15 May 2006

"I am the Lord, Your God..."

Relax, I am not getting all Jesus on you. The quote above are the first words uttered by President Josiah Bartlet in the pilot episode of "The West Wing." I had almost forgotten what a wonderfully written and powerful show this USED TO BE. I know that very few television shows can keep up the quality writing and fresh style for too long, but the first year(s) of "The West Wing" were some brilliant television.

Last night, the show ended it's seven year run with a closing look at the Bartlets and the gang who made life in the White House, well, interesting. There is a new president taking office, and we won't have the opportunity to see the transition team, because NBC mercifully axed this dying quail before the ratings plummeted to zero. I guess the reason for quoting the First Commandment was the powerful delivery in which Martin Sheen made his entrance in the first episode. Seems the whacko fundamentalist Christians couldn't identify which was the First or the Third Commandment. Enter stage right, POTUS.

Sheen BECAME the President. Come to think of it, I am pretty sure that I would rather have him (and his wacky family) in the White House than the guy who occupies the REAL West Wing right now.

A few newspapers have taken the time to memorialize "The West Wing" with tributes this past week. The New York Daily News did a "Best/Worst" column; USA Today offers a less-than-stellar epilogue; and even Yahoo! offered a good-bye. Each makes a case for their favorite scenes or moments, but all leave out what I consider to be one of the most pointed moments in the Bartlet administration -- and the scene which made me a fan of the show. Bartlet enjoins a Dr. Laura-esque character in a debate about the Bible, as she claims that the Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination.

"I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I'm interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? [silence in the room] While thinking about that can I ask another? My chief-of-staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?

"Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side-by-side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you.

"One last thing. While you may be mistaking this for your monthly meeting of the ignorant tight-ass club, in this building when the President stands, nobody sits."

This scene takes place on the heels of an assisination attempt, and some of the senior staffers are still not handling it all too well. In this case, Toby (played by Richard Schiff) wanted to step down from his post, but was talked out of doing so by Bartlet. As he walks out of the room, Bartlet simply turns to Toby and says "THAT'S how I do it," referring to keeping focus.

I am going to try to remember that sharp, biting dialogue as the memory of this show. It was a stark yin and yang moment -- seeing the first and last episodes in sequence.

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