The Seventh & Final Season
The West Wing is a television series that has been regarded with extremely high praise, whether it be in the form of a positive review or an award for a series as an outstanding drama series. For those unfamiliar with the series, The West Wing focuses upon the daily lives the President of the United States and several of his closest aides. More details about this series came by found by referring to DVD Talk's reviews of season one, season two, season three, season four, season five, and season six.
In the past season, the tempo and focus of The West Wing changed. There were diversions from the common daily issues in the White House that focused on the 2006 presidential election. Basically, it was a more detailed focus on campaigning than the Bartlet campaign offered in past seasons. The story looked at three different presidential candidates for the Democratic ticket. The candidates included Vice President Bob Russell, former Vice President John Hoynes, and Congressman Matt Santos. In the close of season six, Santos became the Democratic nominee with Leo as his running mate.
Season seven changes the show's pace by focusing on Santos' campaign for the presidency. The daily issues and operations in the White House have a small part in the storylines. In this respect, season seven did not feel like The West Wing. Another related change is that there were many new faces and supporting roles introduced. Because of the vast number of new players, the series regulars play a smaller part than they did in previous seasons. I thought that this was a shame. I also loved the character-driven approach Aaron Sorkin gave the show over John Wells' plot-driven. Bottom line, season seven just did not have the same level of attraction or excitement as past seasons. Of course, this does not mean season seven was awful or anything. The season episodes were still very engaging (just not as good).
In the White House, there are a couple changes for the cast. The already limited and overtaxed West Wing staff loses some more of its numbers (recall in season six, Josh, Leo, and Donna left to work on the campaign). A government employee leaked confidential information about a military space shuttle in season six. Now, Toby is heading the investigation to find out who leaked the information. Little did they know; it was Toby. After Toby confesses, he is prosecuted for committing a federal crime and becomes distance from his former co-workers and friends. Replacing Toby, Will becomes the Deputy Communications Director. I was sorry to see Toby's role minimized.
This season also has quite a lot of romance. There are several characters who have had significant chemistry throughout the series and they have finally acted upon it. The first couple is Josh and Donna. They have always had a great work relationship and playful banter. Their relationship is a decent story to the growth of their characters. Then there is C.J. and Danny. These two are the ones I have always wanted to see together. Their chemistry is fantastic and their development and relationship is a key development. The season also sees a romantic development between Will and Kate, although it is not nearly as strong as the other two couples (they lack the same chemistry built over multiple seasons).
The majority of the season seven focus is on the presidential campaign. Santos is the underdog and as the season progresses, he slowly works his way up in the polls and becomes a real contender for the presidency. The storyline focuses on different aspects such as gaining (and losing) political support, thwarting the opposition, Santos and his family adjusting to the heightened security as a candidate for president, making sacrifices in their own political beliefs, appealing to the minority communities, and more.
One of the notable storylines includes Vinick and Santos on the brink of a dirty campaign. Both candidates want to steer clear of personal attacks, but the situation escalates when a Republican pro-life organization puts an advertisement on TV that attacks Santos' pro-choice and takes a statement he made completely out of context. Vinick could have exploited the moment to his advantage, but he does not. The interesting aspect is how both candidates are given opportunities (more than just the TV attacks) to really hurt each other, but do not to preserve their personal integrity. It concludes with the two participating in a live telecast no-holds debate! (Yes, live. They did an episode live. Refer to the extras for more details about it.)
There was also a major shift in Vinick's support in his state of California from an event that basically cost him the election. Vinick was a strong supporter for nuclear energy and a deadly malfunction at the San Andres Nuclear Power Plant raised concern in all the states with nuclear power. Vinick was not the only one to have problems. Santos started to see the African-American community votes going to Vinick after a Latino cop shot an unarmed African-American boy. Another major shift in the campaign was the untimely death of Leo. John Spencer, who played Leo, died of a heart-attack on December 16, 2005. The loss of Spencer greatly affected the Santos campaign, as he no longer had the well-versed, experience running mate.
