• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #147: Admiral Percy Fitzwallace


I think he 's found an enemy he can kill

We return to the West Wing, a show with a roster of characters so deep that as many as ten might show up on this list. One of my absolute favorites has always been John Amos' avuncular, uber-competent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Percy Fitzwallace. His screen time is never as much as it should be, but when he appears, he brings with him a weighty dignity and gravitas that represents one of the few personalities capable of holding their own in a scene with Jed Bartlet. As one of the President's chief military advisors, he is virtually irreplaceable.

Fitzwallace is experienced, dedicated, smart, and a complete realist. He can be a hawk, advocating the invasion of Qumar, or he can tamp down bloodlust in the Situation Room when that's called for. He's warm and friendly, at times funny, but he is in deadly earnest when it comes to keeping America safe. He's an old warrior, struggling with everyone else to adapt to the new realities of international conflict, and how to lead a fighting force that isn't always sure who or where or even why to fight.

He's also not unaware of his role as a barrier-shattering black man, and while he wears that responsibility lightly, at times he puts his finger on the scale of social justice. When there's debate over gays in the military, he chimes in about how blacks in the military once created disruption, and the military got over it. When Leo has misgivings about the optics of hiring Charlie Young to be the President's body man, Fitz waves it off. "I got some real honest-to-god battles to fight, Leo. I don't have time for the cosmetic ones."

Amos, along with the brilliant writing of Sorkin and others, transforms what could have been a throwaway tertiary character into a fully-realized human being. There's so much of that in this program, and that's part of what made it so phenomenal. Fitzwallace rises in our esteem (and the President's) to the point that he's considered as a potential game-changing vice-presidential pick to replace John Hoynes. It never comes to pass, and tragically, our last view of Fitz is the moment before he's denied his well-earned retirement by a roadside bomb in Gaza.

Fitz, you old polecat, you old so-and-so. We hardly knew ye.

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