Television’s Greatest: The West Wing’s Two Cathedrals

The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.

External conflict is seldom what’s most interesting in great fiction. In The West Wing, the stakes are fungible, and acquiesce to the demands of the plot. But the show exercises much restraint in creating dramatic tension through external circumstances. The hostages, Big Tobacco, multiple sclerosis and the reelection in this episode are ostensibly important, but nevertheless fade into the background, dwarfed by Bartlet’s internal journey. It’s the abstract weather phenomenon that takes precedence, playing the foil for the president; a gambit the show would repeat with asteroids and nuclear threats, among other things. The President withdraws from the weighty problems his staff grapples with, becoming preoccupied with the tropical storm and what it means to him. His conflict subsumes the others within itself.

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