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TV Note: For non-Latin speakers, a 'West Wing' translation

Saturday, May 19, 2001

In Wednesday’s powerful season finale of “The West Wing,” beleaguered President Josiah Bartlet lashed out at God -- in two languages.

First in English and then Latin, Bartlet lamented life’s cruel twists, including the death of his longtime secretary in a drunken-driving accident, and reproached God.

The monologue took place in the National Cathedral, just after Dolores Landingham’s funeral and before the president appeared on TV to admit he has hidden a disease, multiple sclerosis, from the public.

His nerves raw and his faith tested -- he has been shown as a devout Catholic in the NBC drama -- Bartlet sat impassively through the funeral service, then asked for time alone.

The president, played by Martin Sheen, then proceeded to fill the vast cathedral with his anger.

“She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What? That’s supposed to be funny?” Bartlet asked, then added bitterly: “Have I displeased you, you feckless thug?”

He wasn’t through. The next 20 seconds of his tirade were delivered in Latin, the traditional language of the Catholic Church. His anger was clear, even if only Latin scholars could parse the specifics.

Here’s the translation included with “The West Wing” shooting script:

“Am I really to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God?” Bartlet exclaims. “To hell with your punishments. I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your work. To hell with your punishments. To hell with you.

“You get Hoynes,” he tells God, apparently signaling his decision not to seek re-election and to clear the way for Vice President John Hoynes (Tim Matheson) to head the Democratic ticket.

But the rest of the episode left some doubt about Bartlet’s intentions. There was a wrenching scene in which he imagines Landingham had reappeared, scolding him for self-pity.

Questioned at a news conference about his plans, the president adopts a look of resolve and doesn’t respond before the hour ends. But his body language -- hands in his pockets, looking to the side with a slight smile -- was deconstructed in a flashback earlier in the episode by a young Mrs. Landingham, who figured out those movements meant Bartlet had made up his mind to take action. It seems Bartlet will run for a second term.

(Lynn Elber, Associated Press)

“BECKER” BACK: Although we accidentally left it out when we listed CBS’s fall schedule in Thursday’s paper, never fear, “Becker” fans, your show has been renewed and will continue to air in its regular 9:30 p.m. Monday time slot. (Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

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