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.

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West Wing 7×02: The Mommy Problem

[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 10/02/2005]

“I need to hear it all.” – Santos

At a time when many serialized dramas (The Sopranos, The Wire, Buffy) were being meticulously mapped out for seasons in advance, The West Wing was largely written on the fly. Sorkin famously spun Bartlet’s MS into an episode simply as a detail; it was only during the break between the first two seasons that he began considering its implications in the larger framework of the series. Plenty of other arcs were introduced as the need allowed, even as some of them built off events and even lines of dialogue from seasons past.

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West Wing 7×03: Message of the Week

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 10/09/2005]

“He’s what’s wrong with the party. He’s the problem, not me!” – Vinick

The West Wing was never designed to be timeless, but it also wasn’t intended to affix itself to a specific point in American political history. Produced in the waning days of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first, it certainly drew inspiration from the news of its era, but for much of its early seasons, it kept a safe distance from the world outside our TV sets. Under Sorkin’s tenure, key names and places were fictionalized, the better to avoid controversies and to keep the stories from aging too poorly.

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West Wing 7×04: Mr. Frost

[Writer: Alex Graves | Director: Andrew Bernstein | Aired: 10/16/2005]

“We stay on message, we stay in control.” – Josh

Before sitting down to rewatch this episode for review, I had to subconsciously remind myself of the title. It was “Mr. Frost.” It was not, as my mind kept urging me to believe “Mr. Snow.” (Nor was it “Mr. Plow”; that title is reserved for an episode of an entirely different show and an accompanying, inexplicably catchy jingle.)

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West Wing 7×05: Here Today

[Writer: Peter Noah | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 10/23/2005]

“Is it possible to be astonished and at the same time not surprised?” – Bartlet

“Here Today” has had an unusual journey among West Wing fans – a journey which, as I’m writing this, is perhaps not yet complete. When it first aired in 2005, it was roundly hated by the show’s fans. A few critics praised it, but most of the show’s publicity had dried up by then.

Over fifteen years later, “Here Today” still isn’t one of the show’s most beloved episodes, and hardly comes up in discussions of the show’s best hours. But it is earning more respect from many West Wing fans (including many who, like myself, came to the series years after it concluded).

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West Wing 7×06: The Al Smith Dinner

[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Leslie Linka Glatter | Aired: 10/30/2005]

“It’ll look better after you win.” – Sheila

During the Sorkin years, policy debates on The West Wing tended to be intraparty rather than interparty. Sorkin unquestionably favored the blue over the red, assumed (correctly, by Nielsen metrics) that most of his viewers did the same, and focused on disputes between the establishment liberals and the far left.

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West Wing 7×07: The Debate

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 11/06/2005]

“Okay, let’s have a real debate.” – Santos

The story behind why “The Debate” exists is an interesting one. Far more interesting, in fact, than “The Debate” itself.

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West Wing 7×08: Undecideds

[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 12/04/2005]

When rewatching West Wing episodes – as with any old TV show or film – it is sometimes best to consider the time period in which it was made. Not every aspect has dated well. Not every reference holds up. The series is still largely entertaining and worthwhile, but certain parts of it are distinctly of their era. And this is especially true with the Wells years, which often insisted on being up-to-the-minute on real American and global issues. The way those issues were viewed and addressed then are not always the manner in which they are seen today.

And there are few examples of this as awkward as “Undecideds.” To be clear, this was not a good episode of television when it aired in 2005. But reflecting on it over fifteen years later, it’s a mess.

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