Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S01E04 – Five Votes Down

In the fourth episode of the first season of The West Wing, Leo and Josh discover the cost of securing five votes to get a guns bill passed. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Oh shit, this is great, and wow, IT GOT SAD REAL QUICK.

  • Bartlet is a great orator. Like, really good.
  • This particular episode is both the saddest and the funniest so far, and it’s kind of amazing to me that both extremes exist side-by-side. Like, in the opening scene, the characters are cracking jokes about Sam and Toby’s contributions to the President’s speech while we’re learning that the very thing he’s pushing for just lost five critical votes.
  • Let “Five Votes Down” act as a clever lesson in American politics: This is actually how a lot of bills are passed. I remember when I first learned in junior high that it wasn’t as simple as people voting for what they believed in, I was kind of crushed.
  • So, this episode takes two plots and runs them side by side: Leo and Josh go after the five votes that have suddenly jumped to the other side while C.J. does her best to use the staff’s financial disclosure report to distract the press so that the President never catches wind of the fact that his bill is in trouble of not getting passed. The former is deeply unfunny (and, at times, unsettling), while the financial disclosure report provides a whole lot of humor to “Five Votes Down.”
  • Yeah, who knew that meeting Mrs. McGarry for the first time would come along with a story about tolerance within a marriage? Thankfully, the writers don’t demonize Mrs. McGarry for the choice she makes, despite how much if affects Leo. I mean, the dude forgot his wife’s anniversary.
  • But we’ll get to that in a bit. As serious as the issue facing Toby is, it’s actually played comedically, which is kind of brilliant. I am convinced that in the entirety of The West Wing, I am going to see Toby Ziegler smile once. If that. The man seems to live off of being an angry grouch, and it’s kind of the most beautiful thing imaginable??? Clearly, the rest of his staff plays off of him, which leads me to believe he was actually telling the truth about the stock he invested in. I bet it was a matter of an unfortunate coincidence, not a calculated (and very illegal) move.
  • Watching Josh go about to secure four of the five votes he needs is fascinating because he is good at his job. He knows how to bluff, he’s great at improvisation, and he understands the gravity of what he does. As I said in the opening of this post, this all demonstrates the intense and complicated process that is a part of the United States government. (Actually, I’m sure this happens elsewhere, but I don’t want to presume to know how foreign governments operate on a social level.) It’s a portrait of the money, influence, power, and control that makes up the fabric of our country’s lawmaking. I’ll be interested to see how The West Wing integrates lobbyists into the fabric of the show, because that is fascinating, too. (And terrifying. Oh god, it can be so scary.)
  • In particular, Congressman Chris Wick serves as a great reminder of how frustrating and absurd lawmaking can agree. The guy changed his vote to get the White House’s attention. In any other context, he’d be seen as a whiny, petulant child. But this is par for the course!
  • On the other side of the coin, we see how the White House is concerned more with image and strength than genuine concern at times. It’s why Congressmen Mark Richardson smacks Leo down so hard. It’s not that Richardson doesn’t want gun control, but he recognizes the bill as a weak attempt to do anything significant. On top of that, Leo tries to act as an authoritarian on the wave of violence that the nation’s poor and black face, and Richardson rightly smacks down this gross attempt at racist concern trolling. Leo got what he deserved here.
  • And so, Leo must unfortunately meet with Vice President Hoynes, who we know he doesn’t particularly care for. We don’t know why, and ultimately, we don’t even find out! That’s partially because Leo’s plans are derailed when he comes home to find out his wife has had enough. She’s leaving him.  While the scene with Mrs. McGarry earlier in the episode definitely foreshadowed that the two were having marriage problems, I didn’t expect this to be escalated so quickly. God, I think it’s more heartbreaking that Leo doesn’t even fight for his wife to stay. He knows she’s right. He knows that he will always make time for the President, but not for her, at least not now.
  • Even more surprising than this? Hoynes’s reaction to this. What the hell? There is no animosity or tension between the Vice President and Leo. In fact, they’re quite chummy with one another! What the fuck??? I thought they hated one another!
  • I’m guessing that Hoynes saw a chance to boost his appeal in the hopes that it’ll positively affect his chance at the Presidency later in his life. That’s how it comes off to other Democrats, and he says as much when he has breakfast with Tillingham.
  • “Five Episodes Down” also reveals that both Hoynes and Leo have a past with alcoholism; perhaps this is how they initially met and became friends. So why the tension in the past episode? What happened? At the very least, Hoynes does do a good thing for Leo: He gives him access to a private A.A. meeting he hosts in his residence. That was nice of him.
  • Oh god, this is a great episode, the writing is fantastic, and John Spencer’s acting is brilliant. YET I CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE PRESIDENT BARTLET’S DRUG TRIP SCENE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. Oh my god, it’s fucking amazing. He hugs Toby! Toby looks like he’s going to die! I couldn’t deal with C.J. trying not to laugh, either.

Bless this show. Bless it!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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