The West Wing: Every Episode Ranked
Well, damn. If I’m going to go to the trouble of ranking every Gilmore Girls episode, then I’d better get on the ball and fire up…whichever digital service has the licensing for… The West Wing as well! This paragon of American political optimism and snark is simply one of my favorite shows of all-time. But, it might also be the trickiest show to rank. See, I have to balance entertainment with political views. That’s dangerous stuff right there. So dangerous I might need the full box of Franzia and a big block of cheese to get through these tough negotiations. And maybe some pie. Definitely all the doughnuts and bagels in the land.
Let’s start with the worst, or as I call it “the Angela Blake end of the list”. The top 54 will take you through some pretty rough territory–Camp David negotiations, Brian Dennehy, heart attacks, some Harry Potter vomit, and human fruit fly.
From the bottom:
155. “Isaac and Ishmael” (season 3, episode 0)
Alternate Title: “The 9/11 Episode”
Airing less than a month after the 9/11 attacks, this was never supposed to be an episode. This was thrown together in a matter of about two weeks, from writing to filming to post-production, specially to address the attacks. And it’s awful. Preachy and dark and utterly self-aware. This is an after-school special mixed with a 70s variety show, with a whole lot of racism thrown in. The shockingly prejudiced, rude, and naive teens–who accuse Toby of being a terrorist for wearing a beard, and ask P.B. if he thinks he’s a “man of principle”–are treated to a cast of characters who pop “on stage” one at a time. First Toby drops in! And then it’s C.J. And then a very special appearance by P.B. and the First Lady! The characters are each condescending as shit, using Biblical stories and and patchy WWII analogies to try and explain terrorism in short-prose form. Diarrhea would be more fun than watching this episode. If you ask me to swear on it, this is not West Wing canon. It isn’t even television canon. It does not exist, anymore than does the finger puppet show in which I pretend that Andy accepts Toby’s marriage proposal and loves the house he bought. They eat pie a lot.
154. “Here Today” (season 7, episode 5)
My Toby. My brilliant and beautiful Toby. What have they DONE TO YOU? Let’s do a quick rundown of this episode: It’s crammed packed with Charles Frost (zzzzzzzzz), Oliver Blabbish questioning (please god nooooooooo!), the President reprimanding and firing Toby (sniffle), and the introduction of fucking Vic the Human Fruit Fly (ewwwww!). I thought Vic was super-duper skeezy and icky when he was banging Miranda on Sex and the City. And now he has impregnated Ellie? Gross! If I’m looking for something to believe in, my only hope is that Josh fired Negative Ned.
153. “Ninety Miles Away” (season 6, episode 19)
Alternate Title: “Leo Takes On Fidel Castro”
What the fuck is going on? Why is the former White House Chief of Staff meeting Fidel Castro? How is the Cuba issue a single-serving flyby? Why is Brian Dennehy on my screen? And why is he making orange juice really creepy? What is the point of setting up an intertwining history between Kate and Leo? Oh, and speaking of Kate, why has every episode become about her analysts cultivating some new urgent international crisis? Has the Bartlet administration given up on domestic issues so much and has decided to go legacy shopping internationally? This is a baaaaad episode. Baaaaaaad.
152. “The Birnam Wood” (season 6, episode 2)
Alternate Title: “The Third Israeli-Palestinian Episode”
Camp David negotiations keep going. Hhhhhhhhhhhhh. Okay, we can do this. It’s like getting a pap smear–no one enjoys it, but it’s something we have to do, so we slide down and relax, make polite chitchat with the well-meaning jelly-fingered doc, and get ready for the negotiations to come. I love how the director decided that we’d have an easier time getting us to swallow the conflict debate if we heard it over basketball, skeet shooting, and NERF football. SPORTS! It doesn’t work. All that truly comes of it (because there are no good answers to this quagmire, not even from TV writers), is that Leo quits. Leo quits. Then, like a wounded animal, sweaty and gray, he staggers into the woods away to isolate himself while he has a major cardiac attack. Oh, Leo. I almost feel bad for all the horrible things I’ve said about you lately.
Suspension of Reality Moment: While the early-morning gang is still trying to decide on talking points, PB shows up in a dark three-piece suit that seemed a little stuffy for the gnat-infested cabin in the dewy hours of the morning. But then he shows up to the initial review of topics a few hours later with the other two leaders wearing a sweater? While they’re wearing suits? What’s going on, wardrobe?
Points Awarded For: The way they do skeet shooting in Brooklyn. Heh. Oh, Toby.
151. “Impact Winter” (season 6, episode 9)
Alternate Title: “The Second Stupid China Summit Episode”
Ever since this episode, I can’t hear the Mamas and the Papas without thinking of Josh and Donna. Sigh. But let’s get to it: PB is making a huge mistake–I have already made this point to perfection during the previous episode’s review–but let me reiterate: This season of international healing is not only ridiculous, it’s brain-stabbingly boring. Oh, and there’s a thing where Phil from LOST comes in with bags of Utz potato chips and warns that the world might end. And, yes, the episodes of LOST and Mad Men I just referenced are more entertaining than this story. Oh, and did I mention that this is this year’s Christmas episode? CHRISTMAS! This episode is everything dry and irritating that this Sorkin-less era embodies. Fail. Christmas Fail.
Points Lost For: Jed’s “LOOK AT ME!” moment of leg pounding. The self-pity may be realistic, and I’m not attempting to judge his angst, but this isn’t the show we signed on for. And my mom has been a drama queen in a wheelchair her entire life, so I’ve heard the “LOOK AT ME!” speech every time she’s brushed her teeth since 1986. Actually, probably longer than that, but my younger self blocked it out.
150. “Access” (season 5, episode 18)
Oh no. John Wells, this isn’t E.R. And this is hack filler crap that tries to treat this show like it is a hospital procedural is irritating because it doesn’t add to the Bartlet universe. Moreover, this adds nothing to the overall narrative or the characters. This was a gimmick. And a really unwatchable one.
