West Wing Continuity Guide
path: Home / Third Season Episodes /  "Posse Comitatus" (Finale) * Comments Opposed to our Contention that this Finale was a Cheap Shot at Ratings.
C.J. & Simon Mark Harmon as Secret Service agent Simon Donovan & Allison Janney as Press Secretary CJ Cregg
NBC Photo by: Eric Liebowitz
Writer: Aaron Sorkin, Director: Alex Graves

The following comments are posted in the order in which they were received.

  1. First of all, I am a overly devoted fan to The West Wing, my friends call me a freak. Ever since I read your depiction of the season finale, I've really been thinking about Sorkin's writing over the past season, and I think you're out of your minds.

    Nobody's happy when a good character dies, but that doesn't mean it's bad writing. Even if it's for ratings, it was still done well. And that might not even be the whole reason. When Mrs.L died, I was devastated, and same with "Agent Sunshine". But Two Cathedrals and Posse Comitatus are two of the most powerful episodes I've ever seen, bested only by In Excelsis Deo. All three of these episodes send a message and are meaningful, even if they are sad and sobering. I don't think "ridiculous", "nasty", "mean", "stupid", or "gratuitous" are the correct words to describe this episode because it was excellent. You have to read(or watch) between the lines, make connections, understand the bigger picture. Simon Donovan's death after being shown as a big brother isn't hack writing because it makes it more poignant, it was good writing because it meant something more.

    Touching on another point you made, there has been plenty of interaction between characters. The whole show is the interactions between the main characters. Though they spend time with other people (doing their jobs, mind you), they're still interacting with one another, even if it's not for long periods of time. Not to mention Aaron Sorkin wanted this show to be about the people behind the scenes, and what they do. The president's senior staff doesn't just sit in a room all day and talk to each other, they sit in rooms and talk to other people. They speak briefly and have occasional meetings, but the main gist of what they do involves outsiders of the white house.

    Don't criticize people just because they write things you don't like. Get the bigger picture, then see if you can complain. --- C. Wilson

  2. I read your comments on the season finale earlier today and was starting to think I agreed with you until I had an in depth discussion with my friend about the episode. I think to assume that Sorkin used the character death to grab ratings would be missing the point of the episode. I think if you want to blame anyone, blame NBC for their misleading promos. They are what used the character death for ratings, not Sorkin. I have found that Sorkin normally has a point to make with every single detail he puts into an episode. This one is no exception. Did you notice the parallel between the death of Simon Donovan and Yamamoto? Aaron Sorkin likes to play with your emotions. It should have been so black and white. The terrorist is bad, we should have been happy when he died. The Secret Service agent was good, we should be sad when he died. It wasn't black and white though. I don't know one person who cheered when the political assassination took place. He was evil, so why did it hurt when he was shot, why did we cringe? This scene with the two shootings and the music in the background was done so well, it wasn't action movie violence, it was a moving depiction of the taking of two human lives. One good, one bad. One killed by thugs, the other by the President of the United States. In the end, it was a lot harder to see the difference than one would think. There was a lot of depth in this episode, a sort of bitter irony that is real life. To say that Sorkin killed a character just to get good ratings would be underestimating him and the entire cast and crew that made this episode so moving and amazing. The West Wing is one of those shows that challenges you to look below the surface, and if you don't challenge yourself to do the same, then yeah, I guess you would miss the point of the episode. --- Danielle

  3. I love your episode guides for the West Wing.

    Unfortunately, I am writing to tell you how disappointed I am at your episode guide for the season finale. It is way off base in my opinion. It is certainly not "semi-rational" as you promise - it is in fact "nasty", "mean", "stupid", "gratuitous" to use your words. Since when was cheap shots and name-calling semi-rational? I don't mind your opinions (though I may not agree with them) but I happened to think the season finale was thoughtful and compelling. I look forward to another great season of some of the best writing on television. Just my two cents... --- Brian C.

  4. Regarding "Posse Comitatus"--on the one hand I think that, if you truly want to be a "guide", you owe it to the site to put up an episode summary, written as dispassionately as possible. You can include a link with your personal comments on the page.

    On the other, I agree with your feelings regarding the finale and the season. I knew the minute Harmon showed up he wasn't going to survive the finale--he was "redshirt" material pure and simple. . . .

