Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S02E06 – The Lame Duck Congress

In the sixth episode of the second season of The West Wing, the team ponders a possible recall of the Senate for an important nuclear test-ban treaty while also dealing with a very drunk member of the Ukranian Parliament. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Even when this show doesn’t accelerate the plot at a million miles per hour, it’s still a quality show, and that’s downright awesome to me.

Heads up: As I’m sure you have seen by the title, I have to use the word “lame,” which can be an ableist slur, to refer to this political process. I’ll try to limit my use below, but it appears a few times.

  • This episode really succeeds because it shows us that the team can’t always win. They have to cut their losses and realize when something is fruitless. And throughout this, we get some fascinating insights into their characters, too!
  • So, after Danny suggests it, the White House pursues a possible lame duck Senate session to help pass a nuclear test-ban treaty. Through this, we get another chance to experience an aspect of the United States government that isn’t exactly well-known, despite that it’s more common than most people think. It’s a risky maneuver, especially since the Republicans had so many wins during the midterm elections, but it might be a risk worth taking if the team can secure the right amount of votes. It’s important, then, that Bartlet later points out that what they’re all doing is far more indicative of a republic than a democracy. Which then got me thinking about all the research Sorkin and company would have to do to even write this episode, as it’s a rather complicated version of the truth. They don’t sugarcoat or simplify this shit for the viewers, you know?
  • The first act also introduces two key plot items: Danny’s request for a feature on the President and Leo’s insistence that the team start summarizing everything they want to bring to the President, which is done in the hopes of organizing the place.
  • I don’t think C.J. is totally off-base in her distaste for the Washington Post after the paper ran four editorials in four weeks disparaging the White House and the staff, though taking it out on Danny isn’t exactly the best idea. It’s a good thing that Leo and Bartlet disagree with her on this because it isn’t Danny’s fault that those editorials happened, and there’s no harm in giving him access. However, I was far more interested in Bartlet’s comments about C.J.’s relationship with Danny because I HAD NO IDEA HE KNEW. WHAT THE HELL. Well, I suppose he knows a lot more than he lets on, but still.
  • And then there’s that last-minute reveal that Danny turned down an editorial job so he could stay as a White House reporter. C.J. was kind of disappointed that she wouldn’t have a chance to date Danny because of this! Oh gods, will they ever get a chance to actually date?
  • Anyway, there are a lot of small details and moments in this episode that are lovely. I love when Donna gets some idea in her head and obsesses over it, and it’s adorable, AND THEN IT PAYS OFF IN THIS EPISODE! Well, only tangentially, I suppose. She gets to distract Vasily Konanov! Also, I haven’t known someone who has gotten carpal tunnel in years. My mom had it when I was a kid, and she had this really intense surgery for it, and she had to wear a brace for a long time. But she got better! That’s awesome!
  • That’s the end of that anecdote that really has no point. Sorry, I just wanted to talk about it.
  • I AM SO HAPPY THAT AINSLEY HAYES HAS BEEN IN THREE EPISODES IN A ROW. Oh my god, her inclusion here is BRILLIANT, and I will forever enjoy all of her appearances in the future. Sam ropes her in to Leo’s new rule requiring them all to summarize everything they’re bringing to the President. However, she’s clever enough to get Sam to do something for her, too: take her to his meetings at the Hill. I love that she’s so willing to learn, to experience new things at her job, and she is so perfectly Slytherin that I can’t handle it. SHE IS SUCH A SLYTHERIN, ISN’T SHE?
  • Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that Ainsley is A M A Z I N G at the meeting, shutting down the condescending assholes who have missed an opportunity to get what they want. She is fierce, and I love that she uses the horrible way people treat her as a weapon against these dudes. IT’S AWESOME. But the real surprise comes when she reverses Sam’s opinion in the summary he asked her to do. Initially, it seems like an arrogant, bold thing to do, though I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. What’s so incredible about this is that she actually changes Sam’s mind. Sam’s mind was changed by Ainsley Hayes. That’s a big enough deal as it is, but it’s also significant because Ainsley realizes that she can change things. She came into this as if it were a rhetorical exercise, and she didn’t expect her actions to affect much of anything. So it’s neat to see that moment where she comes to understand what she’s done.
  • I just really like Ainsley Hayes, y’all.
  • Oh my god, Vasily Kovanov. What a mess! Interestingly enough, he does get what he wanted by the end of the episode, doesn’t he? He gets to meet with the President. I love that Bartlet barely hides the fact that the whole thing was orchestrated. Bless him.
  • Toby’s meeting with Senator Marino is indicative of what democratic politics can be like. Marino spent years fighting for a bill that he believed was moral, and it cost him his seat because his opponent used it to weaken his image. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of the game, isn’t it? It can be frustrating at times, and I don’t know that I personally trust the general public to vote for what is best, to vote with an informed mind, or to vote for anything other than their own self interests. At the same time, I don’t even know what I would do to counter that.
  • Can I also say that I love that Bartlet is friends with his staff? Like, he invites Toby to the residence to smoke a cigar, and he doesn’t have to. If you’ve been following me blogging through all of Tamora Pierce’s books, you know that I have a thing for characters becoming friends. It’s one of my favorite things in the world, after cookies. And I really love cookies. So it’s nice to know that the President can concede a possible defeat and still keep his sense of humor and goodwill towards his staff.
  • I really like this show, everyone. A lot.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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