Suspension of Reality Moment: Casey Creek. No fucking way. You can’t rewrite the history of the administration to which we have been such close witnesses. Casey Creek never happened.
Suspension of Reality Moment #2: C.J.’s phantom staff that magically materializes, and then instantly vanishes. Maybe they’re all really ghosts…from Calvin Coolidge’s administration! They died there and didn’t realize they had passed, so they just keep holding imaginary ghost staff meetings with whomever is Press Secretary once every seven years on the day of the full moon.
149. “Disaster Relief” (season 5, episode 6)
The post-Sorkin shit show starts with an episode that could just be titled “Leo is an Ugly Gray Shriveled Dickface Whom I Want to Hit With a Frying Pan”. I guess their version is shorter. Well anyway, we’re following two major plot threads: President Bartlet goes AWOL to chat up tornado victims in middle America, and Josh gets politically flogged–especially by Leo–for last episode’s misstep. This latter thread is monumentally unfair, of course, because he pushed slightly too hard on an unstable ready-to-bolt Democrat who was looking for any excuse and would’ve flipped next week if not this week. Dude was already leaving the party, LEO! And frankly, the fact that Tom Skerritt didn’t get his useless, expensive missile system as a political parting gift should earn Josh a nice bottle of scotch. But no, unelected Leo does a terrible job as a douchey puppet master while P.B. is off on his tornado walkabout. That shriveled dickface not only yells at Josh, he also yells at C.J., and orders her to yell at the President. Eat it, LEO! At least C.J. rightfully corners Pres. Bartlet (in a totally non-dickyfacey way), even if it’s most of an episode too late.
Points Lost For: Angela Blake, who is horribly oblivious to her own insensitivity and assiness.
Points Awarded For: Terry O’Quinn joins the cast! Welcome, Locke!
148. “100,000 Airplanes” (season 3, episode 11)
Alternate Title: “The State of the Union For Dummies”
Oh no, another SOTU episode. I’m not a fan of the State of the Union in real life, and I’m not a fan of it on the show. This time we’ve hit a new low with Sam’s ex-fiancee, Lisa, peppering the staff with inane questions as if she’s recently been hit in the head with a mallet.
“How high are the stakes?”
“Why is this hard?”
“Do you eat the pens or just write with them?”
“What does this light switch do?”
And then after her dry imitation of a mosquito, she quits writing the story. Well, thanks a lot for wasting our time, LISA! I’ll tell you what else, I don’t appreciate that after all the righteousness and fire this fictional team has mustered, they treat the idea of curing cancer so cavalierly. I mean, Sam brags to his ex and then blithely dismisses the effort with, “it’s just one of those things”. I loathe the tone, pacing, or content of this episode.
147. “The Ticket” (season 7, episode 1)
Alternate Title: “Why the Crap Did We Pick Leo as VP?”
OH MY GOD! CJ and Danny are married and have a baby! This is the best opening episode ever in the history of the universe. Whew. Calm it down, now. We still have a season to watch. Welp, the team has some buyer’s remorse over Leo for Veep–which they should. Terrible, terrible idea. Between this sour epiphany and the reemergence of Oliver Blabbish, this is a miserable start to the final season.
146. “Separation of Powers” (season 5, episode 7)
Goodbye sweet tuition initiative, you are another victim of Leo and Angela Blake’s unholy alliance to subvert everything the administration had been working toward since….oh, last season. I hate Angela. Tuition tax relief is not the same as subsidizing orthodontia, Angela! Higher level education is vital for a an enlightened civilization, if not for personal wealth and stability. Straight teeth aren’t (or the British wouldn’t be anywhere–zzzzing!). Anyway, this episode is bleak and depressing. We all know this is the dark before the sunrise, but still the Bartlet administration is impotent and misguided at every turn.
145. “Memorial Day” (season 5, episode 22)
Alternate Title: “The First Israeli-Palestinian Episode”
Here we go, lurching into the quagmire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Knowing that this is just the beginning of the slog, I’m already feeling as tired as Leo looks. Writers, didn’t we just go through a series of difficult military decisions in the Middle East and Africa over the last season-and-a-half? And this is our season finale? I appreciate that they through us a cookie of watching Josh and Lucius Malfoy square off, but it doesn’t save this from being a really lumpy ending to a bad season.
Great Line: “I have the diplomatic rank of a three-star general; tell me where Donna Moss is.”
144. “NSF Thurmont” (season 6, episode 1)
Alternate Title: “The Second Israeli-Palestinian Episode”
We made it out of that dreadful season 5! Yet it doesn’t feel very different so far, until the pot boils over. A droopy, gray, angry pot named Leo. He and the big man have it out in a full on screaming match over the Resolute Desk. Because of it, Leo is shut out of the first meeting ever, presumably, since the beginning of this presidency. As a certified season-five-Leo-hater, I see this as an inevitable consequence of Leo gradually getting angrier and overstepping his power more and more. Glad to see that even PB isn’t totally blind to this. Layered on top of this shit cake is a trip to Camp David, with Toby staggering out of a cabin pantless, and Will jogging because, I guess, exercise. I relate more to the Toby part. This whole Middle East negotiation pudding is just boring, high-handed, and out of pace with the rest of the show. Our consolation prize–small, but sweet–is the Bavarian drama with Josh and Malfoy, the mention of a Jell-O mosque, and tears filling Josh’s eyes when Donna scribbles “scared” on a pad of paper.
