post hoc, ergo propter hoc
Last night was the 4th season finale of The West Wing, and in several important ways, it is the series finale. The show will return in the fall, possibly on Sunday nights, though it may be staying on Wednesdays. But the only indispensible element to the show, chief (and often solo) writer, Aaron Sorkin, will no longer be writing the scripts.
I can’t quite imagine what could happen on the show that would keep my attention if the words aren’t being composed by Sorkin. I couldn’t care less about any of the characters’ personal lives, but chances are that’s what we’ll be hearing more about, thanks to John Wells, the ahem mastermind behind the primetime soap, E (“General Hospital”) R.
The last two West Wing episodes were in the can, I think, before Sorkin announced his departure, so presumably the cast had no notion of what was to come as they were filming. Once I learned the news, I wondered if Sorkin would write a finale that could give any of the principal actors an “out” if they chose to jump ship.
And I believe he did. The story goes that two episodes ago (Life on Mars), the VP resigns due to a sex scandal. One episode ago (Commencement), Bartlet’s youngest daughter is kidnapped from a night club. Bartlet of course goes bananas: they have firmly established that he goes apeshit over his daughters’ safety and inviolability (see for instance Ellie, from season 2, not to mention Mr Willis of Ohio, from season one, in which Bartlet describes to an abashed Zoe the very circumstances that will play out in Commencement).
He can’t temporarily hand over the administration to the VP while he’s busy freaking out, since there is no VP. So in last night’s episode (25), he invokes the 25th Amendment which, as all you Constitutional scholars in the audience surely know, refers to the line of succession in the event that the President is incapacitated, temporarily or otherwise. With no VP, the next in line is the Speaker of the House, who in the West Wing world, is of course a Republican — Glenallen Walken, played by John Goodman, looking like he’s fresh from the set of Barton Fink.
So. The actors’ outs? Well, they are clearly putting Leo in the middle of a frightful mess. He will remain Chief of Staff and will have to negiotiate with the Walken administration, as well as keep Bartlet from butting in. Will he be able to handle it? I can see us finding him dead of a heart attack on his office floor, having cracked under the pressure. Bye bye John Spencer.
Toby? The groundwork has been laid that now that he’s a father and has been rejected by his ex-wife again, because, as she says, he’s “too sad,” he may elect to get out of politics and go beat on some drums with Robert Bly in the woods for a while. See ya, Richard Schiff.
And Donna realizes that because she’s in love with Josh she declares, in a pique of typical virtue, that she can’t work for him anymore and quits. Bye Janel Moloney.
Josh meanwhile collapses with debilitating PTSD (from having stepped in that brook in the National Arboretum, no doubt). He retires to a sanitorium in the Italian Alps (eerily close to where Jack Reece has been transferred. Hey: maybe Donna follows Josh to Italy, and we could have a wacky WW spin-off, like Three’s Company meets Joanie Loves Chachi meets A Room with a View?).
CJ shoots her mouth off during a press conference and Walken sacks her. She moves back to Dayton and shacks up with Matthew Modine while caring for her old dad.
Debbie Fiderer comes to work high, has a vivid delusion of shackling Walken to a garage-door mechanism in his bedroom while she runs the country in his place, with help from Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. She is found pouring rat poison into Walken’s coffee and is carted off to Guantanamo for a private “trial.”
Will Bailey of course finds his ticket to Mandyville in his pocket. Josh Malina resurfaces a few months later on Rob Lowe’s new show.
And Bartlet’s out? Well, obviously, they’d find a dead Zoey and Bartlet has a severe MS attack while Abby takes to the rooftops with a long-range rifle. NBC brings on board a corral of Republican script writers, Bartlet resigns, hands the Admin over to Walken who reigns until the next elections — and with no strong Dem candidates, the GOP takes the White House. Walk and Talk meetings are replaced with Wheeze and Stalk, Bible Study, Orwellian Homeland Security and other heart warming “ripped from the headlines” manure.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Or not. Maybe the fifth season will open in September, after three months of a Walken presidency and within the first two or three episodes they recover Zoey (alive; shaken but not stirred) and Bartlet steps back in, but is then faced with having to undo all the bombastic, loony right-wing crapola messes that Walken will have made (not to mention probably having to scrape a frazzled Leo off the ceiling).
So no matter what, there is the chance for some hefty entertainment. But considering that one of the new NBC dramas for next fall is rumored to be called “Homeland Security,” who knows what the future of Sorkin-free television holds. The only commercial TV I’ve watched in the last 16 years has been West Wing, so I have no problem turning the box back off, permanently if necessary.
We’ll always have the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue.