In the fifth episode of the first season of The West Wing, Toby and Josh both struggle with information about their positions in the White House. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
You know, before I get to discussing Toby and Josh or freaking out about Ron Swanson being on The West Wing, I just have to say: I love that a huge focus on this show is character development. For a serialized drama, The West Wing is far more concerned with character continuity than plot, and I LOVE THAT. Yes, yes, character development is my favorite thing in the world after puppies, so I know that no one is surprised about this. But I wanted to bring this up because it’s a damn fine way for a show to keep me interested and engaged. And I am! I’m enjoying this on top of appreciating the fact that no show I’ve ever seen is quite like this.
Anyway, let’s talk about Toby and Josh.
I like Toby, and I’m fascinated by his zest to hate everything around him. I have joked about him a few times in past reviews, but I do like his character, so I appreciated the fact that we finally got to step inside his head in “The Crackpots and These Women.” More than ever before, he’s able to irritate Bartlet to the point that their press conference meeting turns into a shouting match. Toby is not exactly one to back down, so I understand that the President often feels like Toby doesn’t know when to stop. The meeting ends on a bad note, and I could tell that Toby was taking this personally. But why? Why did this upset him so much?
It all comes down to self-worth, which this episode explores in two different ways. Toby worries that he’s not perceived well by his peers, especially the President. Plus, Bartlet later brings up the fact that he feels he disappoints Toby too often, so the tension between the two of them is mutual, though it’s for two different reasons. Mandy only exacerbates this when she reveals that Toby wasn’t Bartlet’s first choice as Communications Director. He explains how he feels to C.J.: He’s the kid in class with his hand up who no one wants to get the answer right. Like I said, this is how he perceives himself, and it’s not until Bartlet assures him this isn’t the case that he’s able to feel better. Bartlet and Toby’s conversation during the chili party is remarkably touching, and I could tell Bartlet fiercely respected Toby. He was glad that he was wrong about Rosen, that Toby was the Communications Director. Toby needed to hear that.
My god, WHAT A GREAT STORY. Josh is largely the focus of “The Crackpots and These Women.” After receiving a special card from the National Security Council that would give him access to Air Force One or an underground bunker during a nuclear attack, he’s beset by what I thought was a wave of paranoia and fear. Sure, he felt guilt about Donna not getting a card, but it wasn’t until he found out that Sam didn’t have one either that he began to panic.
I was completely blown away by the reveal of why Josh was reacting to this card so seriously. I figured that Josh’s impulsive visit to his therapist had to be caused by something. His paranoia was guilt. It wasn’t just because his friends and colleagues didn’t get the card. Because he survived the fire that killed his sister by running out of the burning house, he refuses to do the same thing to his friends. And look, that’s what these people are! This is not a show about a haphazard group of employees who are forced to work with one another. It’s not The Office. These people suffered and toiled together to get Bartlet elected, and now they’re helping him get through his presidency. They are friends. So how does Josh cope with the fact that he was just given a card that allows him to run out of the burning building scot free again?
He gives the card back. Like C.J. says at one point, sometimes, Josh can be very sweet. I agree, and he’s a big sweetheart in this episode.
Big Blocks of Cheese
Aside from some fantastic character development for Toby and Josh, this is a really funny episode about chili, U.F.O.s, and wolf highways. Oh my god, wolf highways is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. HOW WOULD THEY READ THE SIGNS? Oh my god, wolf off-ramps. I am SO DONE. SO DONE. And the best part about this is that I bet Aaron Sorkin didn’t even make this up. I’m sure someone pitched something equally absurd to the White House before.
Anyway, I had a blast with this episode, especially since it was rather light on the emotions and tension. And now I’ve met Zoey! When do I get to meet Mrs. Bartlet? DON’T TELL ME. I think that it was also pretty damn awesome that the end of “The Crackpots and These Women” was one giant love letter to the women of the White House. Amen to that, Leo. They’re consistently the best part of this show, too.
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