143. “Dogs of War” (season 5, episode 2)
Zoe Bartlet comes home, and yeah, I ranked this episode in the basement. I guess I should be excited for the suspenseful conclusion to the three-part season three finale. But this is an awful episode, it really is. First, Wells brings in Angela Blake and Ryan Pierce. Ryan I don’t mind so much, but Angela Blake is a monster. Beyond that, what really burns my biscuits is that the exciting conclusion–for which we’ve all been clinging to the edges of our seats–is mucky, blurry, rushed, and unexplained. We don’t know how Zoe was found (more or less), we don’t know who took her (exactly) or how, and there is nothing of Zoe’s POV. All of a sudden, there’s Stockard Channing sobbing and running from a helicopter into a field in the nighttime. That’s it. They actually used helicopter noise to drown out what might have passed as an explanation, and the darkness of the night to cloak the scene. I get that the whole point isn’t Zoe’s POV, but rather the President’s. However, asking us to accept an explanation that is as thoughtful as someone packing Zoe up in a cardboard box, dropping her at the doors of the White House, and then knocking and running, is calloused to the emotional component. Her rescue deserved its own episode. Instead, we get Angela Blake.
Super Mega Awful Points Lost For: Angela Blake.
142. “In the Room” (season 6, episode 8)
Alternate Title: “The First Stupid China Summit Episode”
It’s another celebrity guest appearance– Penn and Teller! They’re magnificent, but we already gave a nod to flag burning back in season two, and we have bigger fish to fry. Sclerotic fish, if you will. This episode is all about PB’s paralysis (okay, and Arnold Vinnick announcing his run). Personally, I think Jed is a fool, a damn fool, for pushing forward to China. Not only is he risking longterm health consequences, but also, knowing that cognitive function can be a symptom of an attack, maybe big negotiations aren’t a great idea? It’s why I stopped ironing clothes after drinking two bottles of wine. You have to realize when you’re at your best, and when you’re impaired. Also, he already has a Nobel prize and went shopping for a second in Israel five damn episodes ago. Turn the plane around, you fool!
Points Lost For: Oh, does it always freak me out that PB pushes his own wheelchair with an IV in his hand. Have the writers and directors never had IVs?? Well, I have. And I’ve also piloted a wheelchair many times. That would be stabbing horror with every push of the wheel.
Points Awarded For: Welcome, Alan Alda! You’re a goddamn treasure.
141. “Drought Conditions” (season 6, episode 16)
Alternate Title: “The Ricki Rafferty Episode”
It’s just soooo unnecessary for Toby to be this angry, to be so disloyal. I know what’s coming and, even in the shadow of grief, I can’t understand how they can write him so self-destructively. What they are doing to Tobias Zielger–my spirit animal–is cruel and pedestrian. I’m pissed. Just really pissed.
Great Line: “Did you ever think about Russell’s package–uh, packaging?” (Gods, I try not to ever, ever think about his package, and I’m obsessed with packages.)
Points Lost For: The directorial decision to freeze select fight scenes. It’s corny and undercuts the moment.
Points Awarded For: Richard Schiff’s acting when confessing his bereavement to C.J.
More Points Awarded For: The David Brubreck spinning scene was a nice bit of levity.
140. “The Al Smith Dinner” (season 7, episode 6)
Abortion. What the writers have built out of these two candidates is so patently absurd that this episode mocks itself. A Republican who is so moderate and principled that he won’t embrace the anti-abortion crowd? And a Democrat who is so religious and principled that he only reluctantly embraces the pro-choicers? A women’s group that legitimately courts the Republican candidate knowing what judicial benches are at stake? Dear writers, you’ve strayed too far from the reality of America and the power of politics and money. Now I’m starting to think that President Bartlet is in a coma somewhere and this a hospital-bed hallucination. In the real world, Russell got the nomination and is being pummeled by an evangelical. However, as fantasies go, this isn’t all bad. I like Will returning to be Communications Director, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that Donna is back! Take that, Josh! No more holding our girl back! She’s too damn good for you to stifle anymore.
Suspension of Reality Moment: The ball in Will’s desk. Toby didn’t pack up his office, and had zero say in how it was done, so how is it that the legal counsel’s office (or whomever) decided to just happen to leave only that ball for Will?
139. “Third-Day Story” (season 6, episode 3)
Alternate Title: “The Fourth Israeli-Palestinian Episode”
Call it “Third-Day Story” all you want, but this is episode #4 of the Middle East peace deal. Well, looking on the bright side, they actually found Leo in the woods. And Donna’s home! And now it’s time for C.J. to jump off a cliff. Can I just say what a strange choice she is? She isn’t an attorney, a scientist, an economist, or military person. She isn’t at the top of the ladder, she doesn’t have a lot of diplomatic contacts. But, ach, at the end of the day P.B. trusts her and most everyone respects her. And I love this. Really love this. So for the fans, I accept this choice.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: The writers decided it was a quaint idea to have C.J. “mom” Josh by monitoring his junk food intake and offering to make him a home-cooked meal. They should’ve given her a wooden spoon with which to rap him over the knuckles. Women and their nagging. Amiright? Oh, and as a bonus, it makes no sense. Does CJ want to encourage Josh to eat healthier? Or does she want to win the bet? Sloppy writing. Probably the work of men. Definitely.
138. “365 Days” (season 6, episode 12)
Oh, Leo’s back. And we got a pass on the SOTU this year. Thank the gods. Listen, aside from the NASCAR arc, which is completely adorable, this whole thing is boring and silly. No one cares that Leo is trying to rev up the administration for the last year, because we all know that it will be mostly fruitless. I love it that the staff knows it and keeps disappearing on him, like someone’s just outside the office, one-by-one paging and phoning people and sending in slips of paper to save them. What are you even doing, Leo? By the way, Charlie, “poor tax” doesn’t make any sense. It’s a tax credit, not a tax, first of all. And he can do much better than that. “Hard Worker Credit”. “Bootstrap Credit”. Those are all better and more logical than “poor tax”. Ach, whatever. No one listens to me. I’m figuring that out. Of course that could be my impending birthday coloring my view of this episode. But no one listens to me.
