Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Two Cathedrals

More4's screening of the entire West Wing opus reached the end of the second series on Sunday evening. "Two Cathedrals", the climax of season two is a tour de force. I have created a new label to celebrate this milestone.

I don't want to precis it, so the following won't make a lot of sense if you are not an aficionado, but I was particularly struck by what a high-wire act it must be to write, perform and produce such a complex and allusive piece. The script takes so many risks that it might seem ridiculous if the production didn't manage to pull them off.

First off the bat, it seems to me that the device of having Mrs. Landingham playing Jiminy Cricket in flashback to the youthful Jeb's Pinocchio could have gone horribly wrong (never mind her Ghost of Christmas Present act from beyond the grave a the end of the episode) and yet ...... it didn't.

Second, although we are left wondering "will he, won't he?", I am assuming that Bartlett does decide to run for a second term. (The fact that there are several seasons' worth of episodes still to watch seems to be a clue for me here.) And his motivation for rising to the challenge? We hear him say as a boy:
Catholics don't believe man is saved through faith alone. Catholics believe that faith has to be joined with good works.

This is a remarkable peg to hang motivation on in a prime time TV show. It didn't get in the script by accident. Luther and Calvin did contend that salvation is won by faith alone. This issue (called justification in theology) was a key dispute in the Reformation. And it is implied as the President strides off to the press conference that closes the season that he will soldier on because there is still work to be done.

MRS. LANDINGHAM: I don't know numbers. You give them to me.
BARTLETT: How about a child born this minute has a one in five chance of being born into poverty?
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans don't have health insurance? BARTLETT: 44 million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: What's the number one cause of death for black men under 35?
BARTLETT: Homicide.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans are behind bars?
BARTLETT: Three million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: How many Americans are drug addicts?
BARTLETT: Five million.
MRS. LANDINGHAM: And one of five kids in poverty?
BARTLETT: That's 13 million American children.

Don't get me started on the shadowing in Jeb's school friends smoking in the chapel, of Bartlett sparking up in the Cathedral after berating God in Latin.

What a show.

As we sit down to Big Brother this week, let us remind ourselves how unsophisticated Yanks are compared to the highfalutin' Brits.


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