Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E04 – On the Day Before

In the fourth episode of the third season of The West Wing, Bartlet and his staff deals with the reaction to his first veto while C.J. copes with a new reporter who tries to go toe-to-toe with her. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

It really is no wonder that so little gets done in our government.

  • I know that statement should come with a few qualifications. Obviously, lots of people in this episode are trying to get shit done. Buckland, Royce, Kimball: They aren’t trying to bring the government to a standstill. And I think “On the Day Before” does a fine job of showing how both parties are complicit in this complicated bout of maneuvering that we witness here. This is not simply an issue of Republicans being frustrating or ridiculous. The writers continue what we saw in “Ways and Means” in this episode. This time, it’s Democrats who see an opportunity to get what they want from the White House during a time of weakness.
  • This is largely a frustrating, chaotic, and stressful experience, one that’s deeply complicated for any person to follow along with, but I really think Sorkin and company knock it straight out of the park. As we watch Toby and Sam deal with the complications surrounding Congressman Kimball’s sudden change of heart over the estate tax, Josh has a difficult conversation with Governor Buckland of Iowa, who might challenge the sitting President in the primaries. On top of that, Charlie is bothered by virtually every staff member about taking immunity in the grand jury investigations, and C.J. deals with Sherri Wexler, a reporter who normally covers entertainment issues, but proves to be extremely rude to C.J. over the night’s events.
  • I wanted to start, however, with the bombing in Israel. It’s weird for me to enjoy Nancy McNally as a character because every time she shows up, that means something horrible happened in the world. Anyway, I’m wary about what happens in this episode because it is so ambiguous in terms of which nations are involved, and I worry that people will simply rely on cultural stereotypes to fill in the blanks. I don’t expect everyone ever to know the endless number of details regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t know anywhere near enough about it as I should, but I found it strange that this suicide bombing was based on an actual conflict, but absolutely no context is given to the audience. At one point, Leo mentions that it might be retaliation for “Bekaa,” but I don’t know what that is. So, instead, we’re left to wonder why this happened in the first place. Yet again, it’s an Arab country attacking Americans. There’s absolutely no discussion about the fact that Palestine might actually despise the fact that the United States has been supplying monetary and military aid to Israel for a long time. Granted, this is not an attempt to go down the horrible road of justifying a suicide attack. This terrorist attack is a goddamn tragedy, and I wouldn’t dream of condoning something like this. My issue here is that I worry that too many people would fall into a possible reliance on Islamophobic narratives in order to discuss this plot. I know that “Isaac and Ishmael” is not canon, but this episode aired in a post-9/11 world. This was already on everyone’s mind as it is, so I’m hoping that the show can treat this with care over the course of season three. Because I seriously doubt this is the last time we’ll hear about terrorism in this season, you know?
  • Still, this is a delicate and sad situation for the family who lost two sons, and it’s not lost on Bartlet that he has to address an awful situation when he calls the parents of the brothers who were killed. I took his visit with his wife as a sign that he worried about his own children, too. I mean, the man survived a terrorist attack before, so it’s not like it’s out of the realm of possibility that one of the members of family could be a victim some day. It’s why he ultimately doesn’t know what to say to parents of the bombing victims. It’s too close to home for him, you know? There are no right things to say.
  • After “Ways and Means,” I found it smart that we see C.J. on the offensive once again. It’s a neat bit of character continuity for her, especially since she’d spent so much time being defensive in the wake of Bartlet’s MS revelation. In this case, she briefly spars with Sherri Wexler. Seriously, this episode taught me that you don’t want to fuck with C.J. Cregg, because she will fuck you up. OUCH. SOUNDS LIKE YOU NEED AN EMERGENCY ROOM AFTER THAT BURN, SHERRI WEXLER.
  • I correctly guessed that Donna wanted to speak with Josh about her failed date, but I did not expect Donna to reveal that SHE SAW CLIFF AGAIN. Oh my god, oh my god. And you know, maybe the blind date wasn’t meant as a setup to trick Donna or Cliff, as I guessed in my last review. It could have been a mistake, but regardless, they both understood that they could not see each other anymore.
  • OH GOD
  • As I mentioned before, this episode also highlights the complexities in the Democratic party itself. Both Kimball and Buckland saw a chance to turn recent events into an opportunity to get what they wanted. Our dual party system really is this complicated, y’all, because Congressman often don’t vote along party lines. Not that they should, of course, but this episode shows us that the Bartlet White House should probably expect more of this in the future. That kind of worries me, actually. How is the campaign going to work if the Bartlet White House is already getting this much shit already???
  • On top of that, this was another chance for us to see how willing the team was to compromise. Both Josh and then Toby/Sam had to offer items or issues up to Buckland and Royce, respectively. How much more of this will there be in the future? Will it have to be a campaign of concessions and negotiations?
  • I did save the best for last, though. Pretty much every staff member tries to get Charlie to talk about immunity until Charlie finally tells Leo that he has no desire to do so. He wants to stand by Bartlet, no matter the cost, to demonstrate his loyalty to these people.
  • BE STILL MY HEART. I adore you, Charlie.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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