137. “Things Fall Apart” (season 6, episode 21)
It’s the Republican Convention just as a donkey is exploding, apparently. But the thing is, that donkey isn’t really blown to chum, Leo. So I want PB and Leo to back the hell off and let the voters decide. Leo better keep his gnarled old white thumb off the scale and realize that sometimes some people do vote for the loudmouth in the leotard. Let the people decide, and let it be a grand spectacle. Listen, I don’t know what Leo’s official role is supposed to be, but apparently he’s headquartered out of the Bada Bing. So, of course, I’m extra proud of Josh and Santos for resisting Leo’s thumb. And I’m super jazzed that we got to see the Republican Convention for the first time on this show. It’s getting exciting!
Points Awarded For: Will’s crush on the mom from Eight is Enough. “She seemed knowing.”
More Points Awarded For: Helen’s dad running for dog catcher.
Great Line: “Remember, three feet on the floor at all times.”
136. “Slow News Day” (season 5, episode 12)
Alternate Title: “Toby Ziegler Takes on Social Security”
Yeah. Cough. Huh. Wow, is this topic terribly boring and woefully self-contained. Not that I wanted this to turn into a long arc, but this is a deep and grave topic that deserves more than Toby’s insomnia as a catalyst for tackling the problem. The pocket-sized attempt to fix Social Security makes this episode utterly absurd.
Suspension of Reality Moment: Why is Toby’s bedroom so sunny in the middle of the night?
135. “A Good Day” (season 6, episode 17)
This episode could also be titled, “Just Too Damn Cute For Words”. Shall we list the cuteness? The stem cell sleepover where they consider popping popcorn, Cliff and Donna sharing a tender moment, the oh-so precocious (I mean, horrifyingly irritating) kids melting Toby’s icy heart, invasion plans for Canada that include a maple syrup embargo, and PB’s old rival hurting his back dancing. This fluffy outing is just so sugary sweet I can’t even take it.
134. “The Wedding” (season 7, episode 9)
Remember when Ellie was sweet? She was all working in a lab and shy. She let her hair fall in her eyes so she didn’t have to look her dad straight on. And now she’s a monster. “Why is WILL BAILEY wearing a tux?”, she asks with disdain dripping off her lips and a little frothing at the corner of her mouth. Jeebis, lady, he helped plan your wedding and is the White House Press Secretary. She should be so lucky as to have Will Bailey as her groom. And that cedar tree gift? A damn beautiful, thoughtful present. It’s too bad her frosty death eyes made it shrivel. There’s even a cut scene where she rips the head off of rat with her teeth. While she was off doing that and drinking puppy blood, a few enjoyable things actually happen in this episode: CJ and Kate dazzle with their dresses, Kate and Will couple up (eeeeee!), and “dignitary BINGO”. I wish I could add Josh to that list, but his stress makes me anxious all episode long–almost as nervous as I am watching Stockard Channing’s cleavage and wondering if it’s going to pop out.
133. “The Mommy Problem” (season 7, episode 2)
It’s not good when an episode starts with Negative Ned popping in just to deliver crappy news about the space shuttle national security leak. Everything that follows is dull procedural political shenanigans. I mean, sure, the image of Santos strutting in his flight suit across the tarmac is worth the price of admission alone, but I could just as easily just watch a GIF of that for 45 minutes. Just as entertaining. Oh, and Negative Ned? He cancels lunches alllllllll the time?
Points Awarded For: Welcome, Lou!
132. “Transition” (season 7, episode 19)
Alternate Title: “Farewell, Josh and Donna and Sam”
Sam Seaborn, you beautiful bastard. DonnaBot continues her horny-but-monotone rampage through Josh’s life. And honestly, I’m starting to worry that she isn’t doing something right in the bedroom, because all of that sex isn’t pepping him up even a little. It’s almost like her hoohaa is actually stealing his soul one tumble at a time. Well, whatever DonnaBot is doing, it must be working for her, because she just got an amazing job offer that makes me want to high-five the television screen. And then she gets taken on a romantic vacation, presumably from which Josh will never be heard from again. Really, though, I’m really unhappy with what they’ve done with Josh this episode. He’s awful, and that’s not how this brilliant character should wrap up seven seasons.
Great Line: DEBBIE: “My sister thinks you’re very attractive” PB: “She doesn’t have a sister.”
131. “La Palabra” (season 6, episode 18)
Oh no, the Santos campaign is broke and seemingly screwed. Santos is fumbling so badly over this racial identity within the campaign, that he doesn’t appreciate how backed into a corner his wife is. Helen is a champ here for wisdom and strength. It’s a bleak start. But Santos works his handsome, handsome magic, and all of a sudden he’s first in California. And Donna is kicking ass and taking names! I cannot overstate my love for Donna Moss. My brain choir has a whole concert for her. I want to throw confetti in her face. This was just a solid, well-played campaign story across the board, and I am damn hooked on this battle. The biggest criticism I have is completely unfair–but OF COURSE Santos finds a way. None of us really thought it was going to be Hoynes or Russell squaring off against Vinnick. So without the true suspense, it’s only clever, not thrilling.
130. “Welcome to Wherever You Are” (season 7, episode 15)
The final days of the Santos campaign involves Bon Jovi, a bunch of Halloween candy, and vomit. Gross! The chaos of the campaign is electric and exhausting for us to watch. I’m sorry to report that the only moments we have to breathe are with Toby, who is indescribably, nobly stupid. Damnit, Toby! Andy is right, he needs to pin it on David and call it a day. Protect C.J., protect Leo, protect yourself and your kids. I hope my family knows that I would throw any of them under the bus in a heartbeat to stay out of prison. Anyway, this episode is decent and important, but very forgettable from shot to shot. Again, except for the Harry Potter vomit. Next up is the ELECTION!
