In the eighteenth episode of the third season of The West Wing, everything is really tense and I know a lot happens but C.J.’S STORYLINE IS NOT OKAY AND I AM NOT OKAY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Trigger Warning: It is impossible to address C.J. without talking about online threats, death threats, and stalking. I will be talking about very specific incidents that I have gone through, and I’ll save it until the end.
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.
IF THIS IS WHAT TOBY IS LIKE WHEN HE HAS NOTHING TO WORK ON, THEN CAN THE WRITERS JUST TAKE WORK AWAY FROM HIM FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE SHOW? It was a pleasure to watch Richard Schiff stretch his character to new extremes, to be more humorous than he already was, and to use that amazing ability of his where his face does that thing where there is a goofy smile on it. I did not know that Toby could smile like that. Y’all, it gave me LIFE. And then we get a second half to his story that, like many plot twists in “Enemies Foreign and Domestic,” took the breath out of me. (This really is a plot-twisty episode, isn’t it?) As Toby tries to get credentials for a Russian reporter whose presence may offend the new Russian president, he reflects on the freedom in the press here in the United States. Now, I do think that the way this episode purposely centers the United States as the bastion of free speech is problematic at best. This goes the same for C.J.’s rant during the press conference, but I’ll get to that in a bit. However, I did like the way that Toby tore apart Ludmila’s sense of righteousness. Her paper was hated so much because they were bad at the news. They refused to print retractions of erroneous stories, they printed private addresses, and they even heaped scorn on a twelve-year-old boy.
No. No. Good for you, Toby, for standing up against her, and then giving her the credentials anyway. He may hate her kind of press, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t support it.
For the most part, he’s just kind of… there? Until the end, I didn’t really find myself engaged with the story. Plus, before I knew why there was such a focus on the inability of the Russian representatives to understand American idioms, I felt like it was just the writers poking fun at ESL speakers. Which no forever. I am particularly protective of ESL folks, so it was more disconcerting without the context at the end. BUT THEN! There’s a reason for it, and DAMN, does it lead to a great scene. Except it’s not really about Sam, is it? I dunno, I don’t feel any particularly affinity or attachment to Sam, but I have noticed that the show uses him less and less for significant storylines. Why is that? Wait, don’t tell me if that’s a spoiler. Anyway, Sam did a thing? And that was it.
If I could somehow trace that letter back to Bartlet, I’d add it to the list of Bartlet’s horcruxes that he’s used to make me cry because godfuckingdamn it, I cried over another inanimate object. Charlie didn’t have to go out of his way to find out who sent the letter or why it was sent, and yet he did it anyway. When the Tatums arrive at the White House, all my emotions were done. This man’s letter was delayed like SEVENTY YEARS. Holy shit. But I also can’t ignore that what Charlie did gave this father and son a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course, I can’t help but notice the look that Mr. Tatum gave Charlie, and it’s clearly about the fact that one black man helped another. Not just that, but there’s a black man in the Oval Office. I’m sure that’s not something Mr. Tatum could have dreamed of back when he was nine years old and wrote FDR. And I AM SO FULL OF FEELINGS.
So. Yeah. Yeah.
I don’t like her answer in the press conference. It’s not that we shouldn’t complain about religious and gender oppression in the world. It’s the way that C.J. paints all of Saudi Arabia with one brush, much like we’ve seen on the show since the start of season three. (Which is really awkward because it’s clear that Sorkin and company are responding to the world after 9-11, and 9-11 didn’t happen in this world! So the continuity becomes muddled purely because of my subconscious association with United States history. Plus, it just lacks depth. What’s the point of it? To obscure the identity of C.J.’s stalker? To make the United States look more civilized? To remind us that there are awful people in the Middle East? I don’t know anymore.
And then C.J. gets a death threat over this. I really didn’t expect this to become so serious, and I think that’s because C.J. didn’t take it too seriously at first. But Ron helps C.J. and the viewer understand why this stalker needs to be treated seriously.
Admittedly, this was incredibly hard to watch. Since I was a teenager, I’ve been the victim of stalking numerous times. More times than I can count. And I don’t mean someone violating social boundaries or being creepy. I mean people following me home, breaking into my dorm, sexually assaulting me… yeah. So YEAH, this was a hard episode to watch.
There are some important distinctions here. There is a difference between a troll online (or hate mail) and a death threat. It’s important that Ron says this. It’s also vital that C.J. brings up that she’s a woman in a “man’s job,” which is a way for her to talk about the misogynist violence directed at women specifically when they are visible or in positions of power or access. (I do wish that Bartlet hadn’t dismissed that, despite that I understood he did this because C.J. really was in danger.) Because gender absolutely matters in this case. Note that C.J.’s stalking is inherently intimate. Whoever this guy is, he’s getting within twenty feet of her to take photos. He thrives off that sense of power. And it’s terrifying. I mean, I don’t know if any of my stalkers shared the same dynamic. Some I felt were just horribly misguided. But I also don’t spend much time thinking about them because I’d rather not.
All I can say is that I absolutely understand what C.J. is going through. I hate that I had to change things in my life because of a stalker. (I’ve had to move TWICE in four years because of stalkers.) I hate that it makes you feel vulnerable and fragile. I hated having to question every day actions, like walking home or going grocery shopping, because you never knew if they were there. My heart goes out to C.J. because this is not an easy thing to experience. I hope none of y’all ever have to deal with it.
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