"Take Out The Trash Day"
The staffers talk a lot about sex in this episode. Or rather, as Sam puts it, "everything but." (It's in the context of a bill being proposed in Congress to hire 100,000 new teachers, but only if they teach abstinence-only education; the White House, though, is trying to get a compromise with what they call "abstinence plus," hence Sam's comment.) But the interesting thing about "Take Out The Trash Day" is not hearing the President read from the bill out loud—though it's pretty entertaining—but how it touches, ever so subtlely, on the gender roles in the White House, and how those roles manifest themselves into the characters' jobs.
Not surprisingly, this one is mostly a CJ-centric episode—both for the aforementioned commentary, and for the sheer amount of things happening at once (she is the information conduit, after all). In just a few days, the President is going to introduce a bill that would include gay bashing in the list of hate crimes. The media is abuzz about the legislation, but mostly because the Lidells, parents of a recently murdered gay youth, are slated to be there to answer reporter's questions. There's talk the family will bail, but CJ assures everyone that, yes, they will be present.
Mandy, though, has serious concerns. The father seems withdrawn, distant—something is clearly wrong. Mandy thinks it's because he doesn't support the President's bill, but the rest of the staff minus CJ, who meet in the President's office to discuss, have another theory: That the father is forced to appear on behalf of his deceased gay son, who he's secretly ashamed of. All the men in the room agree, look at each other, and exchange knowing glances; then they peer, with a look that says, "You are from Venus," over at CJ, confused as hell and flustered by this sudden gang-up.
Then there's the scene between all the key staffers' assistants. A bit of backstory: During that first press conference, the writers (okay, Danny specifically) had asked CJ about the validity behind this little "advance guy" story. From what I could gather from quick research, the guy's job is to travel ahead of the President or VP to scout out things he is going to do, to make sure they're, um, doable. The problem with this guy is that he used to eat fancy meals and see weirdo plays the President would have no interest in eating/doing; now he works for the Vice President, and apparently had a military jet wait for four hours while he played a round of golf. Waste of tax payer's dollars, for sure.
Anyways, the point is that someone leaked the story to the press, and one of the assistants has a good feeling she knows who it is: a young staffer named Carrie. That's the gist of the scene, which involves all the assistants standing around, questioning the validity of the claim and what to do with the newly garnered info. (Except Mrs. Landingham, who's classy all the way.) But the nature of the scene is almost secondary; for the first time since starting The West Wing, I was painfully aware of the fact that all these assistants are women. There was the whole "these women" speech a few weeks ago, but here are all of those women, serving as assistants to the veritable boys club of higher politics.
Like the previous scene with CJ and the President's men, this one isn't necessarily about gender; but it certainly resonated around gender themes, much like the inevitable confrontation between CJ, Mandy, and the Lidell family. After just a few seconds, it becomes clear that the mother is in support of the new legislation, but the dad has major reservations. So CJ asks him pretty point-blank whether or not he's ashamed of his son. His response is surprising: He supports the law, whatever, but he's furious the President isn't the kind of guy who would fight hard for gay rights. "I'm not ashamed of my son," he says, in his proudest display of fatherhood, "my government is."
One of the recurring themes of The West Wing seems to be the power of the individual—as thrilling as it is to watch these guys talk policy and strategy, it's always the personal moments that ring the most… political. "We can all be better teachers," CJ says to the President at the end, after her meeting with the Lidells. Role models, really.
But we haven't even gotten to Leo yet, who comes off as the only real teacher in the White House. Throughout the episode, people are pissing him off. First the President berates him for taking up council from Simon, a journalist whom Leo has a longstanding relationship with; then Simon tells Leo that the President is blinded by friendship, and that Leo should resign. (The ensuing scene shows the depths of Leo's anger, having him take down Simon for tracking down a story that'll score the writer more time on the talk show circuit.) Then, strangely enough, he gets upset that the girl who gave his personnel file to Claypool was fired—so bad that he invites her into his office for a chat. He wants to know what went through her mind when she read he was an alcoholic; she thought of her absentee father. By all accounts, he should be furious at this woman, but he pours himself out to this girl, and even gives her a job back. ("The problem is that I don't want to have a drink—I want to have 10 drinks." "Why?" "Because I'm an alcoholic.") In an episode with a gender role undertone, this Leo-as-father-figure button was perfect.