Points Awarded For: First we get to hear Josh yell for “DONNA!” again. And then immediately after, the student follow’s in her mentor’s footsteps, “OTTO!”
129. “Stackhouse Filibuster” (season 2, episode 17)
Not only is the episode a bunch of filler hooey right before the fabulous season 2 really takes off toward the finale, but the gimmicky format is irritating. C.J. and others narrate the episode with the vocabulary and tone that any kindergartner would appreciative. “Dear Dad, I see Spot. I see Spot run. You won’t believe it, Dad, now Spot jumps.” Then Sam gets yelled at by Winifred, who is a completely impudent asshole toward a White House official. What is it with the youth on this show, Sorkin? He seems to find it precious when young’uns ask naively impertinent questions and say horrifyingly rude things to authority figures. That isn’t adorable. I would’ve kicked Winnie’s ass out of the building. And then thrown something heavy at her.
128. “Opposition Research” (season 6, episode 11)
This isn’t a good intro to Presidential Candidate Santos. He’s petulant, out of touch, and irritatingly naive. Damnit, Matt, winning is WINNING. And he cannot have a hard time understanding that Josh “The Kingmaker” Lyman is the biggest campaign fish in the ocean, but he’s in it for two months? Two months? I want to punch you, Matt Santos, right in your whoreish mouth. On the other hand, it’s a fascinating look into the beginnings of a small presidential campaign.
127. “The Hubbert Peak” (season 6, episode 5)
Alternate Title: “The Gang Takes on Energy Standards”
Josh’s opening gag here with the SUV and the Prius might have been cute, were it not soooooo on-the-nose, hit-you-in-the-face-with-a-toaster ridiculous in illustrating the energy themes to come. This episode was a real phone-in on the writing side, to the extent that I wonder if some high school students did it as a project for their environmentalism class. The shiniest part of this episode is Annabeth’s work coaching Toby, but what in the name of Sam Seaborn is she doing in a coveted West Wing office instead of being over at the OEOB? And the visual “short” jokes stop being funny after the first five. We get it! She’s short! Really, really short! She does not read the Tallstreet Journal.
126. “The Warfare of Genghis Khan” (season 5, episode 13)
Alternate Title: “PB Take on Nuclear Weapons”
PB and the gang investigate a nuclear test, and completely fail on every level, only to be saved from inadvertently causing a nuclear war by listening to a man they have ceaselessly mocked and dismissed–a leader who they forgot to include in the middle-of-the-night meeting. I blame Leo. The only part worth really watching is the very end when we get to hear the gorgeous blues performance of Blind Willie Johnson while Josh stares up at the sky. So, go ahead and skip right to the last 2 minutes. Boom. You’re welcome.
Side Note: Based on the strength of that one song, I went and listened to a bunch of Blind Willie’s music on Amazon, and it was fantastic. Listen to his catalog when you’re having a soulful day.
125. “The Long Goodbye” (season 4, episode 13)
Alternate Title: “The Creggs Take on Time”
Hands-down, this is the hardest episode to judge and rank, because it isn’t really The West Wing. It’s some other show set in another universe where politics don’t matter, international relations don’t matter, and we are forced to slow down, stop walking and talking, and just stand in a corner watching C.J. effectively say goodbye to her dad. I think it’s warm and beautiful, a few cringeworthy parts withstanding. I mean, the idea that C.J. has a one-night stand with a horologist who pads around spouting “time matters” to a dying man…ugh. And what little we get of the West Wing has Josh battling a much more literal clock. I don’t know. It’s so on the nose. The whole episode could be titled “The Promise of a Generation”, for who could laugh at such a bland theme, but not purse their lips as Matthew Modine promises to try to fix the cogs in Mr. Cregg’s watch? Or when the wife conveniently shows up again just in time for C.J. to scurry off to the airport in a single-serving visit fashion. Plus, there’s the whole “daddy issues” thing. Toby and his criminal father. Jed and his cruel father. Josh and his dead father. Sam and his cheating father. Sing it, Paula Cole: “Where have all the mothers gone?”. Ppppbbbbbtttt. I don’t know. This episode is beautiful, but doesn’t belong. Good try, gang, but let’s get back to D.C.
Side Note: Where the hell are C.J.’s older brothers? You know, one of whom is Logan’s father? They both love golf. But apparently not dad?
124. “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” (season 3, episode 18)
Alternate Title: “Mark Harmon Episode #1”
Saudi Arabia. Our partners in peace. There are just a few times this show makes me want to stand up and applaud, and this is one. Whoops, I just started to slip into political views again. Let’s stick with entertainment and art. Okay. Charlie’s plot is ludicrously, insultingly stupid and contrived. Not to mention really pointless. Stop it, Charlie. This episode is really about Russia, Iran, and C.J’s death threats. Mostly C.J.’s death threats. And that’s why we get a very special guest star (the 3rd in 4 episodes…Hector Elizondo, Laura Dern…). It’s Mark Harmon! Star of Summer School! (Look it up, kiddos.) He is really, truly excellent in this role and more than charming. Okay, this is a fine episode, but it is clearly setting up bigger and better episodes to wrap up the season.
123. “Message of the Week” (season 7, episode 3)
The fact that one of the two nominees is Latino is a huge deal–especially when this first aired in 2005, not long into W.’s second term, and before anyone of color had been elected to the office. This is a slight retread of ground covered in “La Palabra”, but it was worth following the war-room strategy talks over how to deal with race. And it didn’t get too preachy, so–bonus. But, ach! So boring. The writers forgot to bring the funny and fun. I’ll tell you what the message of the week is: The writers need to get laid and then consume a lot of caffeine. Maybe some cocaine. Mid-season lull, amiright? What, this is only the third episode? Oh boy.