In the final portion of the season, the election comes to an end and the president elect prepares to move into office. Meanwhile, the Bartlet administration prepares to move out of the White House. This storyline is pretty intriguing because it takes the stories back into the White House and also brings in some old faces like Sam Seaborn and Ainsley Hayes. At this point, I really started to get into the show again and I was sorry to see it end.
Overall, I was happier than not with the seventh and final season of The West Wing. The season lacks the same excitement found in the earlier seasons. What I did not really like about it was how the focus on the presidential campaign took the stories out of the White House and how many of the main character's roles were minimized to handle all of the new faces and supporting characters. Still, while this was clearly not my favorite season of The West Wing, it is still a grade above the rest. There is enough exciting drama to keep your attention.
1. The Ticket: 105 days until the election...and counting. The Santos/McGarry ticket hits the campaign trail, nine points down in the polls. Back in DC, White House counsel Oliver Babish grills C.J. about the press leaks.
2. The Mommy Problem: Bad news for Santos: The White House cancels its leak investigation and Vinick jumps at the chance to position himself as the integrity candidate. Good news (maybe): A prickly media honcho joins the team.
3. Message Of The Week: The Latino vote. Pro-life judges. Border security. The Santos and Vinick campaigns jockey for position ,media coverage and a few previous points in the poll.
4. Mr. Frost:The focus shifts to the White House as Bartlet deals with the suicide-bomb death of a Palestinian leader, and the leak investigation takes a shocking turn. On the hustings, Santos gets tangled up in the intelligent design controversy.
5. Here Today: Seismic shifts: A stunned White House deals with the revelation in the leak investigation. Santos, mired in the polls, shakes up his campaign staff. And Ellie Bartlet has big news for her parents.
6. The Al Smith Dinner: A pro-life 527 committee runs a sleazy anti-Santos ad. Soon both Santos and Vinick are slugging it out in the abortion wars. Will steps into Toby's job...and into a hornet's nest.
7. The Debate (West Coast): No red lights, no time limits, no rules. In his opening statement, Vinick challenges Santos to a real debate...and Santos agrees. Originally telecast live.
8. Undecideds: A police shooting in L.A. puts Santos slap in the middle of simmering black-brown tensions. And Ellie gets an inept wedding consultant - Will - when C.J. is called away to deal with the Kazakhstan emergency.
9. The Wedding: Here comes the bride - there goes the President. International strife takes Bartlet's attention away from his daughter's white House wedding. Josh draws fire as he crunches limited ad-buy resources.
10. Running Mates: Leo's practice for the VP debate goes from bad to worse, causing great concern among the campaign staff. Meanwhile, Santos returns home to Texas for a relaxing (not!) visit.
11. Internal Displacement: C.J. works diplomatic channels, trying to avert a humanitarian crisis in Sudan. Another problem on her plate: Bartlet's son-in-law, a New Hampshire congressional candidate, may be involved in a sex scandal.
12. Duck And Cover: Bartlet makes agonizing choices when a California nuclear reactor malfunctions, endangering the lives of thousands, if not millions. Vinick, a nuclear power supporter, suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of an urgent issue.
13. The Cold: At odds: China and Russia, Santos and Vinick. In synch: Josh and Donna, Will and Kate. In command: Bartlet, whose action in the Kazakhstan crisis will create consequences for the next President.
14. Two Weeks Out: As Santos soars in the polls, the Vinick campaign starts to panic. Then Bruno picks up a brief case Santos left behind, opens it and finds what could be Vinick's ticket to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
15. Welcome To Wherever You Are: Photo ops. Trick or treating. TV shows. Santos chafes at the onrush of events that keep him away from the Kazakhstan issue. The federal prosecutor's threat to issue a second indictment could undermine the Santos campaign - but Toby suspects he's bluffing.
