Wow, that was a lot of drama.
For the first time thus far, The West Wing is soaking with a sense of real urgency, on just about every level. And this natural episode pairing started so innocently: It was just another international relations dispute, just another deposition, just another fever…
Let's take these episodes together, and go one-by-one as far as plotlines, shall we?
India Vs. Pakistan
Admiral Fitzwallace is back, and he's got some sour news: A border war between India and Pakistan is on the verge of breaking out—in fact, 300,000 Indian troops have been moved into Pakistani borders, thus looking a long-standing treaty in the face, and being all like, "screw this noise." Enter Lord John Marbury, a purported expert on the troubled region and a man that annoys Leo to no end. He drinks, he's erratic, he never remembers Leo's name or treats him with any respect. In short, he's an awesome character, a real tortured genius type who thinks whiskey is the cure-all, end-all, be-all.
But as delightful as it is to watch the slurry, British (one and the same?) Marbury torment Leo—the President laughing in the background is an especially cruel touch—I found the other parts of this subplot more interesting; specifically, the way information about the conflict is handled. At the very beginning, when the President is first briefing the rest of the staff, CJ swings by on her way to a press conference, and asks what the meeting is about. Toby assures her it's nothing, and she goes about her business, blind to the fact that something huge is happening just out of reach. The press even picks up on it, and grills her about what's going down in the region. But not to be outdone, CJ has a response. "I was just in the Oval Office five minutes ago," she fires back, so clearly nothing is out of the ordinary.
Toby decided not to tell CJ because, ahem, there are some people who believe she's "too friendly" with the press, and would have let the information leak. CJ is understandably furious, yelling about her relationship with the press, and how not knowing this type of info would make her less credible with the people she works with.
But to this all, I say, huh? Maybe it's just because of the Bush administration we've lived through, but I have always thought of the press secretary as merely a mouthpiece for said administration. As dumb as it sounds, I was surprised CJ cared so much about her relationship with the press, because I was surprised the press cared about their relationship with the press secretary. (I told you it sounded dumb.) But I guess a good press secretary is one who isn't simply carrying out orders, who thinks about ways to deliver stories to reporters outside of just stating the facts and answering questions.
Toby's decision to keep CJ in the dark, though, reminded me a lot of what's happening with this current administration. Obama ran on a platform of transparency, but recently the top officials are withholding tiny details from the press, a decision I'm sure isn't coming from Robert Gibbs. Maybe he's fuming over in his little corner somewhere, calling Bradley Whitford and demanding to know why he's out of the loop; then Whitford, kindly, informs the man that he's just an actor, and that the police have been called.
Regardless, after meetings with the Chinese (for support), Pakistani, and Indian ambassadors, all seems well (and the President can actually relax and deliver his speech); thanks to Marbury's advice, America basically paid off India to withdraw, and it worked. I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of Marbury, and this can only be good.
Josh Vs. The Deposition
Josh seems like the kind of character who's good at the proportional response: If something is truly important, he gives it the proper weight; if not, he knows how to brush it off. So when he's called to testify regarding the allegations made against the White House by Lillienfield, he figures it's going to be a walk in the park—and he's proportionally frustrated with the annoyance this deposition will bring. The allegations are ridiculous, so this will surely be a waste of time.
Well, imagine his surprise when it turns out Lillienfield, or whoever, has acquired Leo's confidential records (illegally, I might add), and suddenly this routine deposition is anything but.
This is the moment where I began to see just why Aaron Sorkin cast Bradley Whitford in this role. As soon as he saw what the depositioner had in his hand, his face turned white, his expression melted, and his humor evaporated. The follow-up scene, in which Sam joins Josh to ensure things go smoothly, is what made me think Rob Lowe needs some better parts; his flippant anger towards the questioner, calling him a "no talent hack", happened so quickly. Sam isn't the deepest character, at least that we've seen so far, so Lowe's ability to dig as far down as he can, and pull up such seething, is impressive.
