I am currently watching The West Wing for the first time, blogging my thoughts as I go. So HERE BE SPOILERS for all episodes up to and including Season 3, Episode 2.
Thus we start Season 3 with the two part “Manchester”, starting with the Presidents straightforward answer to whether he would be seeking re-election (“Yeah”) and flowing, via the occasional timeline jump or two up to his formal announcement of running for a second term.
And a very fractious 80 minutes it is, with everybody, well, shouting at each other. In come three characters to fight the re-election, the spiky Connie, the spikier Doug and the so spikier he should be a hedgehog, Bruno. They are introduced to a West Wing staff that is clearly stressed out and worried. Throw in some marital strife between the President and the First Lady and we’ve got a whole lot of bickering going on.
Special praise for Stockard Channing, by the way, who has floated in and out of S1 and S2 like a force of nature. Feisty, fast and often railing against the protocols and niceties that go with the job of being First Lady. Loved the various scenes where she was every bit the political equal of her husband, especially when working a crowd on his behalf. Great to see her promoted to the opening credit sequence for S3.
In the end, it turns out that the reason everyone is shouting is because they are pissed at Bartlet for hiding his MS. To be honest, I don’t really buy it. Not because of the performances from the actors, I just thing they were dealt a bum hand with these two episodes. Things take place outside of the West Wing, in Manchester, NH. A school room, a bar, Air Force One. It just adds to the entire feeling of unfamiliarity. Toby is pissed at a mislabelled poster, which would never have really happened. CJ is looking to resign after screwing up. Although the motivation wasn’t right, it was interesting to see the two Bartlets and Leo in full on hardass re-election mode, not realising that their staff were coming to terms with a disease that they themselves had made peace with a long time ago.
It is a hard watch, like I say. Didn’t really work. I can see what they were trying to do but… no. Put it in the can and move on.
Special mention for a sizzling moment of dialogue from the awesome Toby Ziegler, which I think came from the end of Season 2. Toby and Josh are discussing the various reactions to the news that the President has MS. Can’t find the exact quote, so I paraphrase:
Josh: Does Donna know?
Toby: Yeah, she knows.
Josh: How did she take it?
Toby: Better than some around here.
Josh: Was that aimed at me?
Toby: Actually. I think it was aimed at me.