It has been 15 years since the series premiere of "The West Wing," which means it has been 15 years since viewers first discovered the palpable onscreen chemistry of characters Josh Lyman and Donnatella Moss. In honor of the anniversary, and the new generation of viewers recently discovering "The West Wing" for the first time on Netflix, we've compiled a list of the 15 most notable moments in Josh-Donna history, ranked from our least to most favorite.
15. Donna brings Josh a cup of coffee, "Pilot," Season 1
The scene that started it all! Janel Moloney was famously only hired for a small part in the pilot episode, which mainly featured a scene in which she brings Josh a cup of coffee for the first time in their relationship. The show producers saw so much chemistry between her and Bradley Whitford in their brief banter-filled exchange that Moloney secured herself a regular role.
"I had a real feel for this part that I felt very strongly about," she told Backstage in 2006. "I felt integral to the show. Part of my personality is just overestimating my importance to all things that I'm a part of. I think I wanted so badly to be a part of it that I was determined somehow. I was like, "No, I'm not leaving. Find a place for me."
14. Josh and Donna spend the night together, "Election Day" Season 7
Aaand, we jump seven seasons down the line to "Election Day," in which Donna finally puts the back and forth charade to an end. She makes her intentions clear, and Josh for once doesn't shoot himself in the foot and follows her upstairs. This moment has got to make the list, as it is pretty straightforwardly pushes Josh and Donna's relationship into forever-altered territory. But in the context of the couple's long list of emotionally charged moments, it's actually pretty boring. In early seasons, the rush and extreme chemistry between Josh and Donna is larger-than-life romantic. Unfortunately, as you'll notice from the low ranking of many of the technically major moments in their relationship, the arc that brings them together is ultimately lackluster.
13. Josh and Donna wake up together, "Tomorrow," Season 7
This very brief moment in the series finale is basically an exhale for long term Josh-Donna fans. In earlier Season 7 episode "Transition," Donna lays out a four-week window for the two to figure out their feelings for each other or abandon their relationship altogether. The fact that they wake up together in this episode, which takes place after that four-week period is over, signals to viewers that Josh and Donna did indeed, finally, end up together.
12. Josh and Donna Kiss, "The Cold," Season 7
After new polling data shows Santos has tied up the race with Vinick, Donna busts into Josh's room to share the good news. Excitement leads to an "excitement kiss," which ultimately leads to a real kiss. This is the moment where Josh-Donna tension officially crosses the line to Josh-Donna actually happening, and is the first element of the arc that eventually brings them together as a couple.
11. Josh refuses to hire Donna on the Santos campaign, "The Ticket," Season 7
This moment in Josh-Donna history is notable mostly for its extreme painfulness. After Santos beats Russell in the Democratic primary, Donna goes to Josh to ask for a job on the continued Presidential campaign. Josh says no, citing the negative comments she made against the congressman while working for Russell, but not before getting inappropriately personal: "I've got an airplane hanger out there filled with 500 strangers looking to me for direction. I've got a candidate who doesn't trust any of them, and frankly neither do I. And if you think I don't miss you every day ..."
Donna is upset, rightfully, because how dare he continually try to guilt her over leaving his side for a job in which she can actually have real authority, and leaves the office before they resolve anything.
10. Josh tends to Donna in Gaza, "NSF Thurmont," Season 6
When Donna is injured in an attack on Americans in Gaza at the end of Season 5, Josh flies to the hospital in Germany where she's being treated to sit by her side. After she develops a blood clot and has to undergo emergency surgery, Josh comes into the ER before the procedure and assures her with a convincing false confidence that it's all going to be okay. This is one of the more tender Josh-Donna moments in the post-Sorkin era of the TV show.
9. Jack Reese wants to know Josh and Donna's deal, "Arctic Radar," Season 4
So many gems of moments in this episode, which features Donna asking Josh for help getting a date with newly White House assigned naval officer Jack Reese. After having two Donna-centric conversations with Josh, Jack says he doesn't want to get "in between anything" by asking Donna out. Off of Josh's confusion, he says: "I have an aide, who in my life, I haven't talked about as much as you've talked about Donna in our entire relationship, yours and mine, which is a cumulative total of seven minutes old." Josh assures Jack he's not, but we're not convinced. Later, explaining to Donna why he shared what she finds to be embarrassing stories about her in his attempts to spark Jack's interest, he says "Those are good stories about you, though. Those stories would make me like you." (And by would, he means, did/does. He likes her.)
This episode is also notable in its marking of a slight shift in the dynamics of the Josh-Donna relationship. At this point in the series, we've seen much more of Donna yearning for Josh as he dates others (and Amy seriously), but haven't really seen the tables turned. After Josh delivers that heartbreaker of a line, Donna does not react like a woman in love, as she does to similar comments in early episodes, because she's distracted and genuinely excited to go out with Jack. How's that for a change, Lyman?
8. Josh gets flustered when Donna leaves on a romantic getaway, "Holy Night," Season 4
Donna's plans to spend Christmas away with her boyfriend are thwarted when the president decides to make last-minute adjustments to the Federal Budget. Josh apologizes for delaying her trip, but promises to get her drunk when they're done working -- a prospect which he seems to be pretty into. After Leo calls off the plan, and tells Josh he set Donna up with a news helicopter landing near her destination, Josh gets noticeably flustered. "Oh, get it together, would you please?" Leo says to him. Josh replies, "I'm trying." (And, may we note, failing.)
