There are some moments in television history that transcend the show they’re on and become much more than just a scene from a TV show. They become works of art, moments of high drama. And oftentimes, those moments can move us to tears by their sheer brilliance.
Ask anyone who’s familiar with The West Wing, and they’ll tell you that one of these transcendent moments is President Bartlet’s grief-stricken rant at God in “Two Cathedrals.” I don’t think there will ever be another moment on television quite like this one.
This scene is so powerful it gives me chills even after an incredible number of viewings over the years. Martin Sheen’s controlled fury is so palpable and so believable. President Bartlet is a man who’s reached his breaking point, and it’s so realistic to see him get so angry with God. This scene is like a heartbreaking summary of all the pain we’ve watched this man go through. There’s so much national responsibility on his shoulders, but what breaks my heart the most is the way this scene shows how much this man loves the people who work for him. Yes, his grief over Mrs. Landingham is probably the most memorably emotional part of this scene, but what always gets me most is the way his voice breaks when he calls Josh his son.
The most famous part of this scene is undoubtedly its use of Latin, and I love that we don’t need subtitles to understand what he’s saying. Sheen delivers the whole monologue so perfectly that we can feel every moment of loss and anger—even when we don’t know exactly what he’s saying. If that’s not the very definition of great acting, then I honestly don’t know what is.
West Wing had a host of good moments. For me it was always the little details that I didn’t see coming that I thought were extraordinary. Like Bartlet showing up at the airport to see Josh when he was running for president or many of the underrated moments that Rob Lowe had and nearly any scene with Leo. For me though the moment I always remember that slapped me upside the head that I never saw coming was Mrs. Landingham when she tells Charlie why she doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Her quiet “I miss my boys” breaks my heart every. single. time. There were bigger moments in the show and better more rhythmic speeches with Sorkin’s soaring language but for my money Mrs. Landingham talking about her sons was the very essence of what made this show great for a moment in time. It echoed the shows ability to balance chaos and personal humanity.
“nd nearly any scene with Leo”
YES. A thousands times yes.
And that scene with Mrs. Landingham is absolutely gorgeous. I need to go watch it again (and cry) ASAP.
You have it exactly right. This scene was a work of art. It was so bold to have a show on network television include such an angry rant at God in the first place, let alone to have part of it be in Latin.
Martin Sheen is brilliant in this scene although what I love the most is the cinematography.
I’m nearly at the end of season 3 now and this show keeps making me cry. Donna calling her former teacher from the Oval Office and Charlie arranging to have the older man meet the president show the optimistic view of politics and people that underlines the show. Bad things happen a lot and the characters all have to be politicians and do things they don’t want to do sometimes but their frustration at that is often portrayed and I kind of love that. It’s so easy to be cynical and jaded over politics but this show makes you want to believe that there are people like this that are trying to make a difference.
Television shows are often so delicate in the way they deal with religious topics, so it was rare (and refreshing) to see this show address a real crisis of faith in a way that was honest and powerful.
I can’t wait for you to get even further into the show! It’s a favorite of my best friend, who has worked in politics in some way or another since we were in college. She helps me see that this show is right—politics can be the realm of the jaded and corrupt but it’s also a place for genuinely good people who want to do the right thing and make a difference.