The show's terrorist incident is handled perfectly, but Ken Tucker wonders why Josh is always talking down to Donna
Janel Moloney, The West Wing
Credit: The West Wing: David Rose

”The West Wing” provides much needed comfort

After last week’s episode overloaded with Ron Silver throwing his mannered weight around in masterminding President Bartlet’s re-election campaign, the Halloween night ”West Wing” was a welcome return to international emergencies and political hugger-mugger.

Most prominently: A suicide bomber attached to a Palestinian ”splinter group” blew up a bunch of people, including two Americans; the tragedy was neatly resolved when, by episode’s end, the Palestinian police arrested the ringleader — just what we’d like to have happen among terrorists and their host countries around the world right now. This is ”West Wing”’s version of comfort food, and these days, it’s always welcome.

And in keeping with the series’ ongoing project of reinvigorating fading middle-aged actors, ”Wing” and creator-writer Aaron Sorkin did a very nice job of deploying Cliff DeYoung as a Congressman doing his best to blackmail Martin Sheen’s prez into a one-year moratorium on ”grazing fees,” whatever those are. That’s the nice thing about this show — you can follow Sorkin’s emotional and conversational through line of plot development without having a clear idea what issues are being raised and whether you should agree with the president’s decisions or not; it’s what keeps Democrats and Republicans alike watching nationwide.

Two things we could do without:

1. The condescension disguised as playful quasi-romantic banter between Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Donna (Janel Maloney). And by that I mean Donna is always being condescended to. She is made to mother her boss (in last night’s instance, tying his bowtie) while he treats her like a teenager who needs to have the rules about her social life versus her professional life explained to her.

2. The insistence upon having the president turn most calamities into occasions to assert his concern for his own family. Two young people killed overseas? Sheen’s Bartlet asks Stockard Channing’s First Lady to insist that their daughter Zoey call them every day, so he’s sure she’s safe.

”West Wing” is most effective when it carries its sentimentality on its tuxedo-jacketed sleeve. By now, this show has nothing to prove, to us or to itself. Good luck on Emmy night, gang.

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