Spoiler Alert: This article contains major spoilers for the ending of The West Wing. If it’s just now hitting you that, no, in fact, you don’t want to know whether or not Josh and Donna are in a romantic relationship by the series finale, turn back now. On the other hand, if you remain convinced that you cannot possibly commit to watching 7 seasons of a TV show without knowing if its most popular will-they-or-won’t-they pairing are endgame, read on!
Do Josh Lyman and Donna Moss end up together in The West Wing?
The short answer: At long, long last…YES! YES, THEY CERTAINLY DO. In fact, Josh and Donna’s happily ever after comes complete with a matching set of his and hers offices when they’re named the president and first lady’s chiefs of staff, respectively. It’s a richly deserved cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that is The West Wing series finale. So sit back, relax, and rest assured that your patience will be rewarded and that the sweet torture of shipping them will pay off. You know, eventually.
The long answer: Break out the finest muffins and bagels in all the land, people, because Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his senior assistant (a.k.a. the Deputy Deputy Chief of Staff) Donnatella Moss enjoy one of the best, most satisfying slow-burn romances IN TV HISTORY. Not only do they finally surrender to their feelings for each other, but the lovebirds stick their landing in an unforgettable season full of drama (a high-stakes presidential election!) and romance (spontaneous kisses! not-so-secret rendezvous!). It’s made all the sweeter by the fact that they weren’t exactly destined for epic romance.
The beauty of Josh/Donna, and the reason they engendered such devotion, is that it was entirely unplanned and came about organically. The West Wing was always going to be about the messy lives of senior staffers at the White House, but judging by the pilot episode, Josh was headed for a reconciliation with his ex, Mandy. Don’t worry–that never happens. Instead, he trades more and more delightful banter with his whip-smart assistant. Then he gives her a thoughtful gift and heartfelt note for Christmas and it’s basically game over for any other contenders for their hearts.
If they’d been anyone else, Josh and Donna would have been sleeping together by the end of the first season. By season 2, they’d probably have been locked in an on-again, off-again relationship to rival Friends‘ Ross and Rachel. But, of course, they aren’t anyone else and that doesn’t happen. Whereas other TV couples suffer through increasingly ludicrous scenarios contrived to keep them apart, they face one very serious obstacle: the inherent power imbalance of a boss/assistant relationship.
To get around this ethical quandary is as deceptively simple (one of them could just…find a new job!) as it is absolutely inconceivable (one of them would have to quit their once-in-a-lifetime job! working for POTUS! In the White House!). They each decide early on that their service to the president and their fellow Americans is more important to them than taking a chance on a relationship that might well go down in flames. They can’t, or won’t, risk it.
The result is years and years of suppressed longing and unresolved sexual tension. Every innocent touch, every understanding look, every jealous comment adds layers and dimensions to the epic story of How Josh and Donna Fell in Love. By the end of President Bartlet’s second term in office, there’s no question that they owe it to themselves to explore the relationship they clearly both desire once they’re free from their responsibilities at the White House. Which is pretty much exactly what happens, a few angsty speed bumps aside.
Of course, for those watching week-to-agonizing-week during the show’s original run in the early aughts, Josh and Donna’s happy ending was anything but certain. In fact, a fan-run website, Political Affairs, valiantly dedicated itself to documenting their every scene together–and to note, with concern, when the characters went for long stretches without interacting at all.
Luckily for the shippers who stuck with the pair for 7 long years and all newcomers, the final few episodes of the series finally find the pair on more equal footing, career-wise. That’s when the simmering tension between them hits full boil and things get really fun. Promise.
But why are you still reading this when you could be watching The West Wing?