by Jennifer Squires Biller
I’d been dreading this episode of The West Wing. I knew saying goodbye to Leo, and by extension John Spencer, would be difficult. But, Leo’s funeral wasn’t as gut-wrenching as I expected. I thought there would be flashbacks or even a montage, as a tribute to Spencer. There wasn’t. Instead, the show offered a respectful funeral for one of its main characters and treated it as if the character died, not the actor.
I actually liked their version better than what I had envisioned (hysterical sobbing and music-filled montages.) The funeral wasn’t maudlin. It was simple and effective, much life Leo. And juxtaposing the staff moving on with business, seemed to fit the show’s spirit and the Bartlet administration’s trademark phrase of “What’s next?”
That said, the episode seemed to lack the emotional depth that marked Mrs. Landingham’s incredible service years ago, when President Bartlet railed against God in Latin. (One of my favorite episodes of television of all time.) I can only guess that the difference here was that writing a funeral for someone who had really died, a friend and co-worker, was a difficult task that the show runners didn’t want to play as disingenuous. So, they kept it simple. And that was sad enough. I’m sure the cast was shedding real tears for Spencer, as the camera panned their faces raw with pain. No acting was necessary. The shot of President Bartlet, President-Elect Santos, Charlie and Josh carrying the flag-draped casket was a powerful moment. Well done.
It was great to see some old faces again at the service. (Hello, Ainsley!) But where was Sam, Leo’s friend and former co-worker? Since Rob Lowe is returning anyway, I couldn’t believe that “Sam” wouldn’t have flown in from sunny California to pay his respects. And I was hoping to hear the president say a few words at the service about his dearest friend.
The other plot lines in this episode helped to lighten the mood. Watching Danny and C.J. fret about a booty call and Josh and Donna’s continued flirtation gave us some humor. And I couldn’t help but chuckle when Charlie threatened to slap Josh around a little for Donna. (I’ve threatened to do that myself a few times.) Go Charlie!
Next week’s episode looks even better. Sam, Josh and the whole gang are back together again. Well, most of them anyway. Rest in peace Leo McGarry.
Mrs. Landingham’s other gigs
I admit I’ve never quite recovered from Mrs. Landingham’s death on The West Wing. It was shocking and tragic. Lesson: Don’t buy a new car, ever! I never understood why the talented Kathryn Joosten left the White House. (She and Martin Sheen had wonderful chemistry, and I loved their playful banter.)
While Mrs. Landingham is now just a fond memory, Joosten continues to grace our screen in some unforgettable roles. Did you catch her on My Name is Earl and Grey’s Anatomy? She’s currently starring as Mrs. McClusky, the meddling neighbor/babysitter on Desperate Housewives. This weeek, she had one of the funniest lines of the show, when she explained to neighbor Lynette that her son Parker was bartering food for a glimpse of the female anatomy. Watching Joosten throw out the line that she’d spent the day “talking about my woo-woo” was priceless.
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
by Jennifer Squires Biller