West Wing 7×01: The Ticket

[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 09/25/2005]

“Yeah, but I won.” – Josh

It begins unlike any season before. Not in the present, or the past, but the near future – three years hence, when a now ex-President Jed Bartlet reunites with his former staffers at the opening of his own Presidential library.

Everyone is a little older, a little greyer, and (in Toby’s case, anyway) a little shyer. We learn that CJ and Danny have a child, that Will Bailey is now a Congressman. The reunion climaxes as the cadre steps outside to meet the current President, the pan to his face interrupted by a smash cut to the opening titles.

It is, as I say, unlike any season opening before. A flash-forward glimpse at the post-West Wing years, made at a time before such narrative devices were common to television. In terms of ambition, it’s one of the most distinctive scenes the series has ever aired.

It is also the weakest aspect of “The Ticket.”

Flash-forwards can certainly be intriguing, and shows like Lost and Better Call Saul have used them to compelling effect. But their purpose is chiefly to generate suspense, to offer a tantalizing glimpse of a future yet to come. The flash-forward which opens “The Ticket,” however, actually undermines the suspense of the show’s final season, simply reassuring us that everything for these characters will work out all right in the end. The closest the scene comes to hinting toward the season’s tone is the proposed glimpse at the face of Bartlet’s successor, though the abrupt cut as the camera prepares to show us his face winds up feeling like little more than a cheap tease.

I spend these many words discussing the opening minutes of “The Ticket” because, as the show’s final season premiere, it’s an episode with plenty of weight on its shoulders, particularly as the show’s cast has grown larger than ever. And to see the episode stumble so immediately out of the gate is a cause for concern (particularly when one recalls the weak premiere episodes of the prior two Wells years). Thankfully, once the opening credits conclude, “The Ticket” returns to the present day and plows ahead at full steam.

The Santos team is riding high from their primary victory, their underdog campaign now gearing up for November. And they haven’t yet shaken their low standards for victory – a poll showing Santos a mere nine points behind Vinick has Josh ready to pop champagne. But there’s no denying that their campaign still needs a lot of catching up to the well-oiled GOP primary. Should they move left or tack center? Court the Nightline audience or The Daily Show crowd? And Santos, though growing in popularity, is still viewed as a superficial (and “hunky,” as Joey Lucas puts it) candidate by large swaths of the voting public, while Leo has only just begun to acclimate to the shift from strategist to running mate.

Watching the Santos-McGarry team settle into what they hope will be a consistent groove, one can easily see the parallels this season would eventually draw to real-life 2008 election. The Democratic nominee is a charismatic nonwhite man with broad appeal but a perceived lack of substance; his running mate is an older and more moderate white guy with a tendency to gaffe on the campaign trail. But even in 2005, these two personalities made for an intriguing brew. Both Santos and Leo feel as though they’re in over their head, but each one slowly comes to realize they can develop their campaign by relying on one another. In Santos, Leo finds a new Bartlet, just needing some proper coordination; Santos, in turn, needs the former Chief of Staff to bring his plans down to earth.

Much of the narrative momentum this episode, as in the prior season, is carried by Josh, convinced the campaign can do no wrong. In typical Lymanian fashion, he basks in the glory of victory and initially dismisses concerns of Santos’ viability out of hand. And no longer does he ask Donna to order the finest of bagels and muffins; rather, he dismisses her when she comes looking for a job, citing the anti-Santos comments she made while on the Russell campaign.

Josh’s extra-charged egocentrism comes to the forefront when he returns to the White House and spars with CJ and Toby over political real estate -specifically, an education bill that could either give a win to the Bartlet administration or another catapult to the Santos campaign. The meeting ends poorly for everyone involved, a sign of the once-familial Bartlet administration’s continued deterioration.

Even within the White House, the Bartlet staffers have been having issues of their own. The shuttle leak has thrown things into chaos, and an outside voice is needed to set things right. Enter a clean-shaven Oliver Babish, making his first appearance since Season Three’s “Gone Quiet.” He spends much of the episode grilling CJ about the source of the leak, of which she has become the prime suspect.

The shuttle leak storyline remains a source of controversy among West Wing fans (as you’ll see over the next few reviews, I like it more than most), but that it heralds the return of Babish – one of the most memorable secondary characters from the Sorkin years, in large part due to his handiness with gavel and Dictaphone – makes the Washington-based scenes in “The Ticket” more eminently watchable than they would otherwise be.

Still, this is first and foremost a Santos episode, introducing us to the general portion of the campaign and teeing up the election to come. For all the missteps that Team Wells made in their first season-and-a-half on the job, they enter Season Seven in fine form, ready to send the series out on a high note. Let the home stretch begin.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Annabeth teaching Leo how to pronounce “Santos.” Watching these two together is one of the underappreciated pleasures of Season Seven.
+ “They’re making a documentary about Craig. I’m not entirely clear why.” Truly one of the most random throwaway jokes in the show’s history. Love it.
+ Leo meeting his roomful of security personnel.
+ Joey (through Kenny) describing Santos’ sex appeal, and Josh’s reaction.

– Annabeth’s Wizard of Oz reference: “He’s the one behind the curtain… pulling the strings.” Pretty sure we don’t need that little explainer tacked on at the end.
– Though I do like the Babish scenes, it takes way too long for CJ to realize what has been apparent since last season’s finale. (Especially given the red-herring nature of her scenes.)


Foreshadowing

“You want out, you’re going to have to drum up another heart attack.” Easily the single most horrible line in the history of the show. (Okay, not intentionally. But it’s kind of a callous line even before we knew of its real-life implications.)

Speaking of which, the writers seemingly got lucky by not including or mentioning Leo in that flash-forward opening. Obviously, they didn’t want to include him knowing that it would inevitably have to involve discussing the outcome of the Presidential race he was a part of.


A-

 

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