In the seventh episode of the first season of The West Wing, everything is a disaster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Oh god, let’s get into this.
I kind of wish this character would have been introduced with any other storyline aside from the one we’re getting because it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to enjoy Sam at all. In short, Sam’s development in “The State Dinner” essentially portrays him as a manchild. No, seriously, he has a temper tantrum for the entirety of this episode because he doesn’t like someone else’s job. Granted, Sam’s behavior is rooted in a whole lot of mistruth and misinformation about escort work. Oh, and misogyny. Like, he genuinely believes that he knows better about Laurie’s life than she does! He knows better than her so much that he offers to buy her out of her own work night. Which… lord, he is so dense and self-centered that he doesn’t even recognize the hypocrisy and irony present in the very act. Look, Sam, I assure you that Laurie is an adult and knows way more about being an escort or a sex worker BECAUSE SHE IS ONE AND YOU ARE NOT. It’s quite literally that simple!
I hope this show moves on from this plot line because I’m already tired of it.
Oh, I’m so glad C.J. exists, and I’m so glad Allison Janney exists. She’s so perfect for this role! THIS IS CANON, I SWEAR. Anyway, the cold open is a brilliant way to demonstrate just how absurd and glaring misogyny in media is. The reporters want to know more about what the First Lady is wearing more than anything the woman might have to say. And C.J. is forced to oblige, to rattle off one label and designer after another, despite that she has no interest in doing so.
It’s through this that things get weird. Danny hits on C.J. It’s weird, first of all, because he is a reporter assigned to work on the White House. At one point, C.J. vocalizes her confusion: Is he flirting with her because he’s a reporter looking for a new story, or is he doing it out of genuine interest? And that’s a totally fair question for her to ask! Her role is confusing enough as it is, and now Danny’s hitting on her? I do like that this ends on a positive note, though, hinting that she is perhaps interested in him, too. GET IT, C.J. GET IT.
Josh is not far behind Sam in the “adult manchild” category, though I at least enjoy him as a character. For the first half of “The State Dinner,” he’s acting jealous and childish towards Mandy as the President integrates her more and more into daily activities at the White House. Dude, she dated you, she doesn’t anymore, you should move on. Your annoyance is ridiculous! Mandy clearly knows her shit, she is incredibly well-spoken, and the President enjoys her thoughts. It’s not going to suit you to hold on to this in the future.
For Mandy, though, the second half of this episode concerns how she must cope with the reality of what she’s doing. Solely because I have been talking a whole lot of meta about A Song of Ice and Fire, I saw Mandy’s story as one that’s similar to Sansa. Mandy was quite eager to join the team, to have a part in things, to be seen as an equal. And while she’s certainly not naïve enough to believe that this would happen overnight, I don’t think she ever really thought about what the ramifications of her beliefs would be. I didn’t feel like the script condemned Mandy’s position; if anything, it was probably the best choice in the situation, one that is validated by the President’s agreement. What I saw this as was a chance for Mandy to realize that her decisions concern human lives. If she’s going to survive in the White House, she has to be able to cope with the fact that what she might fight for could end terribly for someone else.
It’s interesting, then, how this is paralleled with Bartlet’s own journey in this episode. I loved the chance to meet the First Lady, who is a gloriously feisty and energetic woman. It’s clear that Bartlet looks to her for support. At the end of this episode, we see how she chides him gently for trying to fix everything. It’s in that moment that I saw a connection between Bartlet and Mandy: Both were trying to change the world regardless of the cost. Mandy didn’t know that the negotiator would be shot. Bartlet didn’t know that the hurricane would change course. This is a story about how reality comes back to rear its painful head, so that makes Mrs. Bartlet the wise sage. There are certain things we cannot fix in our own lives, and recognizing them is the quickest way we can let go of them.
Which brings me to the last batch of characters!
Donna, NO. I like you, but NO. I was already shaking my head once she started yammering on about colloquial practices of people native to Indonesia, but instead of just making that mistake once, she kept on going. Donna. SHUT. UP. But what happens after this initial bout of racism is evidence of Mr. Bambang’s ultimate point: These people are racist, imperialist hypocrites who don’t recognize when they’ve gone too far. Donna doesn’t realize that spending all her time obsessing about a horrifically xenophobic detail that probably wasn’t even true meant that she’d be distracted from realizing that MR. BAMBANG SPOKE ENGLISH. If Toby had spent five seconds thinking about the social context upon which he’d use a toast to tell another country how to act, he might have realized that the Indonesian government would be gloriously offended. Both characters put themselves first in this case. Donna puts her own safety and well-being over the importance of her job. Toby puts his own ego and his misguided sense of international affairs over common decency.
And both of these characters are (rightly) punished by the text for what they’ve done. They’re embarrassed swiftly and viciously, and Mr. Bambang himself delivers a scathing rejection towards Josh and Toby, one that calls out the United States’ constant hypocrisy in the world. God, that line of Mr. Bambang’s – regarding our own history of genocide – gave me life, y’all. Just like Mrs. Bartlet said, we cannot hide or paint over our past. It must exist out in the open. And Toby and Donna needed to be reminded of that.
Also, way to end this episode on the saddest note yet. Hell.
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Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
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