After an impressive 40 Emmy Awards (93 nominations) and seven seasons, the Bartlet administration and The West Wing have come to an end. Episode #154, appropriately entitled “Tomorrow,” aired on Sunday May 14, 2006. Though the Wing viewership has slipped in the past few years, as many as 17 million people tuned in every week during the height of show’s popularity.
As reported here earlier, NBC had intended to air a one-hour retrospective prior to the final episode. For whatever reason (most people believe it was a dispute over money with the cast), that didn’t happen but some of the footage has been made available on the NBC website. The network opted instead air the pilot episode (though as late as Sunday morning, some affiliates believed the retrospective was still on schedule). The pilot first aired on September 22, 1999 and went on to win three Emmy awards. The first season won nine Emmy Awards in all which is still an Emmy record.
The Wing final episode starts at dawn on inauguration morning. Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits) is awake and staring out the window of The Blair House. Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) is lying in bed, awake, next to Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) who tries to relax him. CJ Cregg (Alison Janney) is pouring herself some coffee, listening to the news and perusing the morning paper in her kitchen. Will Bailey (Joshua Malina) has arrived at the quiet White House and enters his empty office. He sees a note on his computer that it’s been archived and sits down to throw his stress ball off his wall and pass time.
President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) is watching the sunrise from his bedroom window and his wife Abbey (Stockard Channing) joins him. She comments on the absurdity of having inauguration day on a cold day in January. He is melancholy and she reassures him “You did a lot of good Jed. You did a lot of good.” They take hands as the opening theme begins.
It’s interesting to note that Richard Schiff, who played Toby Ziegler for all seven seasons, does not appear in the opening credits. This is presumably because, though discussed, he does not appear except in the previous episode recap. John Spencer (who played Leo McGarry until his death on December 12, 2005) is in the credits though he does not appear otherwise.
We see the President-elect and Helen Santos (Teri Polo) getting ready for the big day. She is surprised to see that he’s wearing “long underwear” and he tells her that Lou doesn’t want him to wear an overcoat so he looks more young and vital; never too early to start thinking about reelection. Staffmember Bram (Matthew Del Negro) knocks and enters and gives them a quick rundown of their early itinerary which includes meeting with a top General. Matt comments to his wife that it’s probably to give him the nuclear launch codes. Both are clearly a bit overwhelmed.
Cut to Charlie Young (Dule Hill) meeting CJ at the entrance to the White House and giving her an update. There’s a severe ice storm in the Northeast and the President handed in his presidential pardon list the night before, the most notable being a woman who was convicted for using marijuana for supposed medicinal purposes. Will comes to see CJ in her office to tell her about the Northeast weather and to ask for any information that might impact his last press briefing. Aide Margaret (NiCole Robinson) gives CJ an update and tells her that Leo’s daughter Mallory wants to stop by in an hour to give her something for the President.
The White House Usher enters and gives CJ two large binders detailing the procedure for moving the Bartlets out and moving the new administration in. While the inauguration occurs, over 120 staff members and 16 trucks will make the move.
We next see the Santos couple with some of their staff, including Josh, Donna, Bram, “Lou” Thornton (Janeane Garofalo), and Annabeth Schott (Kristin Chenoweth). The staff is giving them a rundown of the day’s events. The highlights include a 10am meeting with the President and First Lady, the 12pm swearing-in and nine Presidential parties to attend.
Back in CJ’s office, Margaret tells her that they’ve been asked to leave their White House passes at the desk and to vacate their parking spaces by 2pm. CJ comments that she walked today and is looking forward to doing more of it back in Los Angeles. Will enters, complaining about his boring press briefing, and tells them of a train derailment on the New Hampshire and Massachusetts borders. Charlie comes in with the final pardon and clemency warrants for the President to consider. A name was added at the last minute and its Toby’s.
The President makes his way to his office and is greeted by his secretary Debbie Fiderer (Lily Tomlin) who asks how he’s feeling. “Unemployed.” “There’s a lot of that going around,” she replies. Debbie gives him a few reminders and CJ, Will and Kate Harper (Mary McCormack) enter to tell him about the train derailment between Haverhill, MA and Exeter, NH. Because of the severe weather, emergency rescue measures are needed but the state governors are squabbling over who should handle it.
The President asks Debbie to call them both and he’ll talk to whoever picks up first. Problem solved soonafter. CJ remains with the President and hands him the pardons and clemency warrants, noting Toby’s is on the bottom. He says he hasn’t decided what he will do yet. She leaves and he pulls Toby’s from the pile, reads it thoughtfully and sets it to the side.
CJ is having a chat with Leo’s daughter Mallory O’Brien (Allison Smith). CJ tells her that Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) is going to be working with Josh in the new administration and is engaged. (Mallory and Sam met in the pilot episode and later dated.) Mallory gives CJ a wrapped present for the President that was among her Dad’s things. Before she leaves, she tells CJ that Leo loved every moment he spent there.
Debbie stands over the president as he signs his last pieces of business and tells him that the First Lady wanted her to remind him the Santos couple were coming at 10am and to leave enough time to change. She also asks him if he’s written the letter to the incoming President yet. He hasn’t. She asks about the one pardon left on his desk and he replies that he’s still on the fence about it. She reminds him that he only has until noon. He leaves the office to take one more stroll around “just to make sure no one’s making off with the cutlery.”
Will comes to see CJ to ask if he’s signed it. She says he hasn’t and isn’t sure if he will or not. Josh comes by to visit and Will leaves soonafter. Josh asks CJ if there’s any chance she’ll reconsider staying. She says there isn’t and that Danny (Timothy Busfeld) will be waiting for her at LAX with a tub of sunscreen. They talk about how it still feels like Leo’s office and CJ gives him an old sticky note that says “WWLD?” which stands for “What Would Leo Do?” She tells him that he’ll do great.
The President makes the rounds and personally thanks the staff members he can find — including long-time staffers Carol (Melissa Fitzgerald), Ed (Peter James Smith) and Larry (Bill Duffy). He asks Secretarial Assistant Nancy (Renee Estevez ) about her mother — an inside joke since Martin Sheen is her father and married to her mother in real life. He wishes Will good luck on his upcoming election bid and offers to come up to Oregon and pound in campaign lawn signs for him.
He then asks Charlie if he’s made any decisions yet. Charlie tells him he’ll be attending Georgetown Law and that the President’s letter didn’t hurt his chances of getting early admission The President gives Charlie his old, worn copy of the Constitution that had been given to him from his father. Charlie thanks him. The President thanks him in return and leaves.