Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S01E20 – Mandatory Minimums

In the twentieth episode of the first season of The West Wing, the White House team gears up for a very nasty and frustrating battle with the Republican leadership over the President’s FEC nominations. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Oh my god, I AM SO INTO THIS.


Well, it’s the start of it, at least. God, it’s so invigorating that this episode picks up immediately from “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” It’s emotionally satisfying as well because the final moment of that episode carries such a massive dramatic weight, and then we’re shown that this absolutely matters. The President kept to his word, and the entire staff has been let off their collective leash. IT IS ELECTRIFYING TO WATCH. Hell, the President announces his nominations for the FEC at a random speech. IT WASN’T EVEN THE TOPIC AT HAND. The team is that willing to upset the other side, to shift the momentum to their side, and to show everyone that they mean business.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t without its complications. C.J. knew that this was going to be chaos for her, but she initially took this all in stride. You know, aside from her gaffe about the President’s legal obligations, I thought she did very well. She used just the right amount of confidence and sass, and it was a pleasure to watch. It was right around that time in the episode where it was clear that this wouldn’t be easy at all. Danny is snubbed by C.J. – very publicly, I might add – as a punishment for him pursuing the story about Mandy’s memo. Mandy herself is asked to step out of a political strategy meeting because Leo isn’t “comfortable” with her. And while I understand why C.J. and Leo acted the way they did here, I felt they made the situation far more personal than it needed to be. That’s why I was happy that Bartlet very plainly stated that both people were just doing their jobs. That’s the truth! What were they supposed to do? Not do their jobs? And at what cost?

Sam also experiences a bit of the fallout from the White House’s dramatic moves. That comes in the form of Steve Onorato, who we had the pleasure of meeting in the previous episode. I admit that I could not possibly guess why he was so obsessed with talking to Sam instead of Josh aside from the fact that he just wanted to annoy Sam. Which… okay, so we’re talking about elementary playground techniques. Fine. I believe that. But I was shocked that Onorato admitted that there was a chance for a possible future in which his party would work with the White House on revising the federal drug policy. Why was the FEC so important to the Republicans? Why not bring this to Josh, who is clearly the point man on this? So, yes, I was very surprised when Josh and Toby (whilst laughing!) reveal to Sam that Onorato is trying to set him up. SO THAT HE CAN DESTROY HIM WITH THE NEWS THAT SAM DATED LAURIE. Great. GREAT. That’s going to be a fun plot. My only hope is that Sam doesn’t take the bait and allow himself to become a target. Please? I’m mostly concerned for Laurie. I don’t want her to become the target for people like Onorato.

The writers also casually reveal that Toby was once married. Like, I genuinely can’t remember if this was ever brought up before! It might have been said in passing and I just missed it. But not only do we find out that Toby is divorced, but we meet his wife, Congresswoman Andy Wyatt. Yeah, can she come back? A lot? Because she is great, and her constant need to poke fun at Toby gives me life. Is it weird that I enjoy watching Toby be miserable? I can’t help it! It’s so beautiful! Anyway, it’s through this that the writers bring up something totally unexpected: the fact that mandatory minimum sentencing is racist. Initially, I was confused about what position Sam wanted the White House to take and was pleased that he wanted to stop persecuting one group over the others. And seriously, I firmly believe that the prosecution of crack cocaine over powder is inherently racist. There’s no way around it in my mind. Oh god, this fictional presidency is tapping into my radical liberal fantasies, and it’s not fair. Why don’t we have more people like this in the government?

But that’s why this is an idealized version of the truth, as if this is what the writers wished would happen more often. I mean, come on, that entire scene where Leo pulls in the various aids to members of Congress, and reminds them all that their bosses all benefited from a treatment vs. incarceration drug policy. IT’S SO BOLD. (And I’ll agree with Andy: It is super fun to watch.) And it’s the truth! White, upper-class drug users are not as prone to ridiculous, absurd sentences for the same crime. That’s just the sad, terrifying truth in our country. And it’s exciting to see these people go after this. I am extremely excited for the next few episodes, y’all.


THE FLIRTING IS SO CUTE. IT’S ENDLESSLY ADORABLE. Oh wow, I did not expect this wave o’ feelings for Josh and Joey, but there it is. I can’t deny it anymore. I’m also way into the fact that both Donna and Charlie have their bit of fun at Josh’s expense. Basically, when Josh or Toby are the butt of a joke? That’s a good day. That’s a good day in this show. But I’m really enjoying the fact that these two seem so well-suited to one another, and I’m particularly overjoyed that Joey Lucas now has an office INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE. Which means she’ll be around all the time. MY WISH ACTUALLY CAME TRUE. HALLELUJAH.

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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!
I have announced what the next books I am reading on Mark Reads will be, as well as updated y’all on the events, cons, tour dates, GOING TO EUROPE OH MY GOD, and general shenaniganry going on in my life. I have a similar post up on Mark Watches, detailing the next two shows I’m doing as well as the return of Double Features, and I finally explain what happened with my Vimeo account. Check these posts out!
- Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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