Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S01E06 – Mr. Willis of Ohio

In the sixth episode of the first season of The West Wing, President Bartlet must re-evaluate his daughter’s security detail as Toby meets the purest voter of his life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Yep, this was the best episode I’ve seen so far. BRILLIANCE.

  • I know I mentioned it before, but I have to say this again: I love that these people are friends, and that this is established immediately in the show’s canon. They have poker nights, and they clearly care about one another. It’s a reason for me to care about them and to care about any conflict they have with one another. Simply put, it’s good writing.
  • I was worried about the person jumping the White House fence for the wrong reason. Initially, I thought that this would be the framing device for the whole episode. Wait‚Ķ it was, but not for the reason I thought it would be. It was also weird to realize that this was just their lives. This is what they have to deal with. Then it made me really sad for the Obamas because holy shit, they get so many threats all the time. ūüôĀ
  • “Is it still in print?” I COULDN’T HELP IT I HAD TO LAUGH.
  • I’ve noticed something Sorkin’s scripts do that tickles my fancy. He’ll often have a character bring up a topic in conversation, and then have it cleverly come back into focus long after the subject has died. I loved the running joke that Donna was angry about taxes (and loved Josh’s explanation of partisan tax ideologies!), so she then took the change from the sandwiches at the end of the episode because she didn’t trust Josh with the extra money. LOVE IT. Also, Donna rules, I don’t care.
  • So, it wasn’t until we found out that the woman who jumped the fence was going after Zoey that this episode took a far different turn. Again, “Mr. Willis of Ohio” explicitly addresses the fact that President Bartlet and his family can’t truly have a normal life.
  • AND THEN WE GET TO THE TITULAR CHARACTER, AND THIS EPISODE JUST BECOMES INCREDIBLE. I love what Mr. Willis represents here: He is not partisan. He is not here with an ulterior motive. He’s not in that room because he wants to waste time. He came to vote for his wife, who unfortunately passed away, and he gives Toby an experience that’ll last him a lifetime. As I said in the introduction, he is a pure voter, someone who genuinely wanted to do what he thought was best for other people and the country, and was unattached to the labyrinthine machine that is American politics. HE LISTENED TO ARGUMENTS AND CHOSE TO VOTE BASED ON WHAT WAS THE MOST LOGICAL CONCLUSION. Oh god, I love Mr. Willis, and I know he won’t show up again, but he was such a great character.
  • I also loved that this episode featured C.J. saying, “I don’t know what this is,” and that Sam responded by refusing to make fun of her for it. It’s awesome, and it’s also a great mini-lesson about the importance of the census. Oh god, can this show address the perils of gerrymandering? That would be great. I mean, Sam openly talks about why the census is flawed, especially when it comes to marginalized folk like the poor, the homeless, and immigrants/migrant workers.
  • Hey, let’s get back to feelings. Leo’s wife wants a divorce, and as much as he doesn’t want to accept it, it’s the reality he is faced with. Mallory makes that clear. This isn’t going to blow over. She’s unhappy, and she’s going to part ways with Leo. It doesn’t help that when Leo finally tells Bartlet, Bartlet brushes him off, insisting that he can just fix it. Mr. President‚Ķ um, I don’t think that’s the case here.
  • Thankfully, this episode also features President Bartlet admitting he was being a fool, and he apologizes to Leo for doing so. At this point, Leo just needs support. I got the sense that he, too, has finally accepted that he can’t win his wife back. Thankfully, he’s not fighting with her either. So‚Ķ I guess it’s really happening.
  • There are multiple ways you could read the final act of “Mr. Willis of Ohio.” First of all, it’s a vehicle for Bartlet’s justified paranoia. After a random woman bizarrely targeted Zoey in the cold open, now she’s the victim of a group of racist, homophobic, and sexist assholes who refuse to let her leave the bar counter. It of course triggers the worst in him, and his nightmare scenario is way overboard. Well, I don’t mean that it’s unrealistic. It’s just that he decides to dump this horrifying hypothetical on his daughter when she’s concerned about having a somewhat normal experience at Georgetown. I’m glad he apologizes for yelling at her. Still, that’s the reality of their lives! People will target the Presidency, and he has to worry about that.
  • At the same time, I loved that this plot also focused on the fact that Charlie thought he didn’t fit in. He asks Josh if the patrons of the bar they’re at can figure out that he never went to college. And while his coworkers do their best to try to make him feel welcome, the three assholes at the bar go ahead and prove them wrong. (Including Eric Balfour???) Within seconds, they reduce Charlie to his race, and then use a homophobic slur to insult him. I admit it was hard to hear, but I was so proud that Charlie refused to back down. (And Josh was quick to point that out to Bartlet later.) The thing is, Charlie doesn’t fit in with the Georgetown crowd, but he does belong on the White House staff. He’s more than qualified, he’s brilliant, and he demonstrated that he cares deeply about the people he works with. And their daughters.
  • I love Charlie, y’all.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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