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Matt Santos for President?: West Wing Finale

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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.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.
  • Picked up for a seventh season. Sheen’s contract ran out this year, but Bartlett cannot run again.
    So, who do you think’s the leak? Should turn out to be CJ or Pres.-one last hurrah?

  • CJ definitely.

    Which means it probably was Bartlet (I hadn’t considered that)

    Toby is the much more principled one of the three though, so maybe it’s him.

    Or Abby, relating to the mention of candidate Baker’s wife having “access” to official docs lying around.

  • pat bilbrey

    I beleive CJ is the leak, Bartlett was to irate and would not jeopardize national security. If Santos wins that means Josh will be his chief of staff and Donna could be josh’s secretary. Margarate will no doubt continue to be Leo’s personal secretary and I’m not sure who would be Leo’s chief of staff, Toby would be great though don’t you think? But NBC cut the show’s budget so I’m not sure how many of the original cast will stay.
    Anyways, I love this show.

  • Man, the Hispanic comes aboard and NBC thinks they can go for cheap labor.

    … That would be a joke BTW. Don’t have a hernia.

  • I still love the show even though it’s missing the Sorkin-isk spirit. Smits’ last speech gave me the chills. I just wished they had better background music like when Bartlet said “Yeah, And I’m gonna win” when asked if he’s running for term #2. My theory is if Wells believe that NBC will pickup the show for season 8, Smits will win, but if next season is the last, then Vinick will win, kinda like an end-of-an-era hand off to the GOP. Producer Wells will decide over the summer.

  • tod

    I thought that the whole thing was very clumsy, frankly. The whole episode simply shifted from one crisis to another, and with none of the wit, sparkle or perception that characterised the show in the good old days. And as for Leo as Vice President? It’s just not plausible.

    It’s a terrible shame, but I think we officially have to recognise that the West Wing has jumped the shark.

  • We here in Australia don’t get the West Wing anymore after end of Season 4 (“Twenty-Five”) as the Nine Network (www.ninemsn.com.au) cut the damn thing. But that’s aight. I downloaded all the eps off Kazaa anyway ;-o)

    Damn and I was just half way through downloading 6×22 – 2162 Votes. Ahh well, I’m happy with the choice. Kinda ironic with Leo isn’t it. I mean I hoped he would run for President. But remember when Will, Josh and Toby were picking VP Candidates to replace Hoynes in Josh’s Office. Josh said, “I know this is stupid but just try this out ..” or words to that effect. and he put a pic on the board of the President and Leo (making reference to Josh’s liking of a McGarry Vice Presidency).

    Vote Santos/McGarry! (Although I wholeheartedly believe it should be the other way around).

  • Andrew M.

    Good stuff [last episode of season was shown in Ireland this week]. Picking McGarry was a good choice, as he has plenty of experience and a Senator/Governor as a Congressmans running mate would just look confusing.
    I think Vinick will win simply because it will open up far more plotlines-both in terms of political plotlines and personnal plotlines as an entire new cast moves in.

    And chance of Sorkin coming back though?

  • Bob R.

    Now that Congressman Santos won the election by a narrow thin margin, I think that he will name Senator Vinick (Alan Alda) as his vice president.

  • I just watched the series finale and was moved to tears. Call me a sap.

  • Call me a sap too, Silas, I also cried. I’m really disappointed that the show is over.

  • I haven’t watched beyond the first season, but know it’s been pretty good – will pick it up soon. Just finished watching all 5 seasons of the The Shield last night.

  • Another admitted weeper. I missed last week’s ep and therefore am unaware of what happened to Vinick. Did he become secretary of state?

  • yes he did. And Baker was VP.

    I was hoping for a decent spin-off…although those never really do work. But I saw the preview for a new show for the fall with Bradley Whitford. I haven’t heard anything else about it though.

  • I chicked up a little about 10 minutes in.

    What does it say about “thebest country in the world” that the idea of a non-white or non-male leader of the country is still thought of with a gasp of the mind?

    I think it will happen in my lifetime but it’s really quite sad that it hasn’t happened yet in this country – and it says more than we would like about the values of this country.

    In the last 30 minutes I had this feeling that Santos would be shot.

    Sworn in witth 20 minutes to go … wise move to miss the inaugural speech. Also, the entire transition seemed authentic .. There really isn’t a flood of wise and historical words at a time like this.

    Oh and when CJ stood up on the empty White House press room I couldn’t help but think “flash your tits.” (see my first point above)

    And josh is lucky to have Donna

  • or “choked”, though “chicked in” seeems a phrase I could have used in another setting and will now.

  • Can I be President Santos’ First Partner? Oops.

  • Schlamme and Sorkin created new show for fall with a few West Wing Characters. Bradley Whitford (Josh), Timothy Busfield (Danny Kincannon), Rob Lowe? (Sam), and Matthew Perry (guest star whose character led to VP resign). Focus on making of a tv show.

  • Vern Halen

    West Wing was the only show I watched with any interest since China Beach way back when. Since I’m down to zero shows per week again, any suggestions out there?