night’s episode where Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) was nominated to be the Democratic nominee for President was, indeed fairly predictable. Still, the writers tried to inject some surprise in the mix.
One of those surprises was the vice-presidential pick of should-be-dead Leo Thomas McGarry (John Spencer), the former White House Chief of Staff. This happened in about the last three minutes of the show and Josh (Brad Whitford), his former lieutenant, was the one to ask him – in the non-asking, the-idea-is-out-there way, The West Wing does things.
The program has not concentrated on the fact that Santos is Hispanic, though that fact has come up as plot elements a time or two when he was trying – and losing – support from big Hispanic groups in California (where he still won the primary).
This is to the show’s credit. There was the black President Palmer in “24″ and it pretty much made sense that there was absolutely no mention of his race – there was a lot of other things going on. Still, the absence of any discussion about it was striking for a TV show that we know does try and make political points sit down next to you in the roller coaster thrill ride and pull the bar down over you.
And so, last night, there was the end scene of West Wing, after an implausibly effective speech from Santos where he said something good about a party opponent and, in essence, he told all the delegates – everything you’ve been doing, all the weadles and deals over the other days of the conventions – pretty worthless.
The other Democratic candidates had been portrayed and described as empty minds in empty suits; all observers in the show thought they were red meat to the Republican candidate.
So, “follow your heart” was Santos’ typically prosaic message. But since viewers had been led to believe Santos would resign – had in fact been asked to “for the good of the party” by the aforementioned Leo McGarry, it came across well and emotionally pulling on screen. My thought was, “Good, he isn’t giving up.”
The end scene was a profile shot of a pinched California Republican Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) watching the Democratic National Convention, with words heard trailing in the background (a tool the producers used with great effect in tonight’s episode by the way) who we know almost nothing about except he has some compassion for those weaker than himself. This trait was echoed by Santos’ refusal not to go on-air with some prior medical information about another candidate’s wife.
Vinick gets up, looks past the camera at his gathered men and says, “OK, let’s go win this thing.”
Is that the finale or just the season finale? I haven’t been following the oddsmakers’ likelihood that West Wing will be picked up again next year. I’ve just assumed that it will because, though it has it’s flaws it’s what I’ve called “a prestige show.” **
It wins Emmy’s. It is extremely well-written, for TV or any other medium. It still draws a respectable 12 million viewers. Everyone else I know that watches is in-tune and smart. Not that you’re otherwise if you don’t watch it, but it engages people’s minds – party as a reflection and confirmation of the ho-hum, aggravating aspects of politics, but also partly because of what well-expressed words, well-fought for good intentions and well-delivered deeds can do for the health of a country.
** I have this lingering doubt in my mind that I took that phrase from something I read so mea culpa if that’s the case.