‘The West Wing’ Shouldn’t Have Done What It Did To Toby

10.12.16 2 weeks ago • 19 Comments


This feature is part of our Politics and Entertainment week, looking at the points where art and issues overlap.

Getting angry about a TV show is silly. I know that. I’ve written that, here, more than once, usually in mocking tones directed at the more passionate end of the viewing audience of Lost, who I really enjoy needling for some reason that I’ve yet to fully grasp. It’s one thing to feel disappointed, or even misled, but in general, it seems like a waste of energy to let yourself get so wrapped up in the plot of a show that a creative decision causes you to become really, physically upset. If history has taught us anything, though, it’s that I am a shameless hypocrite, and that brings me to my point: Every time I think about what The West Wing did to Toby, I get so furious that I could spit on the floor.

A quick primer: Season six, the show’s second after the departure of creator Aaron Sorkin, featured a plot about astronauts stranded in space and running out of oxygen. There was no way to get a civilian aircraft out there in time to save them, but there were rumors floating around that there was a highly classified military space shuttle that could potentially do the job. The problem was that using the ship to save the astronauts would effectively de-classify it and let the world know America had it. The decision was taken out of the President’s hands, however, when someone leaked the existence of the secret shuttle to a reporter. With the whole thing now public knowledge, there was no point in not using it anymore, so bing bang boom, up it went, astronauts saved, etc. etc. etc.

An investigation into the leak followed and bled into season seven. It was a big deal. And eventually Toby Ziegler, the longtime White House Communications Director, who had heard about the existence of the shuttle from a coworker and his recently deceased astronaut brother (it’s dawning on me just now how ridiculous this all sounds when you condense it to two paragraphs), confessed that he had been the source. Toby was fired by the President, disgraced in public, and sentenced to a jail term (he later received a pardon), and whoops, I’m livid again.

(Full disclosure: I love Toby. He was the best, and he was easily my favorite character on the show, followed immediately by Leo and Charlie and Donna, and then an ever-changing mish-mosh of a list that always ends with Josh Lyman, whom I hate with the burning passion of 11,000 hells, also for reasons I have yet to fully grasp. So that’s the lens I’m viewing all of this through. I never claimed to be impartial.)

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