The Many Phases of Abbey Bartlet. Part 1
During the seven-season run of NBC’s ‘The West Wing’, First Lady Abigail Bartlet (Stockard Channing) had many different looks and styles. The audience would not know how Abbey would look not only from season to season, but episode to episode. This was basically because Stockard Channing’s appearances in the series were often quite irregular, so she would appear each season between three (seasons 1 & 7) and nine (seasons 3 & 6) times. Needless to say, Channing wasn’t always on the set, and rarely in front of the camera’s. So, when she would pop in to turn the place upside down, right all of the President’s wrongs, and remind him that he was merely one humble man, she often looked different than the last time that we saw her. By the time that the series ended, the President had very much aged (due to the stress of the job), but his First Lady looked…well, better than she did when we met her to begin with! One might suggest that Stockard Channing looks better as she ages.
Abbey Bartlet was dressed many ways for us throughout the years. Sometimes she was dressed smartly in a chic well-tailored suit, other times she was draped elegantly in beautiful evening gowns, and dripping in ritzy jewelry that could blind you if you look directly at it, and other times she was hardly dressed at all and wearing night clothes. But, whatever Doctor Bartlet was wearing, or how she had her hair was always likened to eye candy for the audience, especially considering she was one of the best-looking things in the serious series.
Here, we had Abbey Bartlet for a mere three episodes, which is hardly enough time to become acquainted with her. We met her first as a graceful hostess, in an evening gown, generous with her décolletage (1.7-The State Dinner). In the episodes that follow, we see her dressed a little more conservatively, focusing on her skills as a doctor, and a wife (1.12-He Shall From Time to Time, & 1.14-The White House Pro Am).
We found ourselves a bit luckier in getting to see Abbey more during the second season of the series. This was partially due to the large storylines that happened in this season; the Rosslyn shooting that led into the MS scandal of season three. Abbey was completely involved in these storylines because the President was shot at Rosslyn, and she was his co-conspirator in covering up his health. During this season, Abbey is far more business/casual in her attire, and keeps the same look throughout the season, because her character was present during 1/3 of the season.
Below we see Abbey in the hospital with the President after the shooting, during a flashback scene of the campaign, and 16 weeks after the shooting when she and Jed are attempting to reconnect after the first batch of the turmoil.
In the Shadow of Two Gunmen 1 & 2 (2.1 and 2.2) And It’s Surely to their Credit (2.5)
Abbey and Jed during and after his third ‘State of the Union Address’, where they are in the midst of a marital spat, and a hostage crisis that the President and his Joint Chiefs walked into as if it were a trap.
Bartlet’s Third State of the Union (2.13) The War at Home (2.14)
Abbey meets with the WH counsel about the MS scandal (in which she is directly involved, as well as her husband), meets and plans with Sam Seaborn what might (or should) happen next, and attends a funeral that nobody ever expected to happen, while reeling that her husband has announced without her consent or knowledge that he will run for a second term.
The Fall’s Gonna Kill You (2.20) 18th & Potomac (2.21) Two Cathedrals (2.22)
During the third season of the series all hell breaks loose. Amid the Multiple Sclerosis shock (which the audience and Leo McGarry learned about in season one, but only a select few of the Presidents staffers were even informed of in season two, but the American people don’t find out until the night that Bartlet announces his next Presidential bid), several people besides the President are accused of criminal behavior and are forced to testify about how much information they had when Jed Bartlet was elected, and what laws they may have broken because of their actions. Beside the President, the person taking the fall and paying for the cover-up the most is our beloved First Lady; her medical license is on the line. On top of all that, the Bartlet admin., is running for re-election, and Jed and Abbey have been silently fighting each other about it for months, and the staffers find themselves stuck within the tension that this creates. Season three is action packed, but Abbey, having been a consistent character through the last season, retains much of the same style and look that we have grown accustomed to in season two. She even gets an episode that is devoted almost solely to her, much to the delight of her fans.
The first episode is a stand-alone, not tied into any story-line because it aired right after 911, and is meant as a dedication to the tragedy. However, we are thrust back into season three soon enough. During the first few episodes, the Bartlet marriage is in crisis, with neither spouse reaching out to the other in any way. Abbey and Jed both are distraught over their lack of communication, but cannot seem to break the barrier. So, they remain at odds for what is translated to the audience as a few months time.
Isaac and Ishmael (3.1) Manchester Pt I (3.2) Manchester Pt. II (3.3)
The first few dramatic episodes that Abbey is seen in are more about the main storyline of that season (mainly the MS scandal, in which Abbey plays a very large part). The next two episodes, Abbey has very small, low key parts that support smaller storylines, and allow Abbey to bring a little brightness into the White House.
On the Day Before (3.5) War Crimes (3.6)
The Bartlet marriage mended, we find that running for re-election is a bit difficult when the candidate and his wife find themselves in their own respective courts for hiding the President’s MS from the world. The next few episodes find key players being reamed by the WH counsel, as the holidays begin to approach. Doctor Abigail Bartlet herself is labeled as the President’s “biggest liability” for her part in the scandal. On top of all that, Stockard broke her ankle while hiking (in Malibu, I believe), and she and Abbey both are stuck in a wheelchair (Aaron Sorkin was kind enough to write her injury into the script)! Can’t run away from your problems that way, AB
Gone Quiet (3.7) <Oh, Abbey…!> The Indians in the Lobby (3.8)
Through the MS trials and the court proceedings, we get to see ‘flashbacks of the beginning of Bartlet’s first election and we hear stories of previous MS attacks, and Leo McGarry’s brief fall off of the sobriety wagon. Meanwhile, during the week of her birthday, Abbey starts feeling the heat about her own court appearance (which we never get to actually see).
Bartlet For America (3.10) Dead Irish Writers (3.16)
When the MS scandal wraps up toward the end of season three, we look forward to the election, and wonder; after all of this, will Jed Bartlet win his second term?
Well, would you vote for him?
End of Part One