Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E01 – 20 Hours in America (Part I)

In the first episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, I AM SO INTO THIS. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Y’all, I’m so excited for this season. I had a few issues with some of the lines, but I think this is a really solid opening for season four that is setting up SO MUCH AWESOME. Let’s get to it!


I still feel like season three of this show used Sam less and less than I expected, so his role in the season four opener is SO FASCINATING. Because of the disaster that is going on in Indiana (WHICH I AM FOREVER AMUSED BY, OH MY GOD), Sam’s asked to step into Josh’s role at the White House. It’s a very neat way to demonstrate that the various positions of the staff members in the West Wing are extremely different. This allows Sam to appreciate just how difficult it is to be the Deputy Chief of Staff because you have to know everything. At the same time, I got a better sense for what it is that Josh does, too! WHICH IS REALLY REWARDING AS AN AUDIENCE MEMBER. Oh gosh, I imagine that this will continue on in “Part II,” so I think I’ll wait to comment more on this. But count me as a big fan of this plot. It’s a fantastic idea, and the execution for it is one of the most interesting parts of “20 Hours in America.”

Josh, Toby, and Donna

Y’all, I love that Sorkin takes a joke that I thought was a throwaway line and makes it the literal plot of the episode for these characters. Seriously, I thought Donna’s line about the staffers never being seen again was meant as a nice hyperbolic joke. And then the motorcade leaves them behind.

While this plot is played for humor (and brilliantly so), I actually think it’s an awesome plot because it sticks these three people smack dab in middle America, with people who don’t care who they are, who don’t like their candidate, and who have their own lives to live that have nothing to do with the campaign. If you look at all the scenes where Tyler listens in on what Toby and Josh are talking about, he’s so confused. And it’s not like Tyler is a Ritchie supporter. No, he’s a campaign volunteer! But the way that Toby and Josh speak is so foreign to the people here in Indiana, so I think it’s a fascinating way of analyzing the language that these characters use. (Is Sorkin getting a bit meta here?)

I think you could use the scene at the dinner to examine it in a similar way. Toby’s sardonic and witty way of speaking just doesn’t go over well here! That’s precisely what Toby and Josh argue about anyway. Is the President portraying himself as the smartest kid in the room? He is, and then we get to see how that sort of behavior affects the people in Indiana that they come across. It feels condescending! I’ll touch on this more once I speak about Bartlet’s plot in this episode, but I thought Sorkin was deliberately drawing these parallels and discussing language in a rather clever way.

Also, let it be known that Donna is amazing here, and she’s always one step ahead of Josh. Well, except for the time zone thing, but they all sort of messed that one up. Y’all, that tantrum scene by the tunnel is SO ENDLESSLY FUNNY TO ME. I love this plot. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.


The first significant shot of her alone in this episode is REALLY SAD, and it hurt. It hurt me, and this isn’t fair, Sorkin. Don’t hurt C.J.

I would have liked to see more of her in this premiere, as she really only gets two moments of plot/character development. First, she asks Charlie if he might want to take over the Big Brother role that Simon played for Anthony. Sadly, Anthony resents C.J. because he associates her with the death of Simon, which just isn’t fair, but who can blame the kid? He clearly looked up to Simon a lot, and now Simon’s gone. He’s lashing out. Unfortunately, it’s not like Charlie has a whole lot of time to devote to being a Big Brother, especially since the election is in full swing. I did like that line of his where he asked her not to only ask people who looked like him to be a Big Brother.

Then she has to deal with Bruno, whose line about liking when “the women get involved” is gross. Oh god, it’s so gross. Thankfully, we’ve got C.J. to absolutely crush him (though not as much as I would have liked), and it’s a neat way for the narrative to say that what Bruno said was uncalled for and offensive. Because ew, no thank you.


THE CAMPAIGN IS HAPPENING, THIS IS SO EXCITING, BARTLET IS GIVING SPEECHES, EVERYTHING IS SO EXCITING AND FUN, I’M NOT BEING FACETIOUS THIS IS GENUINELY VERY EXCITING. It’s just a thrill to be able to see Bartlet on the road, giving speeches and being super fucking good at it, and y’all, I can already tell this season is going to be too suspenseful to blog about. Oh, but I’m gonna do it. I AM.

Sorkin does a fantastic job of imbuing this premiere with the excitement of the election (Leo’s line about the debates sent me into a spasm of joy) and the weight of ongoing responsibility that the staff has because the job doesn’t pause while they’re all campaigning for four more years. This is done initially with the scene where Leo meets in the Situation Room to learn about the day’s international events. Of course, this also serves to introduce yet another plot we’ll definitely see more of this season: the assassination of Shareef isn’t going to go away quietly. With Qumar re-opening the investigation into his disappearance, Leo, Fitzwallace, and Bartlet all have to fear this becoming something much, much worse.

OH, RIGHT, THEN FITZWALLACE REVEALS THAT AFTER SHAREEF WAS KILLED, SPECIAL OPS TOOK APART HIS PLANE AND HID IT IN THE FUCKING OCEAN. Oh my god, this is so much more horrible than I expected! I assumed that this episode would update us on the national crisis after everyone had learned that Shareef was killed, but instead, he disappeared. Just disappeared. This can’t end well! It seriously can’t, and now my prediction about a staff member finding out about this and being upset is going to be a billion times worse when it happens. And I say this fully expecting that they’re going to have to tell someone sooner or later. Can they really keep another secret???

Abigail doesn’t appear in this episode, and neither does Governor Ritchie, but we sure hear about them a lot. Aw, Stockard Channing was taken out of the credits! Booooo. Anyway, there are a couple tiny moments about both of them that hint at larger problems in the campaign that might present themselves. Abby’s license being revoked already caused issues, as did the unfair focus on her motherhood. Then we’ve got Ritchie starting a statement with, “I’m no scientist, but…” which is a disaster unto itself. Can that count as the first reference to George W. Bush? Because that’s clearly a deliberate characterization of Ritchie as a down-home country boy who thinks the Washington elite just don’t understand real Americans. (Though I must point out that Toby and Josh? Not doing so good with the Americans they’re meeting.)

There’s no big cliffhanger here, though we still don’t know how Josh, Donna, and Toby are getting home. I’m okay with that, because the end of “Part I” is touching to me. There is something magical about Bartlet welcoming Congressmen Lien to the fold, and it’s a casual reminder that there is still something special to serving your country and your constituents in this way. Let’s hope that the staff and Bartlet remember this as he tries to continue to be able to do the same.

The commission for “20 Hours in America (Part I)” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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