In the ninth episode of the second season of The West Wing, a number of events test the President’s patience surrounding a probe sent to Mars. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
I love this show and these characters, and it just made me cry about space. AND I DON’T CARE.
I’m fascinated with Sam’s characterization as a super genius speech writer who’s incredibly confident about a number of things and how this is contrasted with his portrayal as… a teenage boy? Which doesn’t mean that teenage boys are universally awful. It’s just that most of us were. IT’S TRUE. WE WERE. He just devolves when it comes to women, and while things started out in a more irritating manner, now it’s just fun to watch the women in his life troll the hell out of him. Terrified by the news that Mallory will be at a concert that he is attending, he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he hasn’t spoken to Mallory since photos were leaked of him with Laurie. Which… well, at least the show is acknowledging that this relationship fizzled out and was ignored! So when Mallory does approach Sam, he immediately launches into a defensive mode, which backfires in about five seconds. Maybe less time. I dunno, someone time that shit. It’s fast. The thing is, while Mallory was upset with Sam, she was trying to come to him and tell him not to worry. Whoops. Maybe you shouldn’t have picked a fight right off the bat, dude! Of course, then that inspires Mallory to goad Sam on, which is always pleasant to watch. So does this mean we’ll see these two together again in a future episode? Perhaps! Who knows? Y’all do. I know nothing.
While there is a reason this story is part of a larger narrative, it’s also a nice chance to see Donna and Josh interact. Who knew that hearing them talk about how stamps are chosen would be so fascinating? I’d listen to them argue about pretty much anything, I swear. Wouldn’t you? Because I would. Their chemistry is remarkable, and I don’t mean that in a shipping way. It’s just that the two act so well against one another, and Sorkin’s dialogue flies out of their mouths so naturally. It’s just a treat to watch.
But I’ll get to why this stamp stories matters in the long run in a bit.
Russia and Silos!
I admit to not being entirely knowledgeable about post-Cold War relations between Russia and the United States, so part of this plot was lost on me. Still, the way that Aaron Sorkin and Kevin Falls wrote “Galileo” made it easy for me to understand the gravity of the situation. I understood that the fire in the Russian missile silo was a potential disaster on an international scale. I got why the Russian ambassador was so reluctant to ask the Americans for help. And I certainly appreciated the chance to see both Leo McGarry and Bartlet act furious. God, I would never want to make them mad. Ever. This is one of those episodes where the plots feel more like bottle plots that never escape this specific story, and that’s fine. Things shift in and out of focus for the White House staff, and what’s important one week is moot the next. It’s the nature of our country. Plus, it allows the writers to experiment with virtually anything they want because if it doesn’t work, they can just… well, never bring it up again? That sounds super shitty, but it’s mostly my fault for being unable to convey the point. Sorkin and company have been rather resilient about consistency across multiple episodes so far. Unless you’re Mandy. Then you get mysteriously exiled to your own island by the CIA or something?
I have a lot of feelings about space, can’t you tell? They mostly originate from my eighth grade astronomy class and Bill Nye the Science Guy, who is also very pivotal in my growing love of science when I was a kid. I got to go to my first planetarium in eighth grade, and it blew my mind so much to begin to comprehend the vastness of space. Y’all, it’s space. UP THERE. IT’S SPACE. My hometown was also where Christa McAuliffe Elementary was located, which I mistakenly believed was a unique thing until a decade ago, when I found out they’re everywhere. For good reason! And I even entertained a career in physics when I learned I was really good at math. (I still am, and it baffles me, as I don’t find math particularly interesting? I certainly never hated it, and it provided a certain comfort because it was largely dependable to me.) SPACE MEANS A LOT TO ME.
The story that Sorkin and Falls include here is one that starts out with a lot of hope, spirals into near disaster, but is then rescued by the lovely optimism of C.J. and Bartlet. (Which is not to ignore Toby’s important contribution’s here, nor to forget that he, more than anyone, is very sensitive about space, given what his brother does.) I love that Bartlet wants to take his event with various school children further than is expecting, using the landing of the Galileo on Mars as a way to expand to a more general emphasis on how exciting it is to learn about our world. It’s brilliant not just as a political move, but as a way to make a lasting impression on kids who might not be getting this kind of attention. This is related, then, to everything else that goes on because it ultimately becomes about the desire to elevate the respect we feel for voters and the dialogue in our national politics. It’s how Sorkin and Falls tie this all together!
This is more obvious when C.J. has her moment in the Oval Office, spouting Charlie’s own logic regarding the Epic Green Bean Scandal, insisting that the people in charge have to stop treating their constituents like fools. It’s why she turns on Josh, insisting that we must accept the nuance of celebrating a man’s contribution towards his country without assuming that this means the government supports his view of everything. But it’s best represented when C.J. tells Bartlet that he should do his classroom meeting anyway, and it’s one of the better speeches of hers. I like it because it’s a moment where the show can feel hopeful and optimistic without veering into the sugary and sublime. It’s grounded in reality because it feels real; it’s something we should do more of as a country.
And yeah, it made me tear up. No shame. None at all.
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