West Wing’ concludes with class, flare

Amy Weiss

It may be two and a half years until the next president is inaugurated, but the administration change came early as Emmy-winning political drama The West Wing concluded its seventh and final season Sunday night.

In a two-hour event, NBC first aired the series pilot from 1999; then, in a poignant-but-celebratory final hour, the series finale followed President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his staff as they packed up and left the White House. President-elect Santos (Jimmy Smits) swore his oath and moved in.

Many West Wing staffers, such as press secretary-turned-chief-of-staff C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) and presidential aide Charlie Young (Dule Hill), said goodbye to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and prepared for their new lives, while others, including Santos’ campaign manager Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and his former assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney), continued to serve at the pleasure of the president.

Throughout its seven years, The West Wing has tackled many real-life issues, ranging from terrorism to taxes. Creator Aaron Sorkin, who left the series in 2003 due to creative differences with producers, set out to create an idealistic Washington world wherein elected officials and the people who work for them still want to make a difference.

Many critics claim the show suffered after Sorkin’s departure, and its ratings declined accordingly. However, as Sorkin returned to the set for a wordless cameo during Santos’ inauguration, remnants of and allusions to the show’s initial magic flickered back to life. Amid transitional chaos, cast and crew also paid homage to former vice-presidential candidate Leo McGarry, whose death was written in this season after actor John Spencer died suddenly of a heart attack.

The show ended as it began, with an eager president ready to get to work. The departure of The West Wing – one of the most intelligent ensemble dramas on television – thus leaves viewers wondering what Bartlet preached for seven years: “What’s next?”