Tuesday, April 11, 2006

For Leo

I freely admit to being a crier. Sappy movies, sad animal stories, hallmark commercials... all are sufficient triggers to bring on the waterworks. Well, last night I cried for Leo.

All of us who love The West Wing knew exactly what was going to happen. John Spencer died of a real life heart attack on December 16, 2005. Ironically enough, it was a follow up to his on screen attack of last year. The shows producers say that, had they a hint of his real-life condition, the on-air attack would never have happened. Since that day we've known Leo's fate.

But to watch last week as Leo was found unconscious in his hotel room, and watch last night the ensemble's reaction -- I was much reminded of the M*A*S*H episode where Henry Blake died.

If Josh was the brains of the show, then Leo was it's gruff and curmudgeonly heart, Leo with his secret AA meetings and his addictive past and his soft center.

It was Leo that handed then governor Bartlett the napkin with "Bartlett for America" written on it. It was Leo that fired Bartlett's first staff, early in the run during the first campaign, and brought in Josh and Toby and the gang. It was Leo in the situation room, urging the President to make the right choice. It was Leo, coming back from his first heart attack, reminding everyone why they were there in the first place.

Watching the actors react to news of Leo's death, it was pretty clear to me that they were drawing on their emotions over the death of John Spencer. Annabeth looked positively distraught. CJ was in shock. And Josh took it worst of all. We never see Josh's father in the show, that I can recall, or hear much about him. Remember Josh's fierce defense of Leo when the addiction scandal hit? In Leo, Josh lost a father figure writ large on his life.

It was a bittersweet ending, with Mathew Santos taking the podium for his acceptance speech, and Josh back in the war room, staring vacantly at the whiteboard. I know what he's thinking. He's thinking about the one that really got him there, the man that has been his mentor and his rudder, and wondering what's next, without him.

In December of last year, America lost a great actor. Last night, West Wing fans lost a good friend. On screen it was a heart attack. In our minds, it was the final end to a terminal illness.

Last night I cried for Leo.
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