    The entire season's felt disjointed and off/on. I'm hoping that WW gets rid of the entire "re-election" story next fall and just assumes Barlet won, and move on from there. --- JSM

  5. I appreciate the forum, but I disagree with you. I must admit, though, that at first I was inclined to agree. But when I read the comments opposed to your view, I realized maybe we were being a bit precipitous in this. There were intriguing and timely questions raised (murder, terrorism, assassination). . . . I also think that it is to Sorkin's credit that we will probably never get enough of his main characters -- they are interesting, deep, human, beautiful, and sometimes frightened people that are sincerely struggling to deal with sometimes conflicting right choices. Please consider re-writing the episode summary, and put a tag to this discussion. As I said, I have enjoyed your site, and I appreciate your candor, but please get past this and move on. --- Jeffrey Grand

  6. Ok, first of all, I totally disagree with what you said. I am extremely upset about the loss of Agent Sunshine and wish that he was still around, but I don't think that it was bad writing to get rid of him. I think that Mr. Sorkin was making some cruel ironies about life and loss. Add to that the fact that whole episode wasn't devoted to the death of Agent Donavan, and what you've said merely adds up to misplaced grief at the death of a good character. And to reduce the deaths of both Agent Sunshine and Mrs. Landingham to a rating grab detracts not only from the dignity and tragedy of their deaths, but the grace that their characters showed during life. Second of all, I know that the episode pissed you guys off, but can please post quotes, we're dying here. --- megan rowley

  7. The show is changing, but I think it's by design. This was a year in which the Bartlett administration lost as often as it won (perhaps more so). . . .

    The most powerful...and believable..scene of the season was the Bartlet-Ritchie confrontation in Posse Comitatus. Bartlet's effort to treat Ritchie as a peer by telling him of Simon's death turns inside on itself when Ritchie unloads on him, and Bartlet retorts: " 'Crime, boy, I don't know,' was when I decided to kick your ass." It is his determination from that meeting that lingers as the Qumari minister is murdered. The scene it all brought to mind for me, including the priests in the hall, was the baptism scene from "The Godfather" when Michael settles the family business during his godchild's christening. The more I think about the theft of the symbolism, the more it bothers me, but it worked for Coppola and it worked for TWW well enough. . . . --- Tom Lee

  8. I admire your convictions and I love your site. You are correct in that we expect more out of "The West Wing" than of a "Dallas" cliff-hanger. However intrusive Mark Harmon's character's subplot was, there was still fine television in the season ending episode. Bartlet's decision to approve the assassination and his conversation with his Republican opponent were well written. I look forward to next season's "The West Wing" and also to following with equal interest your web-site. --- Pat Hennegan

  9. I agree that the writers of the editorial missed the virtue of the episode completely. Donovan's death was ironic; we all expected him to die protecting C.J., but instead it is only after he allows himself to love C.J. that he dies. It was symbolic, as the roses that fell in the convenience store paralleled the numerous other "wars" taking place within the show. Moreover, the dialogue in the show was outstanding, and many people have looked over the fascinating glimpse we get at the very end of Bartlet: in the silhouette he looks just like Lincoln. All the season's major plot lines came together in interesting, surprising, and I think yet unresolved ways. . . . --- Dave Rimshnick

  10. I have very mixed feelings about the show. I do wish that a review had been done because I thought it did have many good moments that deserved to be addressed. In fact, when the show ended I thought it was a great episode. I was disapointed with Donovan's death, but because it evoked an emotional response I accepted it as good. But later it really began to bother me.

    Partly it is because death and violence seems to have become a staple in the finale of a show that usually operates on a much more cerebral plane. On a cop show these things are expected, but on West Wing they seem out of kilter. . . . I am also tired of the apparent conviction by Sorkin that no one who works in the White House can have a relationship. . . . --- Rachel Davis

  11. Sorkin did not write Donovan's death for rating's. He felt the need for a little extra *oomph* in the season finale, to give the viewers and NBC what each expect from a season finale. It worked for me because it was tied together smoothly with Ritchie's intro and the political assassination. But the "Agent Sunshine" arc itself was obviously contrived for the purpose of a big finale. For me, it was the first time that the writing of "The West Wing" seemed implausible and Hollywood. . . . Hopefully this will end the "Bloody Wednesday" tradition of WW finales, and big shows in the future will find more human and intelligent ways to move and entertain us. --- Justin Sneed

See the emails in favor of our original comments.
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