My Favorite Scene: The West Wing Season One (1999) “In Excelsis Deo”

The West Wing remains my favorite of Aaron Sorkin’s creations on the big screen or small.  It stands, especially in these times, as an idealistic vision of what government could and should be.  It’s populated by wonderfully developed eccentric devoted public servants, each of which is so fully-realized and distinct from each other that they feel like old friends more than characters on the screen.  This same treatment is extended to even minor characters and, in the show’s first two seasons, no minor character was as much fun as Mrs. Landingham (Kathryn Joosten), President Bartlet’s wonderfully cryptic and acerbic assistant, gatekeeper, and confidante.

In the show’s first Christmas episode, “In Excelsis Deo”, the show takes two characters, Mrs. Landingham and Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler, and has them deal with the ghosts of the Vietnam War while the rest of The White House prepares for Christmas festivities.  The two stories come together in a stunningly powerful final scene for the episode: one of the best Christmas episodes in dramatic television.Richard Schiff in The West Wing