|The West Wing character|
Janel Moloney as Donna Moss
|Created by||Aaron Sorkin|
|Portrayed by||Janel Moloney|
|Occupation||Senior Assistant to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff (seasons 1-6), Russell Campaign Senior Aide (season 6), Santos Campaign Spokeswoman (season 7), Chief of Staff to the First Lady (end of season 7)|
|Title||Chief of Staff to the First Lady|
|Family||Unnamed mother, unnamed father.|
|Spouse(s)||Josh Lyman (boyfriend)|
|Religion||Protestant, denomination unspecified|
Donnatella "Donna" Moss is a fictional character played by Janel Moloney on the television serial drama The West Wing. Although Donna is a recurring character during the first season, she appears in every episode of that season and is credited as a regular cast member from the beginning of the second season.
During most of the series Donna works as the senior assistant to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman (or, as she jokingly calls herself in one episode, the "deputy deputy chief of staff"). Although all the senior staff's assistants are continuing characters with personal backgrounds, Donna is the best defined and most often featured staff member on the assistant level, and her difficult, semi-romantic relationship with Josh is a major plot device during later seasons.
Donna was born outside of Warroad, Minnesota, to an Irish-American father and an Italian-American mother. Donna's United States citizenship is briefly revoked after the Minnesota town in which she was born ends up in Canada due to border changes. However, her citizenship is quickly restored after the discovery of a grandfather clause in the law. Although Josh identifies Donna as a Protestant, he also describes one of her clothing outfits as a Catholic-school uniform.
Donna moved to Wisconsin, where she attended University of Wisconsin–Madison and dropped out halfway through to support her boyfriend as he went through medical school. After her boyfriend graduated, he dumped Donna. She then left Madison and drove to New Hampshire to work for the "Bartlet for America" campaign, even going so far as to pretend she'd already been hired as Josh Lyman's assistant. Josh discovers the deception but is somewhat amused by it and, impressed by her initiative, hires her. It is mentioned that she briefly left the campaign to return to her boyfriend, but returned following an incident when, after Donna sprained her ankle in a car accident, her boyfriend chose to meet his friends for a drink rather than immediately pick her up from the hospital.
Donna remains Josh's assistant during Josiah Bartlet's first presidential term and the beginning of his second. Her job during this time usually takes the form of little more than a secretary (albeit in an unusually challenging and glorified environment) until Josh sends her as an observer on a Congressional delegation (CODEL) to Gaza in response to her request for opportunities for job growth. While in Gaza, Donna sustains a serious injury as a result of a terrorist attack on the American convoy. She gradually recovers from those injuries.
Donna returns to her duties at the White House but eventually quits her job in the Season 6 episode "Impact Winter" to become senior aide to Will Bailey, Vice President Bob Russell's presidential campaign manager. Her new position places her in direct conflict with Josh, who has convinced Congressman Matt Santos to run for the Democratic nomination for president, with himself as campaign manager. After Santos wins the nomination, Donna applies to work for Josh at the Santos campaign. However, personal attacks she made on Santos as Russell's press secretary force Josh to refuse her application, although he reveals during the job interview that he misses her "every day".
Later, on the Santos campaign trail, unbeknownst to Josh, Communications Director Louise "Lou" Thornton hires Donna as a campaign spokeswoman. Josh is initially upset with Lou for hiring Donna, and he implies in a tense conversation with Donna that he is reluctant to hire her since he feels betrayed by her decision to work for a competing candidate which he, her "mentor", did not support. Although the two reconcile on the campaign trail, with their relationship becoming romantic during the season 7 episode "The Cold". After Santos's victory, Donna is offered a position in the new administration as deputy White House press secretary. However, having become close to Helen Santos during the campaign, she is also offered the position of chief of staff to the first lady. She chooses to accept this offer, feeling she cannot work for Josh while something is happening between them romantically. The two initially question their relationship if they're willing to commit to one, which is later confirmed when they vacation together. Her large White House office, which she is shocked to see, symbolizes her growth since the beginning of the series, when her workplace was a cubicle in Josh's bullpen.
Donna is a Democrat but is sometimes critical of the logic behind various Democratic Party policies. Her political debates with Josh, which are often left unresolved, are one of the show's trademark methods of exploring multiple sides of an issue.
Relationship with Josh Lyman
The chemistry between Janel Moloney and Bradley Whitford, who portrayed Josh Lyman, caught producers' attention early in the series. After seeing Moloney and Whitford perform together in the pilot, Aaron Sorkin added a scene in which Donna argues with Josh to change his shirt before attending a meeting, eventually convincing him by saying, "All the girls think you look really hot in this shirt". Although Mandy Hampton was originally intended to be Josh's romantic interest, by the end of the show's first season the character was written out and the role taken over by Donna.
During the first four seasons, the relationship remains in stasis, with neither daring to make any real romantic move on the other. Sorkin admits that he was more inclined to move the relationship forward, but, every time he discussed the possibility, fellow executive producer Thomas Schlamme would shout, "No! Wait another year!" Besides, adds Sorkin, "Sexual and romantic tension is, to me, much more fun than taking the tension away by having the sex and romance".
Other characters occasionally speculate on the pair's relationship. When Donna encourages Josh to ask Joey Lucas on a date, Joey guesses that Donna is attempting to cover her own feelings for Josh through misdirection. During her first meeting with Josh, Amy Gardner asks him if he is dating his assistant, and later asks Donna directly, "Are you in love with Josh?", although the show cuts to another scene before viewers can see the answer. When Donna recruits Josh to help her get a date with Jack Reese, Josh's behavior leads Jack to wonder whether he is getting "in between anything".
- Writer: Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford Director: Alex Graves (March 6, 2002). "Dead Irish Writers". The West WIng. Season 3. Episode 15.
- Moore, Frazier (February 12, 2001). West Wing Lovers Are in Limbo. Associated Press. Retrieved on December 15, 2007.
- The West Wing, Episode 2.14: The War at Home. Original airdate: February 14, 2001.
- The West Wing, Episode 3.08: The Women of Qumar. Original airdate: November 28, 2001.
- The West Wing, Episode 4.22: Commencement. Original airdate: May 7, 2003.
- The West Wing, Episode 4.10: Arctic Radar. Original airdate: November 27, 2002.