In Whom Love Wrought New Alchemy

FDL on The West Wing, which ended tonight.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t always the politics of this very political show that moved me. Sorkin said in some interview or other before he cracked up that it was a show about people in a workplace but that that workplace just happened to be the White House. And for me, what I loved about this eminently lovable, erudite, idealistic show cast with brilliant people saying funny smart things was how it was about people who really and truly cared about their jobs.

And I think that’s rare, a positive depiction of somebody’s work as a motivation in his or her life. Everywhere we’re bombarded with the idea that “it’s just a job” or “leave your work at the office” or “working for the weekend” or “nobody ever died wishing they’d spent more time at work,” and maybe it’s my ingrown bias having had work all my life that I’ve always always loved, but I found it so wonderfully contrary to see, on television, people who viewed their work not as a dodge or as drudgery but as uplifting, as necessary, and as a just use of their time. During the first season Leo, the president’s chief of staff, misses his wedding anniversary dinner because he’s working and during the ensuing fight with his wife tells her that yes, his job is in fact more important than his marriage.

I was shocked by that, because you just don’t ever hear people say that. He went on to explain that he only had a few years to do this job of his and had to do it well. And it wasn’t an admirable statement, it wasn’t somethng you’d want to hear from your spouse, but it was entirely honest, and that’s why it struck me. It was a viewpoint I’d never considered before.

What I loved about The West Wing and its stories and characters was its utter honesty about the difficulty of work that is your life, the difficulty but also the incredible triumph and joy of that work, what it gives you that would make you say to someone, “This is more important.” It pushed the idea of people to whom loyalty was more than just an empty word, and it gave us a world full of people who cared, deeply, about their work and about each other.

My other favorite scene is from the second-season premiere, when Josh shows up to collect his friend Sam and take Sam away from a highly paid lawyering job to run a last-ditch Hail-Mary presidential campaign for a nobody called Jed Bartlet. Josh shows up at Sam’s law offices, soaked in a rainstorm, and Sam turns to look at him, and Josh doesn’t have to say a word. Asked and answered, then and there. People who knew each other like that, who could go for months without talking and then, out of the blue, throw over everything and just go because somebody’s got a hunch …

I’ll miss those people in my living room each week.