Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S02E17 – The Stackhouse Filibuster

In the seventeenth episode of the second season of The West Wing, an unexpected filibuster inspires the team to do something good with their political power. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

OH MY GOD, THE TIMING OF THIS IS ALMOST PERFECT. Like, if I’d watched this episode a week or so ago, it would be FILIBUSTER SYNCHRONICITY WITH WENDY DAVIS. What a great lesson in what this parliamentary procedure is and why it’s used. And the framing device for this is so NEAT. Letters! Voiceovers! POSITIVITY!

  • My gods, every time the camera showed Josh or C.J. composing an email, I became immediately thankful for the existence of Gmail. Yeah, could you even imagine? My first email account was a CompuServe address. Wow, that dated me.
  • One of the many incredible things in this episode was Sorkin’s choice to keep Stackhouse’s motivation a secret. Initially, he’s presented as a cranky Senator without many friends, but that very perception is turned upside-down on us, and I find that to be brilliant.
  • There are a ton of super snarky and hilarious exchanges between various staff members, making this one of the funniest episodes of the show so far. Which is why the scene between Leo and Bartlet at their private dinner hits so hard: You spend much of this episode laughing, and then BAM. LET’S REMIND YOU OF HOW SAD THIS IS.
  • Anyway, I’ll get to that. There are actually a few minor plots in “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” despite that the filibuster itself takes up most of the screentime. There’s C.J.’s struggle with the Bast figure, which actually never gets resolved! We do find out that she had it, she accidentally broke it, and she super glued it back together. Wait… oh. I guess that’s the resolution. She just never got to tell Bartlet about it. Well, it’s fun to figure things out once I start writing!
  • While tangentially related to Bartlet and Leo’s conversation over dinner, Toby goes to Hoynes to talk about admonishing some recent statements made against the White House’s big oil policies. I admit that I was just as shocked (and confused) as Toby was once Hoynes offered to give a rebuttal to the testimony given before Congress because… dude. Dude. Big oil is your thing? Like, I don’t even know that much about Vice President Hoynes, but based on information relayed by the writers in the past, I knew that Toby’s task would be difficult. BUT IT WASN’T. Why? Why?
  • It took the show spelling it out for me to get it. Now I can’t remember if Abbey or Bartlet ever confirmed that Hoynes knew about Bartlet’s MS, but this episode seems to confirm that he does know. He’s going to try to run for President in the next election since he’s already positioning himself as an ideal Democratic candidate.
  • Of course, we don’t get any confirmation from Bartlet that he’s going to stick with the deal he made with Abbey. Clearly, Leo and Bartlet are talking about something, but there’s no audio accompanying it. DANG IT. I guess I have to accept more than ever that it’s possible that Bartlet isn’t going to be the President until the end of the show. Which is a weird thought! But it’s the nature of politics and the presidency, and I would ultimately support his decision not to run again.
  • Winifred Hooper is the best side character in the whole show. OH MY GOD. I also just realized how close her name is to Winnie Cooper. Anyway, it was absolutely hilarious to watch her completely tear Sam apart. BLESS.
  • Anyway, back to the filibuster! Looking back on Sam’s meeting with Stackhouse, it’s much more clear to me what happened. Obviously, Stackhouse’s stubbornness was entertaining, and we all knew how this was going to end. Stackhouse wasn’t taken seriously, and so he decided to filibuster the vote on the bill. But I realized that Stackhouse was very specifically refusing to follow the traditional route of getting shit done in Washington this time around. As Josh tells him about the limitations that are in place, Stackhouse just says NO to all of them. He knows that they can get this added, and he knows Josh and the others are refusing to do anything just because it’s inconvenient.
  • So he filibusters. For nearly twelve hours.
  • I love that it’s Donna who figures everything out, who finds out that Stackhouse has a personal connection to autism, who suggests getting Senators to ask Stackhouse to yield for a question so that he can get a break. It’s interesting, then, how this is framed: Finally, these people were able to come together and make something genuinely good happen. It’s true that this show conveys the difficult reality of making shit happen in Washington, and often we’re left feeling just as hopeless about the future as the characters do. That’s why the end to “The Stackhouse Filibuster” is so huge and emotional.
  • One small nitpick, though! I would have liked to see any sort of mention of autism in a way that didn’t frame it as this life-ending, horrible disease. I have plenty of friends who are on the autism spectrum, and they can live their own lives just fine. Granted, I admit that would have been hard to fit in here at all, but a lot of autism activism or fundraising doesn’t take into account that there are still people living with autism. And they can make their own decisions? Yeah. That. Let’s have more of that.
  • And more of me tearing up because of The West Wing. I swear to Mithros, both this show and Friday Night Lights make me cry so much.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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