James Lipton called "Two Cathedrals," the last episode of the second season (2:22 to the scripturally minded) of "The West Wing," the best hour of television ever produced. His benediction is far above my poor power to add or detract. I've already waxed goofy about the last five minutes, when Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen, above) receives a cleansing civic baptism while Mark Knopfler hymns on his electric guitar.
Episcopal bones tingle during the scenes in Washington National Cathedral, especially the way the young crucifer and candle-bearers move in perfect, reverential unison -- almost as good as at St. John's! Scriptwriter and series creator Aaron Sorkin makes a complete muck of the funeral liturgy for the president's beloved secretary, Delores Landingham. Ending with the prayer of St. Francis? I don't think so.
As for the Nixon resonances, the whole episode's a learn-from-Watergate, it's-the-coverup-that-kills-you allegory. On learning several episodes before that President Bartlett has been concealing his MS for years, aide Toby Ziegler demands that Bartlett consult his anti-John Dean of a White House counsel, Oliver Babish, who instantly puts the sullen if pliable president on the road to full disclosure, special prosecutor, the works.
Thus will Bartlett survive to run again, though his misdeeds are far more egregious and systematic than Nixon's. I can't tell you the number of people who've said to me over the years, "If only Nixon would have admitted what he did, he'd have survived." Of course unlike Bartlett, who submits to Babish's will, and his principled aides, the stubbornly unrepentant Nixon was surrounded by a considerable number of felons and liars who made matters fatally worse.
It would've been nice to try it Bartlett's way, though, and as a matter of fact, I did, too. In 1989 I published a novel, Patterns of Abuse, that amounted to an anti-Watergate in which a Democratic president breaks the law in the service of national security only to have the scandal manipulated for partisan purposes by a scheming Republican editor of the Washington Post. My president lets it all hang out, too.
It sold dozens of copies (some of which are still rattling around). Published on exactly the same day by the same now-defunct house, Wynwood Press, was the first edition of a novel I like to call A Time To Kill by John Grisham. Our editor, a publishing and agenting legend, Bill Thompson -- who helped get Elmore Leonard his first bestseller, Glitz, and also edited Nixon's book No More Vietnams -- discovered Stephen King in addition to Grisham. Two out of three ain't bad!
Bill now helps authors treat their ailing manuscripts. There's a writing doctor in WW 2:22 as well, namely Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., who recently retired as the New York Times medical correspondent. Bartlett's press secretary, C. J. Cregg, puts him in the front row at a press conference in the vain hope that Bartlett will call on him first for a softball about his health rather than the dreaded question about his reelection plans.
I always thought the part was played by Altman himself, but when I said so on YouTube, I was gently corrected by a woman in Washington who said it was her late husband, a veteran character actor. I regret that I can't find his name. He played someone whom Nixon had admired for outstanding coverage of his near-fatal brush with phlebitis during 1974-75, when his critics unfairly accused him of being a faker to avoid coming to Washington to visit with the all-too-real special prosecutor.