Sunday, 7 April 2013
S02E22: Two Cathedrals
Once again there's been a big gap between reviews - sorry about that. I think that given the insanely high regard this episode is held in no one would have wanted a rush job on this one.
I remember watching this finale for the very first time and the thing that I found most interesting was the absolutely wonderful flashbacks that we get to Jed's school days. Initially I think they're designed to show just how distracted PotUS is given the monumental issues he's facing. What's really great about them is the insight it gives us into Jed's character (as well as setting up the cathedral scene towards the end of the episode). I don't know who's playing the young Mrs Landingham but she does a brilliant job at capturing the mannerisms and speech patterns of Katherine Joosten.
As intriguing as the flashbacks are there's one scene that dominates this episode, and that's Jed railing against God in the cathedral. Almost to a man, everyone seems to love this scene - and for many people it elevates it to one of the best episodes of The West Wing ever made. So it may surprise people when I say that I absolutely hate it (and I don't mean that in an "I hate sprouts" kind of way). I hate that someone who has been adamant in the first two seasons about his faith loses it when someone close to him dies. I hate that he thinks speaking in Latin makes what he's saying any less reprehensible. I hate that he feels good things he's done mean he shouldn't suffer like other people. For me it didn't seem statesmanlike at all - it made him seem small. No, for me the outstanding scene is the flashback where Jed confronts his father and we realise just what a shoddy excuse of a father he had.
My other problem with this episode is that for weeks we've been building up to the public reveal of the MS, then we don't even actually get to see any of it. Yes, you wouldn't want to have a whole 40 minutes devoted to it, but is a scene or two too much to ask? My gut feeling is that Sorkin didn't want to show a contrite Bartlet on screen, especially after the Cathedral scene. In fact, the entire episode seems to be portraying Bartlet in a much kinder light than he should be given the circumstances. The theme should have been humility and it ended up being defiance.
All that having been said, you still can't deny that there are some great bits of writing and the performances are excellent. It's for that reason that the episode avoids the ignominy of a C grade or lower, but in a season jam-packed with great episodes this one just doesn't compare well to them in my opinion.
The monotone voice that Bartlet speaks in for the majority of the episode is something I've often observed in people who've been recently bereaved.
I love how Jed's car actually sounds worse after he's tinkered with it.
The use of Brothers in Arms at the conclusion of the episode is one of the best uses of music in the entire show.
I like the comment about Jed putting his hands in his pockets meaning he's decided to do something. It means that we don't need him to audibly answer the reporter's question because we already know what it's going to be.
Episode grade: B+
So what did you all think?