122. “Running Mates” (season 7, episode 10)
Soooo hard to watch. Poor, poor Leo. He’s like a shaken puppy dog. And Lou and Annabeth are other puppies using their paws to cover their eyes. It’s all damn sweet, which I think is largely the theme of this episode. In the Santos home, I love the tension between husband and wife, and poor Helen’s humiliation over a rockin’ thong. They’re real and sweet the whole way. Terri Polo is just divine in the role as Helen. I don’t think I’ve said that yet. So there. Helen is a treasure. And you know what else I treasure? Will and Kate are so sweet–Kate looking completely fabulous in her crushed velvet suit jacket, and the two eating take-out food during the debate.
Unfortunate Line: “He’ll survive, too.”
Sad Side Note: During this episode, you can really hear John Spencer’s labored breathing. He was probably already in distress. So unbelievably sad.
121. “Two Weeks Out” (season 7, episode 14)
Ow, ow, ouch! Oh, you bad people leave Alan Alda’s hand alone! Monsters. Aside from being mentally scarred by the vision of Vinnick’s bruised hand, this episode is all about treading water as operatives snip and yell at each like they’re picking from the same carcass. I only have one worthy note before we move on to the next episode: Do you think Santos is telling the truth about his brother and the checks? We’re supposed to find his story very credible and believable. And I do. But then again…it is a little bit odd. And the writers did kind of elbow us in the ribs when one Vinnick staffer casually mentions that Santos has a horn-dog reputation. Mystery!
120. “The Debate” (season 7, episode 7)
This is a weird-ass episode to rank. Some background: This was initially promoted and aired as a live TV event. It actually was filmed and aired live, which means Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits had to perform it twice–once for the east coast, and then again for the west coast. Amazon Prime only has the “west coast” version, and since actors were permitted to wander off script, I kinda wonder what the “east coast” version sounded like! In the west, it was a good and interesting debate, save for a few cringe-worthy moments. The gimmick always kills me, though. Had I been watching this in 2005 (why wasn’t I? What the hell was I doing?), it might’ve been a neat stunt, but now…..I want more behind-the-scenes. Eh.
119. “Tomorrow” (season 7, episode 22)–SERIES FINALE
Alternate Title: “Farewell, President and Dr. Bartlet”
Here it is. The end of it all. President Santos (PS) is sworn in, Toby is pardoned, and the Bartlets head to the farm. This episode is exactly what you would expect, with no surprises, no frills. It meets expectations, but only has whiffs of emotion. So after all these years, all the speechwriting and games of chess, after all of the walk-and-talks and moments of jubilee, I say goodnight to Gail. And Sam and C.J. and Toby and Josh and Donna and PB. It’s been a pleasure.
118. “War Crimes” (season 3, episode 5)
What could’ve been a bigger, more important theme of mass shootings unraveled into a dull “Hoynesy vs. Bartlet” showdown. John Hoynes is certainly one of the most poorly developed, truly flat characters in the show. Donna’s gaffe at her hearing was a tortured attempt at heating up a love triangle. And then Leo did something while Sam mumbled about pennies. Seriously, all Sam does lately is fixate on silly little matters: Pennies, tell-all books, etc. Part of me wonders if my earlier theory about him having a mental break is spot-on (see below, “Manchester Part 2”). Maybe they’re giving him this light garbage because he isn’t capable of any more. And I still think that Doug was imaginary. This is how dull the episode was, I’m now making up my own fan fiction about Sam Seaborn’s addled brain.
Points Awarded For: “You make me egg foo young”
117. “Bad Moon Rising” (season 2, episode 19)
Ugh. Oliver Platt. I would’ve soooo much rather had John Laroquette. We could play Night Court and get Judge Harry Stone and Bull to run the impeachment hearing. It could’ve worked. Pffft. Listen, sitcom fantasies aside, I really would never like to hear Oliver ask another question. EVER. AGAIN. Or I may have to do something unpleasant with that big hammer of his. The only comfort is that we have this episode in lieu of an actual trial (oops, spoilers!), so here is our time to take our medicine and push through a major political crisis.
Major Points Awarded For: Donna: “I don’t know, why does anybody do anything? I’m a mad woman, C.J., and it doesn’t stop with the leak. Call the authorities. Send them to my parents’ house in Madison. They’ll find the Lindberg baby in the basement. Also, some Post-Its reminding me where I put Jimmy Hoffa. I framed Roger Rabbit.”
More Points Awarded For: Of course, Charlie already knew. Thank you for not suggesting that he required explanation or hand holding. Charlie knows all.
116. “Life On Mars” (season 4, episode 21)
Buh-bye, Hoynesy. Buh-Bye. I never liked him as a VP choice, such a missed opportunity for character interactions and dynamics. He’s always been a stuffed suit. Okay, let’s get to it: This is “The Joe Quincy Episode”. Sure, this was written to dispose of the Veep ahead of season 5, but this was also a big damn cracker to carry the Joe Quincy cheese. Joe Quincy solves the case of the blabbing Vice President. Joe Quincy wins over the trust of CJ Cregg. Joe Quincy, Joe Quincy, Joe Quincy.
Points Lost For: Hey Leo, I think Hoynes is the cheap person, and that’s why he’s going down.
Great Line: “I’m the Press Secretary, booboo, I don’t have that kind of time.”
115. “Jefferson Lives” (season 5, episode 3)
Oh hell, we need to start with the sloppiness of this episode title and PB’s trivia. The final words of John Adams were “Jefferson still survives”, not “lives”. (And as a little bonus side note, Jefferson didn’t actually survive. Unbeknownst to Adams, Jefferson had passed away five hours earlier.) Okay, I support and understand Abigail’s wrath, but the tone is so mismatched with the previous two episodes. All of a sudden we’re getting Zoe flashbacks and talks about therapy and news interviews and daddy issues–which would be fine, except that the writers seemed to declare last episode that the scope of the kidnapping was limited to the Oval. I think the more pertinent issue that has been raised is that FLOTUS’s marital anger has taken POTUS’s legs out from under him. Uncle Fluffy is back, and season five is off to a rocky start. What are the chances it’ll get better?