7. Josh tells Donna she looks great in the "stolen" dress, "The Portland Trip," Season 2
Excellent banter opens up this exchange when Donna puts on a red dress she bought for a date. Josh insists it's stolen, because she plans to return it the next day, but Donna insists she's just being thrifty. The date's a bust, and Donna returns to the White House to help Josh with a late meeting because DEVOTION. On her way out, Josh stops and tells her, "You look really great in that dress tonight, Donna. You should buy it for yourself."
She melts, obviously, and so do viewers at home.
6. Josh gives Donna a heartfelt Christmas gift, "In Excelsis Deo," Season 1
A classic build-up moment. In this Christmas episode, Donna issues repeated pleas for Josh to buy her various items of ski equipment as her gift. He appears playfully disinterested until episode's end when he gifts her a rare book on alpine skiing with a personal note inside. It makes her cry, and he tells her he "meant it." After he goes back into his office, he watches her unseen as she rereads the note and smiles.
5. The Post-Rosslyn Stories, "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1," "The Midterms, "Noel," Season 2
For the purposes of this ranking, we'll group a few moments together that all showcase Donna's devotion to Josh in the aftermath of the harrowing Rosslyn shooting. Viewers will firstly remember the moment in "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen: Part 1," when Toby tells Donna that Josh has been shot. It's a brilliant moment of acting from Moloney, whose devastated reaction could not possibly feel more real. In "The Midterms," Donna takes charge of Josh's recovery-work balance, creating a set of rules dictating how the other Senior Staffers are allowed to interact with him. And lastly, in "Noel," we find out after Josh has been officially diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that Donna was the one to first notice his symptoms. Josh has a related hand injury, and at episode's end, Donna gently leads him to the car to take him to the emergency room.
4. Joey Lucas tells Josh that Donna is into it, "The War At Home," Season 2
Joey Lucas is in town and Donna is determined to get Josh to ask her out. Josh tells Sam he think it's puzzling that Donna is the one pushing the union -- it's not that he gets jealous when she goes out with other guys, but he does "do everything within [his] considerable capabilities to sabotage it." Toward the end of the episode, Joey explains why Josh is misinterpreting the latest polling data with this stunner of a speech:
"If you polled a hundred Donnas and asked them if they think we should go out, you'd get a high positive response. But, the poll wouldn't tell you it's because she likes you, and she knows it's beginning to show, and she needs to cover herself with misdirection."
To which Josh replies:
"Believe me when I tell you that's not true."
Except nobody does, because it is!
3. "Are you in love with Josh?," "Commencement," Season 4
A lot is going on in the final moments of Season 4's penultimate episode "Commencement." There is a national security threat involving a possible attack on American soil, and first daughter Zoey Bartlet has gone missing with a dead Secret Service agent found at the scene. Yet the interaction that sticks out most in our mind is between Amy and Donna, safe in the White House late at night. After Amy makes repeated unsuccessful attempts to try to enlist Donna's help in understanding why a comment she'd made earlier had offended Josh, Donna finally breaks and says "You have to get Josh." Amy prods further at her insinuation that she doesn't get him, eventually prompting her to flat out ask Donna: "Are you in love with Josh?" We see Donna's face for a few seconds before the camera cuts from the scene.
After four full seasons of rising tension without a single overt mention of Josh and Donna's "love" from within the show, this scene was, to put it simply, huge. Even though we don't hear Donna respond, the fact that she says nothing as opposed to some kind of quick deflection a la Josh to Joey Lucas in Season 2 is extremely telling. The scene is also notable as the last Josh-Donna nod written by series creator Aaron Sorkin before his departure at the end of season 4. It stands as a little RIP to Aaron Sorkin era of this romance, and of the show.
2. Josh throws snowballs at Donna's window, "Inauguration Part 2: Over There," Season 4
A very close runner up to the number one spot! What Josh-Donna supporter does not melt when Josh pauses his big good-cop speech in this episode to look at Donna longingly and say "You look amazing"? Leading up to the moment had been an emotionally tumultuous storyline for fans: Donna takes credit for an anonymous quote published about the White House being disloyal to military officers, which strains her relationship with Josh. He later figures out that she was covering for Jack (her boyfriend at this time), who actually made the comment. He shows up at her apartment, gang of "West Wing" boys in tow, and throws snowballs at her window until she comes downstairs. He immediately gives her his coat and a big long speech, marvels at her beauty, and says she has to sit on "somebody's" lap on the way back in the car. Josh-Donna fans everywhere basically fainted.
1. "If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights," "Seventeen People," Season 2
We would be shocked to discover a true "West Wing" fan that wouldn't consider this the hands down top Josh-Donna exchange of all time. Josh gives Donna flowers to honor the anniversary of her starting to work for him, which she refuses to accept on the basis that his calculation discounts the time she put in before briefly leaving to go back to her ex-boyfriend. In a grounded moment toward the end of the episode, Donna explains that she came back after her ex stopped for a beer on the way to pick her up from the hospital after a car accident. The exchange ends with Josh saying that if Donna were in an accident he wouldn't "stop for a beer," to which Donna replies: "If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights." She then walks confidently out of the office and down the hall, leaving Josh flattened against the doorway.
Happy anniversary, Josh and Donna (sort of)! We hope you're off living a happy life together somewhere in the fictional universe.