16. Election Day Part I: All the planning, spinning and hard work come own to one day as the Santos and Vinick camps crunch numbers and try not to panic. As the polls start to close, Annabeth reports to Leo.
17. Election Day Part II: "He died, Josh." The loss of Leo McGarry stuns the Santos and Vinick campaigns, the White House and the voters as the election comes down to the wire.
18. Requiem: Old faces and new - political honchos and helpers, power brokers and those who've been broken - come together for Leo's funeral. And Santos may involve himself in the Speaker's race, despite Josh's advice.
19. Transition: Thousands of jobs to fill. Transition time sends Josh into interview overdrive...and may mark a transition in his personal life, too. Plus: Santos involves himself in the Kazakhstan situation before he takes office.
20.The Last Hurrah: While Matt and Helen Santos deal with setting up a new government (and a new household), Arnold Vinick considers another run at the White House. Then he receives a call from Santos.
21. Institutional Memory: Is there life after the White House? C.J., Will, Kate and more ponder their futures - professional and personal. And C.J. weighs asking President Bartlet about a pardon for Toby.
22. Tomorrow: Inauguration Day. As the Santos team prepares to take power, Bartlet bids his staff goodbye, reflects on eight turbulent years and makes a final Presidential decision.
The video in this release is given in an enhanced anamorphic widescreen color format. The picture quality is quite good. It suffers from a slight grain, but detail remains to be sharp and clear. However, there are some occasional moments when the picture suffers compression artifacts. This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen.
The audio track in this release is in English Dolby digital stereo. Overall, the sound quality is very good, providing an audible and clean audio track. Like most TV on DVD releases the majority of the audio track is spoken dialogue and sounds rather flat. However, music does sound very rich and vibrant.
This release also has subtitles in the French and Spanish languages. The release also has support for closed captioning.
For extras, there are two featurettes. I was disappointed with them. Both cover different aspects of behind the scenes and interviews dealing with the live telecast episode "The Debate". While the featurettes are decent, I was disappointed it was the only focus of the extras. Considering this is the seventh and final season of the series, I would have appreciated cast and crew interviews/commentaries talking about this being the end of The West Wing, their experiences, opinions about the final season's direction, etc.
Live From The Director's Chair: A Multiangle View From The Truck's The Director Calls The Live Debate Episode (50:40) is a long extra. It has two video windows, one of "The Debate" episode and another on the crew running the episode from the director's point of view. The idea is to show how the camera angles are changed, cutting to commercials, and other things to provide a perspective of directing a live telecast. For the first few minutes, it is a pretty interesting behind the scenes look at the show's special episode. However, it gets boring fast because the individuals involved do not really do much. John Wells snaps his fingers (indicating camera angle change) over and over again. But other than that, nothing much happens. There is no interaction, interview, or commentary to make watching it more than a couple minutes worth it.
Countdown To West Wing Live: Anatomy Of The Debate (Episode 7) (25:17) is a long featurette that is all about "The Debate" episode. The participants of the episode talk about their experiences in preparation for "The Debate". The reason there is so much interest in this episode is that it was a live telecast. The specific details include writing prep, practice sessions (rehearsals), set design and construction, technical aspects, and more. It stars John Wells, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, Lawrence O'Donnell Jr., Alex Graves, Ron Silver, Forrest Sawyer, Michael Hissrich, Christopher Misiano, Tom Park, Eric Wilker, Chris Nushawg, Kenneth Hardy, Scott, DeShields, Keith Winikoff, Chad Persons, and Debbie Williams.
The seventh season of The West Wing is much different than past seasons. The 2006 presidential campaign was introduced as a storyline in season six and in this season the majority of episodes deal with it--Santos and Vinick facing off. This story was interesting and entertaining, but it lacked the same punch the stories inside the White House provided. While this season was not my favorite, it is still a lot better than most of the stuff out there. It provides a great deal of drama, engaging storylines, and much more.