114. “Full Disclosure” (season 5, episode 15)
Hoynesy wrote a book! Hoo boy, he has stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble and has C.J. scrambling to cover up a (probably disgusting and slimy) boink she had with him ten years prior. If Hoynesy wasn’t a walking cardboard cutout of a character, I might find his threat and story compelling. Instead I just feel like I need a shower.
Points Lost For: I just have SUCH a hard time buying it. CJ would fall for the super slick smooOOOoothness of John Hoynes??
113.”Night Five” (season 3, episode 13)
I don’t care that President Bartlet can’t sleep. He’s acting like a pacing tiger in a cage while chain-smoking and wasting everyone’s time–including ours. Do you know why you can’t sleep Jed? It’s because you are inhaling poisonous smoke, because you have MS (of which insomnia can be a symptom), because you’re been on the outs with your absent wife, and because you don’t even try and buy the bubble baths that Madison Avenue is selling for stress relief. A bubble bath and a blowjob might just be what he needs. Yeah, I said it. Now could we please have a little perspective? Donna is weighing very serious career paths, an American reporter was just killed in the Congo, and Toby is attempting to lash out against islamic extremists in an inflammatory manner. Here is the big problem with this episode, though: None of it has consequences. We never hear about Billy or his widow again. Or the problems in the Congo. We never find out if there were ripples from Toby’s stand. While Donna is staying put, her quandary is hardly resolved. And, President Bartlet, presumably you fell asleep at some point, but we don’t know when or how or why. This episode is just a hot mess of tone, plot stagnation, and rude people.
“Women in Government? That’s Crazy!” Moment: Sorkin’s take on feminism via Celia chiding Sam makes me retch. If this is how people see feminists, no wonder we have a bad reputation. Lipstick feminism, indeed.
Points Awarded For: Leo! My love-hate relationship with Leo is rating high on the heart meter right now. He’s sweet, adorable, and supporting the staff. I just want to hug the dickens out of him, and then run so Celia doesn’t come after me with a stiletto nailed to a 2×4.
112. “An Khe” (season 5, episode 14)
Ah, jeez. It’s a Leo-centric episode. I hate him too much this season to be in awe of his service or peril or friendships. Fuck him and the season 5 haughty horse he rode in on. So let’s focus on C.J.: This is episode #8,341 where Ben is mentioned and hark! He appears! But only after an incredibly awkward camera tease where they hide his face so we can stare at a rotisserie chicken commercial and his coffee cup for at least 600 minutes first. For the life of me, I have no idea what the writers were thinking about any of this “Ben” stuff. What a letdown. And speaking of letdowns…it’s The Taylor Reid Show! I don’t know. It wasn’t as good as Sam squaring off with Ainsley Hayes, and felt like a little bit of stunt casting to help buoy a very dark episode in a very dark season. I miss first-term President Bartlet with his chess board, trivia, and Latin phrases.
Points Awarded For: Debbie shutting down Toby with “you have some food stuck in your beard.”
111: “H. Con – 172” (season 3, episode 10)
Damnitall, the White House crew is so fiercely, over-the-top loyal to their superiors that it makes me heave just a little. Inside the Bartlet Cult, High Priest Leo is all upset that a censure will dampen the President’s spirits so much that he’ll never get over it. Fuck it all, Leo. He lied, so he gets a little punishment. I’m sorry it took a whole episode and some cracks about mini golf to get us there.
110. “The Last Hurrah” (season 7, episode 20)
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t the last hurrah at all. There are two more episodes after this. Which seems a bit excessive. On the other hand, I appreciate that Arnie gets an epilogue. It’s poor Mrs. Santos I worry about. Helen obviously has never seen a movie or TV show about how heads of state function. The decorators, the pastry chefs, the security detail. I would be really psyched to pick out the flowers for the Oval. And the curtains. And Mr. Pastry Chef? I love a firm cheesecake. One should be ready any time, day or night in case I have a Golden Girls crisis and need to eat an entire one on the lanai. I always pictured my Oval office would have deep blues and shimmering silvers, like the night sky with small pops of red here and there. I want some NASA memorabilia in there as well. My cats will need their own room/office, and I’m open to theme suggestions–I’m thinking maybe woodland serenity. In my Presidential portrait, I would like to be posing with a claymore. Hey–if you’re not dreaming about your Oval Office and pastry chef requests (and your first game in the Nixon bowling alley!), then you’re probably pretty bored by this whole episode. It isn’t for you. As for me, it’s a lovely fantasy.
109. “Undecideds” (season 7, episode 8)
How do you promote healing along racial lines in America after police shoot a kid? In real life, we’ve seen it done wrong a few hundred times now, and I’m starting to forget what “right” looks like. But in the fantasy world of The West Wing, Matt Santos manages to deliver a tough and sweet speech that helps me remember what leadership looks like. And you can always knock me over with the beauty of the song that plays him out of the church. Unfortunately for the other “lighter, sweeter” plot line, the contrast of the church congregation and Smellie Bartlet is completely unflattering. Bridezilla really does come across like a privileged, spoiled, egocentric monster who has no appreciation for Will or anyone else. I get it must be a bummer to look at Vic the Human Fruit Fly and realize she’s going to have to boink him for the rest of her life, and a baby is going to come out of her vagina that looks and acts like a human fruit fly. Still, no excuses.
Points Lost For: Schroedinger’s Cats.