- Gee. Mrs. Landingham can be snippy at times.
- The President eventually decides to table the abstinence plus bill for a year, which is the time when the House Appropriations Committee can do something against Leo. I'm guessing the Prez wants to bury the story about Leo with this new bill, but I'm not too sure.
- 15 pens, dotting i's, crossing t's
- "Pages 27-33: a couple things every girl should know."
- Sam is a conversation lingerer, which is fine so long as this happens often: "We never have our chats anymore, Toby. Our late night chats." "Did we ever do that?" "[Pauses, hangs head] No."
- It's not as big as the other stuff, but Toby's defense of PBS is the kind of thing out-of-touch, by-the-numbers politicians would overlook.
- "Dot i's, thanks for that." "We do our homework." "You misspelled 'senator.' "
"Take This Sabbath Day"
So no "Previously on The West Wing" this time, which means that "Take This Sabbath Day" is probably supposed to be a standalone episode, to lure new fans into the fold who may not have been there from the beginning. I'm not 100 percent sure about that, but regardless this was one of only four episodes that didn't feature the opening segment, and for what it's worth, it feels as close to a typical West Wing episode as I can figure out so far—a lot like the pilot, in many ways.
We open on the Supreme Court on Friday night, where a man (Simon Cruz) has just been sentenced to death. His lawyer, Bobby Zane (played by Noah Emmerich, who it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember was the best friend on The Truman Show), knows he only has the weekend to get the sentence overturned—the courts don't execute people on the Sabbath, a strange holdover rule from back when religion played a strong part in government… oh, those times were so long ago. So Zane needs to speak to somebody in the White House, and he only knows Sam Seaborn, a kid he used to beat up in grade school. The call is placed.
Meanwhile, over at the office, people are scrambling to get out for the weekend—and they want to have an honest-to-God, work-free one at that. Josh has a bachelor party; Toby has temple; Sam has a sailing race to attend. But as usual, these guys, especially Sam, are having trouble tearing themselves away from the office, and Sam winds up taking Zane's call and meeting him down at the courthouse. Then something that's fairly typical in The West Wing happens: Sam hears about the case, wonders where it says the government should be taking people's lives, and passes that thought on to someone else; he then tells Toby (whose Shabbat services were hijacked by Zane to talk about how "vengeance is not Jewish"), who at first is defensive of the notion that they can do anything, thinks about it, then decides to take action. And so forth, and so forth, until it gets all the way up to the President.
I mentioned in the previous episode that this show reveals personal takes on politics in such a deft way, it's hard to look away. That's certainly the case here, as each member of the White House staff start to question whether they have the right to take a life, whether it's the policy or not. But here, the voices of reason come mostly in the form of religious leaders: Toby and his rabbi, for starters, then the deus ex machina of sorts found in the President's former pastor. Like in the pilot when Bartlet comes in right at the end to talk some sense into the religious nuts, this was the opposite: the pastor tells Bartlet that killing is a sin, and that there have been plenty of ways Bartlet could have gotten out of this case. God gave him multiple outs, he ignored them, and now Bartlet just sits there, tormented. (Strangely, the pastor's recommendations were all religious, meaning the President would have to be all God-y with the American people—but I guess pre-Bush, that wasn't as cowardly a stance.)
The episode enjoyed a nice build, and provided an unexpected, personal window into a government issue—and found itself at a somewhat unsatisfying, curious conclusion. Those tuning in for the first time during season one were greeted with a treat.
- Wonderful stuff with new girl Joey Lucas: The storming in on Josh, sweaty, shirtless, and hungover in his office (my new nightmare is to awake to a person signing in my face while their translator screams at me); her persistence in seeing the President, only to have Bartlet call her congressman an "empty shirt"; the look on her face when Josh tells her she should run for office, and that she'd have the full support of the executive branch. Looking forward to more Joey Lucas. (I keep wanting to type Joey Lawrence… eh?)
- "She's our communications director."
- Charlie: "It… was quite a trip."