Three thoughts after watching the last two West Wing episodes last night:

These were, I have to say, better than the last several have been, and much better than the lowest points of the post-Sorkin era. Still an embarrassing shadow the show’s former brilliance, but I have to say I will miss it over this hiatus. There were even some lines I laughed at. And the actors are still great, especially when they look less like they’re embarassed to have to recite the dialogue they’re being given. Or maybe that was just projection…

Along with all the more substantive faults in the current show, I have to say as a longtime viewer I feel personally snubbed by the current producers’ little sleight of hand which skipped a year of the Bartlett Presidency, which is made all the more irksome by their comments to the press that in focusing the show on Presidential primaries they’re just bowing to the reality that Bartlett only has one year left by the show’s own timeline. False. Bartlett’s presidency started two years before George Bush’s, in 1998. He was re-elected the same week as our awful 2002 elections. So his term ends in 2006, not 2005. Trying to skip a year gives the sense that they don’t think anyone is watching. Which may be true…

Last, more substantive, less self-parodying point: One of the more clever (yes, clever) pieces of last week’s episode was a controversy over a magic trick Penn and Teller perform in the East Room in which they appear to burn a flag wrapped in the Bill of Rights, which is left intact (some of my thoughts on flag burning in general are here. Press and politicians begin demanding to know whether the flag was actually burned or whether it’s still intact. Which begs the question, implied but never stated by the writers: What’s the difference between a symbolic act, and a symbol of a symbolic act? If the one can be banned, why not the other?

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