In the nineteenth episode of the first season of The West Wing, this is it. This is that moment I have been waiting for. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
SEVEN HELLS, I HAVE REACHED THE POINT WHERE I CAN NOW PROCLAIM THAT I GREATLY ADORE THE WEST WING. LET US DISCUSS WHY.
- I think because I’ve been so open about the tropes, stories, archetypes, and styles that I’m into, y’all have been the best group of people to recommend me things to watch. It’s like I’ve given you a diary of my personal taste, and then you give me the things I need. Oh my god, I just realized that my community is basically the OKCupid of personal taste in television. RIGHT? You know who what my enemy percentage would be, you avoid recommending those things, and you instead send me perfect matches that I fall in love with. THIS IS THE BEST ANALOGY.
- (Can I also take this moment to speak frankly about OKCupid? I have had friends who have experienced success with that website, but it was the absolute worst dating site I have ever used. Not only did it routinely match me with people who I fundamentally could not stand, but it’s responsible for me going on a date with a man who, at the end of said lunch date, told me we could not see each other romantically because he â€“ and I am quoting verbatim here â€“ “only dates white people.” He went on to explain that he hoped that I turned out more “white” than Mexican when I asked why he went out on a date with someone who very publicly identified as Latino. So thanks, OKCupid. You sent me only winners.)
- Okay, so this is CLEARLY MY BEST INTRO. I feel like I’ve been entirely privileged to have such a wonderful group of people read my sites because, by and large, I’ve been recommended things I turn out to love. There has been no repeat of Mark Reads Twilight. THANKFULLY. On top of that, I feel like I generally reach a point of no return, where a show or book just grabs me and refuses to let go and then the emotions won’t stop coming.
- Here it is. “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” is my “Man On The Street” or “Prophecy Girl” or “The Storm” or every second of Nine in Doctor Who. Okay, granted, it took me a second to warm up to Doctor Who‘s sensibilities, but NINE IS SO GREAT.
- This episode, which is spectacularly bleak and grim until the final scene, managed to re-contextualize the season for me. Truthfully, the Bartlet Presidency hasn’t been all that radical, life-changing, or exuberant. Seriously, this season has shown me how the team manages to conquer crisis after crisis, but only barely. They’re keeping their heads above water. I mean, think about it! The hate crimes bill wasn’t effective enough for the parents of a man who was murdered for being gay. Bartlet did not grant a stay of execution to Simon Cruz. There have been few, if any, policies pushed through that are particularly progressive or substantive. And there have been numerous references to Bartlet’s re-election along the way. This is why everyone is so unsettled and upset by Mandy’s memo: THEY ALL KNOW IT’S TRUE.
- So what we witness over the course of forty minutes is a group of people constantly trying to deny the truth and then confirming that truth as they do so. The panic sets in when C.J. hears that there’s a piece of paper going around. Seriously, only on this show is that a big deal!
- At the same time, the President is interested in putting two commissioners on the Federal Election Commission who are for campaign finance reform, but he’s only interested in dangling his feet in the water, not gaining the ire of both parties in Congress. It’s really not at all far from the truth that FEC is always split down party lines, that critics claim it is “toothless,” and that, by and large, they really aren’t that effective at combatting fraud or corruption.
- And then, we’ve got Sam’s entire plot about his meeting with military leaders about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It was challenging to sit there and hear so much homophobic nonsense come spilling out of the mouths of these men, y’all. It’s horrifying because I have heard these very things in person since I was a child. And it’s such a battle not to internalize these messages, too! I’m so thankful for Sam’s positions, especially his vicious and necessary counters to every single point these assholes made. My god, can we just dispel a stereotype here? Straight people, most of you are not attractive to us. Stop this horrible myth that gay people cannot resist being around people of their own gender. We don’t like you.
- These three plots unfold with infuriating results. Josh discovers that the Republicans will not only reject the President’s nominees for the FEC, they’ll spend the rest of their time in Congress specifically acting to ruin the President’s life. This is especially prescient given what we’ve seen of the Republicans since Obama’s been elected. Both times, a majority of Republicans have expressed little interest in running this country and more fascination with making the President and Democrats look bad. (Which doesn’t absolve the Democrats of their failures, either. Lord, DON’T GET ME STARTED.) But this is what it’s like in my country! IT IS.
- Sam must admit that without the President taking a stand on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the issue will never go anywhere. It’ll always be a waste of time.
- And then C.J. is brutally lambasted by Danny when he reveals that he has the memo, and it’s strangely the rawest moment between the two of them. I expected that to be romantic, BUT OH MY GOD, I WAS SO WRONG. Again, the issue here is that this staff has been avoiding the truth, and it takes Danny spelling it out to C.J. for her to realize why this whole thing bothers her so much. Yeah, it sucks that it’s going to be in the news, but what is Danny supposed to do? It is news! He’s doing his job!
- As if everything here wasn’t enough, the President’s next approval poll is in: 42%. Which is abysmal. It’s as if this is the straw that shatters the camel’s back, and then steamrolls over the entire White House staff. Because what follows this is both the best-acted and most horrifying scene of The West Wing yet. As Leo and Bartlet duke it out over who is more responsible for Bartlet’s ceaseless neutrality, all I could think about was that HOLY SHIT CHARLIE IS IN THE BACKGROUND. I know, I know!!! I know I should have been paying more attention, but all I could think about was Charlie mentally shrieking, “MOM AND DAD ARE FIGHTING MAKE THEM STOP.“
- So I was thankful that Leo pointed out Charlie, using him to make a point: Charlie did not come into the White House because Bartlet was a wishy-washy pragmatist. And then I got chills, and I almost started happy crying at LET BARTLET BE BARTLET because holy shit, y’all. This episode is a clear transition to something else, something huge and scary and exciting and goddamn entertaining. What are these people going to do??? I can only imagine, but I have so much faith that if anyone can change the world from that building, it’s these characters. We have spent this season watching them, and I feel like I’ve got a great understanding about what they care for. Public schools, gay rights, racism, the vilification of the poor, the importance of sex education. Sure, this show really is an American liberal’s fantasy, but I don’t care. I mean, my politics are far more radical and left-leaning than anyone on the show, so it’s not like this is my ideal dream. But here we have a group of people who deeply care about the United States, and they’ve just been let off their leashes.
- I AM SO EXCITED, Y’ALL.
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