Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E01 – Manchester, Part I

In the first episode of the third season of The West Wing, the ramifications of Bartlet’s decision at the end of season two are shown in flashback and in the present. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

IT’S GOING TO BE ALL PAIN, ALL THE TIME, ISN’T IT?

The Past

I think the easiest way for me to address “Manchester, Part One” is to split this review into the two timelines, so stick with me! IT’LL WORK, I PROMISE.

So, WHAT A PREMIERE. Not only do we get the twenty-four hours after Bartlet announces that he’s running for re-election, but Sorkin also gives us glimpses of the setting for the rest of season three. I’m really pleased that we didn’t just jump ahead four weeks because there was so much I wanted to see and know about Bartlet’s press conference, and I was not dissatisfied at all.

I totally get why anyone would be annoyed by where Sorkin cut off Bartlet’s reveal, but for me, I appreciated the emotional subtlety of having him stand there, his hands in his pockets, that smirk plastered on his face. It made his answer so much more powerful here: He confirms that he’s running for re-election, and then he outright states that he’s going to win. It’s Bartlet being Bartlet, and I love it. But that joy doesn’t last long, and I’m eager to see how this show is going to deal with the fact that Abbey feels betrayed by what Bartlet has done. She has every right to feel this way! But there’s no way that Bartlet is going to back down, which is very clear from the end of this episode. So where does that leave Abbey? What role is she going to play in this? Is Bartlet going to continue to delay his conversation with her about his decision to go for re-election? Because he’s now ignored this into another season.

In the White House itself, it’s ordered chaos, and it’s kind of fascinating to watch. We get to see how well the machine works, as everyone calls on their aides to get such-and-such on the phone, coordinate this-and-that meeting, and retract certain notes. Of course, the world goes on regardless of the news cycle, and the Haiti mission from season two is still just as relevant. Bartlet’s got to make a decision about whether or not to send two helicopters to the roof of the embassy to rescue the Americans there and Dessalin. And yet, even the need to make such a decision is plagued by the politics of it all. We see in a later scene that the staff worries that the President’s rescue mission or possible invasion of Haiti might be viewed as a method to distract from his announcement that he has MS. Which we know isn’t true! But the media is going to connect the dots on their own because that’s what they do. They have to ask these difficult questions and pose these scenarios, and it’s not necessarily a malicious thing that they do so, you know? (This is related to the RU-486 plot in the present time, too!)

And then there’s that horrifying scene between Babish and Charlie. $100,000?!?!?! Where the hell is Charlie going to get that sort of money??? Oh my god, this whole situation sucks. It really does! The results of Joey’s polling are somewhat relieving, sure, but then I think about how unfair it is that Charlie’s going to be wrapped into this drama, and he didn’t ask for any of this.

Of course, the most significant and upsetting moment in “Manchester, Part One” is in the flashbacks. As soon as C.J. uttered those words about the President feeling relieved, I instantly knew she’d made one of the worst mistakes of her career. It was appallingly bad, and it’s made all the worse because we know just how exhausted C.J. has been. I know that this is her job and that she signed on knowing that this would be difficult. That still doesn’t mean I can’t feel some sort of sympathy for her. While the rest of the staff and the President get to ignore the press, she has to be bombarded by them multiple times a day.

Which brings me to the present time.

Four Weeks Later

WHAT WAS C.J.’S DECISION? WHY ARE THERE ALL THESE HINTS THAT SHE WANTS TO DO A THING? WHAT IS THE THING? Oh my god, if she is thinking about quitting and we lose Allison Janney, I will… I don’t know. Yell a lot. If I wasn’t doing this for Mark Watches, I would threaten to give up on the show and never watch it again. NO. I LOVE C.J. Of course, I would understand her reluctance to be a part of this mess, considering how physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding it’s gotten. Plus, she didn’t ask to be a part of Bartlet’s MS drama either, and that’s only making matters worse. Oh, then the FDA is going to approve RU-486 just before Bartlet’s formal announcement of his plan to be re-elected. Again, I don’t think everyone’s fear of being upstaged by this is entirely without justification, though I appreciate that Bartlet gives absolutely no fucks about this development. So, what? Let the press run a story that deliberately tries to make him look bad when he had nothing to do with the announcement.

Still, Bartlet’s lovely confidence is at the end of this episode. Everything before it? MORE CHAOS. So much more chaos. It is neat to me, though, that we’re back in New Hampshire. As the team tries to figure out what the President is going to say on Monday, they’re back in the very state where he was once governor. It’s fitting. It’s symbolic. And I hope that it inspires these people to write a damn good speech.

That hasn’t quite happened yet. We’re introduced to a few new staffers, including Bruno and Doug, who are both writers under Sam and Toby, and Connie, played by CONNIE BRITTON OH MY GOD. There’s not much time with the three of them, but we do get to see how vicious Toby and Sam are about the writing that’s coming to them. Understandably so! This is an important speech. But I wonder if there’s some other reason why Toby isn’t too keen on Doug. Some other underlying problem, maybe? Is it because Doug insists that the President work an apology into his speech? Oh god, I don’t know how I feel about this! Practically, it’s probably best to leave this out, but I think that the public is going to feel slighted (with the help of the media) if he doesn’t say anything at all.

OH GOD, WHAT IS HE GOING TO DO.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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