Politic-A-Thon: Top 15 West Wing Episodes

So to cap off the Politic-A-Thon, I decided to pay tribute to one of my favourite TV shows, The West Wing. I originally wanted to do my top 10 episodes but there are so many brilliant episodes that I couldn’t limit it to just 10. So here are my top 15 episodes of The West Wing.

15. A Good Day – This is the first of the episodes which show how brilliant the tactics by the main characters to control policy are. The tactic of faking an exodus was such a good idea that it was used in real life by rebel Labour MP’s against Tony Blair in 2006. The stuff with Toby and the children is brilliantly handled and all the stuff about stem cell research is handled with a great deal of respect and understanding for how important the issue is.

14. Angel Maintenance – This is a really funny episode because of all the different ways that the stuff on Air Force One gets more and more out of control. Whilst the stuff in the West Wing is really good, the performances from Allison Janney, Joshua Malina and Martin Sheen on Air Force One are excellent and the growing frustration over the plane not being able to land is brilliantly executed.

13. H. Con-147 – I love this episode because of how brilliantly it shows the character of Leo. We see that Leo would be willing to risk his entire professional career with the story of his relapse coming out rather than allow the President to be publicly condemned by Congress, with John Spencer’s performance throughout the episode being brilliant. We get some more great stuff from Mary Louise Parker as Amy Gardner and the final scene with Bartlett is a great culmination of his character development throughout the MS storyline.

12. Shutdown – Another great episode showing the political tactics of the characters and also showing how important staff members like Donna are to the world of The West Wing as a whole. We see how the government is in freefall as the result of the shutdown and the tactics used by Josh and Bartlett to bring about an end to the shutdown are brilliant, providing some great character development for Josh, especially considering how bad the position he was in before the shutdown was.

11. Freedonia – This is the episode that made me realise that the stuff regarding the primaries could be just as good as the stuff in the West Wing. The performances from Jimmy Smits, Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford are brilliant and the final speech delivered by Smits, appealing for the issues to be talked about and for there to be a proper debate is brilliantly written and brilliantly acted and is a good show of how good a speaker Santos is.

10. The California 47th – This is a great episode in showing both how funny and how serious The West Wing can be in the same episode. We get some really funny stuff with Sam, Charlie, Toby and Will, especially a bar/jail scene with Toby and Charlie whilst we get some really serious stuff with Leo over a genocide in a parallel to the Rwandan genocide and this provides a great juxtaposition with the more comedic stuff in California

9. In The Room – Since the MS storyline started, a West Wing episode which needed to happen was one showing what would happen if the President had a massive MS attack. The situation in which the attack takes place (on Air Force One on the way to the final talks between Bartlett and the Chinese premier) is a brilliant choice, showing just how these attacks can happen at the worst times. Plus the sub-plot of the episode regarding Penn and Teller burning a flag in the White House is both really funny and actually makes a good point about the freedom to allow people to burn flags.

8. Access – For this spot it was a tough choice between this and The Long Goodbye, both of which feature excellent performances from Allison Janney as CJ. I went with this one though because of the format. The documentary style to the episode is brilliant, showing just how much the cast have gotten into their characters, especially Janney and the plot involving the hostage crisis is brilliantly handled with this probably being the most realistic episode of the West Wing because of both this and the documentary format.

7. Evidence of Things Not Seen – Another really funny episode here. It’s great to see the interaction between all the characters outside of the work environment, especially the scenes around the poker table. This is also the episode that cemented Will Bailey and Debbie Fiderer as great characters in The West Wing, although they couldn’t fully replace Sam and Mrs Landingham. The introduction to Matthew Perry to the series is brilliantly handled, even if he was only in a few episodes after this, and the stuff regarding the spy plane in Russia really helps to show the changes between the US and Russian relation following the Cold War, even if it is just in a fictional environment.

6. In The Shadow of Two Gunmen – Ever since I started watching The West Wing, the episode I wanted to see was one showing how all the characters came together and we got a brilliant episode with this. I love the fact that Bartlett doesn’t get along with CJ, Josh, Sam and Toby at first and it takes a while for them to all get to know each other. The framing device surrounding the shooting which ended the first series is excellent and the scene in the airport between Josh and Bartlett is brilliantly written and is part of why Bartlett is such a good character in that he was willing to go to the funeral for the dad of a person whose name he barely knows, with the brilliant writing matched by equally excellent performances.

5. In Exelcius Deo – There is only one reason why this episode is so high in this list and that is Richard Schiff. His performance as Toby in this episode is the strongest performance he has given in the series and this is the episode that cemented Toby as not just my favourite character in The West Wing but my favourite character in any media. Seeing someone so committed to getting a homeless veteran a proper funeral because it’s the right thing to do brilliantly cemented Toby’s character to me.

4. Somebody’s Going To Emergency, Somebody’s Going To Jail – I had to put a Big Block of Cheese day episode in here and out of those episodes, this one is easily the best. Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff do great work as Sam and Toby, some of the different pressure groups make really brilliant points (the clip about the maps ended up being really useful for my A-Level Geography) and the introduction of Clark Gregg as FBI Agent Casper is brilliant.

3. Celestial Navigation – This is probably the funniest The West Wing has ever gotten. The brilliant writing makes me really believe that all of these different things could go so catastrophically wrong in one day with this believability aided by the brilliant performances, mainly from Bradley Whitford. Plus, the ending scenes between Richard Schiff and Edward James Olmos are brilliantly written and acted.

2. The Stackhouse Filibuster – This episode is probably the best example of the politics of The West Wing can be a lot better than real life. The way in which the government goes to aid Stackhouse after finding out the purpose of his filibuster is excellent and the main framing device of the emails by CJ, Josh and Sam is brilliantly executed, especially at the end of the episode when all the different emails join together to tell the end of the story and the stuff setting up the main bulk of the MS storyline, especially the stuff between Toby and Hoynes is excellent.

1. Two Cathedrals – What other episode could be number 1. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is at its best, you see the full weight of Mrs Landigham’s death and how it affects all the people in the West Wing, especially the President but the main reason why this episode is number 1 is Martin Sheen. Sheen gives the best performance in the entire show in this episode with his angry rant to God in Latin being the acting highlight of the series, culminating in the best written ending to any episode in the show. There hasn’t been an episode of The West Wing or even anything written by Aaron Sorkin that has matched the brilliance of Two Cathedrals.

Honourable Mentions

  • Issac and Ishmael
  • Gaza
  • 20 Hours in America
  • Transition
  • The Debate
  • The Supremes
  • Stirred
  • The Long Goodbye
So there we go, my top 15 episodes of The West Wing and with that I end my Politic-A-Thon. It’s been a lot of fun going on about all these different films and TV shows, most of which have been brilliant. I hope to do more things like this in the future.
Special thanks to Dan Heaton of ptsnob.com who was the only person who did some contributions to this blog-a-thon with his review of Game Change.
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