108. “Swiss Diplomacy” (season 4, episode 9)
The West Wing is taking us back to ethics class this episode. But the trolley car problem has been done to death, so this time we have the child of a brutal dictator who needs to have his cleanly sourced donated organs transplanted into his body by an American doctor while his father curses America for doing so. Of course you set the leg. I’m not really sure why we needed to go back to school on this one, especially since it is another single serving issue and the show didn’t even play up political problems caused by the dilemma. Papa don’t preach! The whole episode puts me in a Hoynes-ian mood, all hassled and bothered. And that isn’t just because of the hippocratic choir, but because PB had a whole lot of nerve planning a coronation for his number two (and I don’t mean poo).
107. “Red Haven’s On Fire” (season 4, episode 17)
Alternate Title: “Sam’s Campaign, Episode Two”
Oh, com’on! We already had this episode. This is some shitty deja vu. And now we get a soldier’s mom who is an absolutely enormous cunt to Leo. Hey, only I get to be a cunt to Leo! Even with the understanding that she’s scared and stressed, getting haughty about military service is grating. The only thing I even half-way enjoy about this episode is the Amy Gardner hiring–she’s who I’d hire, were I FLOTUS.
106. “Angel Maintenance” (season 4, episode 19)
The gang has a no-good very bad day, trapped in a luxurious sky prison. Nothing goes their way. Just as little lights don’t light up, Congress tanks an environmental clean-up bill just to goose an election. And a peacekeeping bill is nearly tanked by a well-meaning Congressman who takes a stand to prove a point, just when they couldn’t afford a stand. And I give up, this episode is boring. I want to tell you there’s something poetic about frustration and good intentions, but this episode is just damn sleepy, y’all. The only point really worth noting is that while the men flounder, CJ and Donna are the ones who step up with poise and command.
105. “Mr. Frost” (season 7, episode 4)
Secret….Agent Man! Secret…Agent Man! They’ve given you a number and taken away your name. Annnd…apparently started calling you “Mr. Frost”, presumably because “Mr. Pink” was already taken. Now, I’m sorry that Chairman Farad got blowed up, and I understand that we need to follow this space shuttle leak line, but whoooo-wee! This is a really dull episode–save for the last five minutes when Toby and CJ have a talk. That scene always gets me as intimate and heartbreaking, from the moment Toby walks in, to the moment he’s ushered out. That scene makes this an important episode, but really nothing else.
104. “The Dover Test” (season 6, episode 6)
You know what’s crazy? Peacekeeping in the Middle East is dangerous. Even deadly. And I’m sorry to say that it’s pretty boring watching the administration wake up to that notion and struggle to deal with it. Donna’s still freezing out Josh, and he’s distracted introducing us to the next big character, Matt Santos. It’s all really dull, but nothing so much as Leo’s story. I know this is damn heartless of me, but I really don’t give a fuzzy fuck about his recovery at a hotel, or his moral quandaries over how to make his next few millions. The only benefit from his arc is that his nurse and her daughter are sweet, and I end up craving naan bread. Mmmmm. Naan bread.
103. “Election Day (Part 1)” (season 7, episode 16)
I don’t drink scotch, because it’s really repugnant. But even so, what I wouldn’t give to grab a glass and sit down with the gang during the cold open. I just would hope that with all the sparks flying and that horny electricity in the air that I would have someone to keep me warm that night. Luckily for Josh, he has Donna (or the other way around). I’m extra relieved when, after the credits, Josh doesn’t freak out and pretend it never happened. The good times don’t last though, since we have to have the eleventh-hour freakout from our high-strung Joshua. He is devastating in how unhinged he gets. It reminds me of the time he yelled at PB in the Oval and the doc later told him he wasn’t entirely conscious. And you know that the sirens in his head are going to start singing as soon as he finds out what Annbeth discovers in Leo’s hotel room.
Great Line: “You’re 23 years old with a shocking lack of facial hair. Do you really want to tell a grown woman how to drink?”
Great Line #2: “Do I have her?”
Points Lost For: Brace yourselves–it’s a Donna criticism. For a few episodes, she’s been a bit of a cool cucumber, all robotic and calm and rational. At first, I took it as (I think) an intended show of maturity and growth, but by now it’s starting to get unnerving. I would love to see some personality from her, other than horny. I don’t like DonnaBot.
102. “Duck and Cover” (season 7, episode 12)
Infrastructure–bridges, tunnels, dams, electrical grids, nuclear plants. I’ll never understand how politicians and the public at large don’t view this as a top-five priority every day of the week (a wall, indeed). This is a gripping and horrifying episode that always makes me fidget with my necklace a little too much, as a wife of a scientist who has, at times, specialized in nuclear physics. Does it occur to anyone else that if this happened on American soil right now (gods forbid), that there would certainly be loud accusations that some deep state conspiracy caused the accident to swing the election? “It was rigged!” Definitely a solid election episode.
101. “The Cold” (season 7, episode 13)
I love the title of this episode, because it is accidentally incredibly apt: There are two fronts in this episode–one that’s cold and one that’s hot, hot, HOT! Let’s start with the balminess that is the Vinnick camp. It feels real that in a massive party flail, they bring in Jane Braun and Uncle Daddy from Claws, leaving Jill from Home Improvement out in the cold. Get it? The cold? Maybe Josh should send her that big East German nurse. Enough of the right wing, it’s time to “get on board” the Santos campaign! Sizzle, sizzle, the cold open is HOT! Oh, that kiss! Seven seasons in the making. Well, well, well. And then Donna slides her keycard and I’m swooning like a girl in a girdle.
Great Lines: C.J.: “I feel like I’m the heroine in the movie who doesn’t know there’s a guy behind the refrigerator with an axe.” KATE: “Maybe it’s the weather; people feel that way when it’s…damp.”
Sad Note: This is the last episode to feature Leo.
Now we’re starting to get into some episode with quality moments, memorable lines, and much, much less Angela Blake and Oliver Platt (I hope). Ready to see the list continue?
On to PART II ———>