Both characters are so animated because they're defending their boss, the beloved Leo. And poor guy—like a little kid just told he has to go to the dentist later on, Leo's informed shortly after the deposition that the news about his past Vicodin addiction (thanks to the FDA, this'll never happen again) has leaked onto the blogs, which means the story will break tomorrow. (Ah, a simpler time, when blog news wasn't considered breaking.) He's crushed, but quietly, classily, goes through with the plan and owns up to his past.
And geez, for a guy who makes his living helping others, he sure doesn't like to be helped. His frustration towards Josh and Sam when they wanted to go to Laurie in previous episodes was one thing—he's downright furious at Sam for even suggesting that he draft the President's PR response to the incident. Then, Sam does it anyway, and Leo explodes.
(Please don't participate if you're a show veteran, but what are your thoughts on Leo thus far? He's a beloved guy, so beloved in fact. But his desire to do everything on his own is overwhelming, and I'm wondering what it's rooted in; he was angrier at Sam than when his wife left him. Thoughts?)
Now that this is all on the table, I'm sure we'll be seeing the results of it for weeks to come. But here's hoping for a flashback of some sort, between Bartlet and Leo, explaining a lot more about who Leo is and where his actions come from (think Adama and Tigh at the strip club)—besides a deep loyalty for his friend, obviously. Especially given what happens over here…
The President Vs. The Fever
It's bad enough for the President to fall ill—and I'd bet it happens often, we just don't know about it. But with the State Of The Union address coming up, and Bartlet to the point of literally fainting in his office, Bartlet's illness is even more of a stressor. Like any action movie fan who hears there's a specific amount of time before an event (deliver the speech), and one task that needs to be accomplished in that amount of time (heal), I started rooting for those white blood cells to do their thing, even hoping for some sort of House-style insert of Bartlet's blood stream, little pith-helmeted buggers "head"-butting meanies. But after the build of the first episode, and the First Lady's sudden arrival at the White House upon hearing Bartlet was ill, we get some of the biggest news thus far.
The President has multiple sclerosis.
This piece of info comes about midway through the episode, and with it carries a flood of thoughts. He's been diagnosed for seven years, and has held office during that entire time. The First Lady has been giving him "shots" (not much explanation is given), and as far as we can tell, no one, not even the President's best friend Leo, has gotten any wind of it. The man was vetted by the media and everyone all throughout his presidential campaign, and this never came up.
That's a really impressive secret to keep from America. But even more importantly, this is a huge thing that the President and his wife have been keeping from Leo. Not to say he wasn't curious—he calls out the First Lady on canceling her trip and rushing to be with her husband, for something that wouldn't be that big of a deal under normal circumstances. She eventually breaks down and tells him (great scene for Stockard Channing, and only her second so far this season), and Leo now has to wonder what else has been kept from him, and what would happen to his dear friend were word to get out. After all, Leo knows a thing or two about dealing with unwanted news leakage.
But if that beautiful final scene in "He Shall, From Time To Time…" says one thing, it's that the friendship of Jed Bartlet and Leo McGarry is one for the ages. A bit of background on that last scene: Recall that it was Josh's job to "pick a guy" ("he'll know what it means"), meaning one person has to stay behind during the State Of The Union, just in case something goes awry. This year it's the Secretary Of Agriculture, and before Bartlet delivers his speech, he has a few pieces of advice for the fellow. "Got a best friend? He smarter than you? Make him your Chief Of Staff." Perfect.
- Those ambassador chats were so short, I can't believe they came all that way just for 30 seconds of nothing.
- Ugh, Mandy wanting to take on a Republican client. Take a hint. "It's not the best time."
- CJ and Danny finally kiss, after much clumsiness. "This is… your office." I know it's meant to be cute, but could these White House guys be any more clumsy with love?
- Sam's got it down. His smooch from Leo's daughter, earned simply after she verified that he wrote the President's response to the Leo news, is my writer's dream.
- "You haven't called me Jed since I was elected."
- God, those NEA haters are the worst. Seriously, not even the fake government can raise the taxes 39 cents to support the arts? Just think of what the world would be like without Arthur Murphy!