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.