Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E12 – The Two Bartlets

In the twelfth episode of the third season of The West Wing, Bartlet and Toby clash over a possible Republican candidate for Presidency, while Josh decides to pursue Amy further. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Well, that was seriously one of the strangest episodes of the show. FOR A LOT OF REASONS.


I’m not sorry: I would watch the fuck out of a mini-series with Donna as Sassy Juror #8. Give her a movie. Make this happen. It’s all I ask from the world.

I’d like to see more Donna, is what I’m trying to say. Y’all, I desperately want a Donna-centric episode again. It’s okay if Cliff shows up, too! Just more Donna.


For a few seconds, I actually doubted whether Robert Engler was on the show, but I was right! He was in the first Big Block of Cheese episode ever, and he returns in “The Two Bartlets” in a glorious splendor. Bless his heart. See, what’s sweet about his appearance here is that while Sam knows what he’s saying is bullshit, he ultimately doesn’t want to be cruel to the guy. He purposely plays into Robert’s paranoia instead of crushing his spirit, and that’s kind of adorable to me. Thank you, Sam. That’s sweet.


So, let me first say that I’m thankful that Amy is in this episode beyond the cold open. I will also state that the end of the cold open will probably end up being the funniest scene in all of The West Wing. I’m thankful for that as well. Just… it’s too much. I never thought this show could out-do Josh falling off his chair, but here it is.

I admit that the courting between Amy and Josh is interesting and entertaining, but I could put my finger on why this all felt so strange. Why was I so confused about their behavior for the majority of the episode? I was finally able to pinpoint what I was feeling once I talked to a friend who’d seen this episode: I have never experienced a courtship like this. Now, based on that, I don’t know that I could ever speak to the realism of what we see in this episode. To me, I felt like these two characters relied on their wit to go back and forth with one another, and it was just awkward to watch. Ha, actually, there was a moment during this, right around when Amy left Josh’s apartment, when I thought, “IS THIS WHAT STRAIGHT PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY DATE?” I’m serious, gay/queer dating is so much different than what I know of straight dating. So, straight people, please educate this confused queer because WHAT IS THIS. Wait, is this really an example of power dating??? Oh shit, that might actually explain things, too. I mean, you have to understand that dating to me has always been this enigma, something I’ve never been good at and struggle to understand. Being socially awkward and hampered by a number of anxiety issues is part of it, of course. But I have never been pursued once in a dating relationship that didn’t turn into stalking. (Oh god, I am not exaggerating, I swear.) I’ve always been the pursuer!

Given that, I thought I might relate more to Josh in this episode, since he’s constantly pining after Amy in that strange, self-sabotaging way of his. I didn’t until the end of the episode and saw the full extent of what he’d done by canceling the Tahiti trip. First of all, I thought it was quite mature of him to pull back from the trip. He realized he’d taken things too quickly after Amy had rejected John’s marriage proposal, but only in the sense that he does like Amy and wants to respect her. So instead of just leaving her in the dark and postponing the trip for some indeterminate time, he re-creates Tahiti in his apartment. It is such a goofy and sweet thing to do, y’all, and I enjoyed it because Josh finally dropped the witty pretense of his constant scheming. Like that scene in “H. Con – 172” on the steps of his apartment, Josh opened himself to another person in a remarkably honest way. That is the Josh I want to see more of, and I think that Amy does, too.


This was a tough plot to withstand on a number of levels, though that discomfort was intentional. When a Republican governor who is aiming to become the Republican nominee for President announces his support for a repeal of affirmative action in college admissions, Toby believes that Bartlet needs to respond. Given that the Iowa Caucus is on a college campus, it just makes sense. However, he’s completely alone on this, and is faced with a surprising pushback from C.J. Yeah, I think if you watched my commission first you already know what I’m going to say here: C.J., ABORT MISSION. DO NOT DO THIS. I understand that dealing with her father’s (apparent) Alzheimer’s or memory loss is incredible difficult. I know because that’s what happened with my own father. But play close attention to whom C.J. blames for her father’s failing health: an unqualified black woman. Are you serious. Are you serious. That’s the person you pulled out of thin air to say is responsible for your father not getting a raise? First of all, the idea that “unqualified black women” are being hired directly into higher positions is such a manufactured reality that I don’t even know how to address that. Where are these unqualified black women being promoted? I’d like to know. Because whenever white people trot out this line of reasoning, they can’t seem to provide any evidence that there’s been an unfair, overcrowded influx of minority workers who are stealing their jobs.

I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for C.J. knowing that she’s losing her father. I have zero sympathy for people who think that racism is over, that capitalism will be fair to all people, and that we don’t need to actively work against dismantling our white supremacist society. No.

And then there’s Toby. I’m going to straight up admit this: I have no fucking clue how to interpret what happened in “The Two Bartlets.” Initially, I thought this was just about Toby’s concern about which version of Jed Bartlet was going to appear in the campaign. Would Bartlet live up to his promise in “Manchester, Part II” and rewrite the book on getting elected?  Now that is a story I want to see, and I suspect we might see more of that in the rest of season three.

And then Toby starts talking. He brings up Bartlet’s father, and this veers into territory I hope we never ventured into. It’s fucking horrifying to watch, and I don’t get it. I can’t even claim that this is out-of-character for Toby because does it even fit in with the tone of the show? Why the fuck did he choose to make this so horribly personal? Are you seriously picking on someone because their father once abused them?

I DON’T GET IT!!!! And I want to bleach it from my brain because I don’t understand how Bartlet could ever trust Toby again. How? How is this going to change things between the two of them? Ugh, that hurt to watch.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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