the west wing meme: ∞ seven characters [1/7]
- Joshua Lyman
“I want to be a comfort to my friends in tragedy and I want to be able to celebrate with them in triumph. And for all the times in between, I just want to be able to look them in the eye.”
I think that quotation sums up Josh’s character beautifully. Despite that it’s from just the fifth episode, my opinion of Josh is pretty much fully formed by then. We see his amusing arrogance in the earlier episodes, his competitive nature, a fierce dedication to his job. The opening episodes are littered with allusions to the complexity of the character, with nuances that Bradley Whitford brings in his performance. Instinctively, I felt convinced that there was more to him than the cocky Harvard and Yale grad that he chooses to present. It’s in The Crackpots and These Women that the vulnerable, sensitive layer of Josh’s onion begins to peel. We discover a great deal of back-story as well, his guilt regarding his co-workers’ exclusion from the NSC card serving only as a reminder to the trauma of a house fire that took the life of his older sister. It’s an episode, the first of many in fact, that makes me want to wrap him up in blankets.
One thing that truly defines Josh, in my opinion, is loyalty. It is, again, alluded to in the aforementioned quotation. The only time we ever see him become aggressive, for example, is in an act of loyalty to Leo, his beloved mentor. His desire never to disappoint Leo is one of Josh’s major motivations throughout the series. I think his other distinctly significant relationship, with Donna, is founded upon a shared understanding of this intent. Leo and Donna are the other corners of Josh’s triangle. When she fears Josh is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Donna goes to Leo. When Donna’s codel is blown up, it is Leo who helps Josh realize a need to be at her side. When Leo dies, Donna is a pillar of strength for Josh. These relationships are so well-developed and compelling, it adds a little more depth to all three characters.
Josh also frequently provides a great deal of comic relief. His banter with Donna, especially, simmers throughout the course of the show, exploring both platonic and romantic sensibilities. The true measure of his feelings for Donna comes in the moments that seem to surprise even him: “The guy’s decided to focus his wrath on Donna. He’s never met Donna, or spoken to her, and he’s never met anyone who’s met Donna, or spoken to her. How is it possible, right? How is it possible that he hates her so much? How can you not like Donna? She’s from Wisconsin.”
A final aspect of my baby Joshua that I shall mention, perhaps the most crucial, pertains to how he gets women. Smart and funny, right? He’s also got that boyish thing. In so many ways, Josh’s humour and frequent displays of immaturity are thoroughly entertaining. It makes for the perfect pairing in any scene he shares with CJ. It’s the moments of slippery shoes at Capitol Hill, it’s flying doughnuts and fine muffins and bagels (the finest), it’s a secret plan to fight inflation. Mostly though, it’s the dimples. It’s the dimples that tie the whole thing together really. Those cheek crevices are the Grand Canyon of dimples. Yep.
I recognize that he’s incredibly flawed. He can be impatient, immature, selfish, belligerent. Fundamentally, though, he strives for good and is driven by loyalty and duty. He is also very clearly brilliant at his job. Ultimately, I think the most important, and glaring, truth about Josh is the goodness in his heart. He loves so devotedly, and it makes for compelling television. Bradley Whitford’s performance in the role is consistently outstanding, playing beautifully upon the complexities of the character.