Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E06 – Game On

In the sixth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, THE DEBATE THE DEBATE THE DEBATE THE DEBATE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.



I’m not entirely sure about the political ramifications of what Leo’s done here, but lord, the writing and acting for all of Leo and Jordan’s scenes is ELECTRIC. It’s amazing to see Leo demonstrate the power that he has, though, again, I’m not sure if this means that the Qumar issue is finally coming to an end. Is that what Leo negotiated here??? Perhaps not, but at the very least, this is about Leo refusing to concede to Qumar. He refuses to give them access, he refuses to cater to them, and he refuses to play a part in a charade. (I’m glad that Nissir called it what it was: a charade.) The uncomfortable truth is that while this is a complicated moral and political issue, Bartlet really wouldn’t lose the election if it was discovered that he ordered the assassination of a terrorist. He wouldn’t! Sure, it’s relevant to the debate happening at the same time, but I think that this is more of a sign of the political climate than a demonstration of Bartlet’s power.

I admit that if this was the last we heard of Qumar, I would feel a bit let down. It seems too easy of an answer. Still, it’s not like the script told me this was the case, you know? Leo got Nissir to turn the boat around, not end the war. So what’s next? I DON’T KNOW.


He’s not very good at nuance when it comes to asking Andy to marry him, is he? Yeah, I don’t think she’s going to treat a potential marriage with Toby like an item to be bartered. Don’t do that, dude. Just don’t.

Anyway, it’s fun to watch Toby in this episode. First of all, there’s that amazing prank/bet played on him by Bartlet in the cold open. As I said in the video commission for “Game On,” I was so confused once everyone started laughing. I didn’t get the joke! WHY AM I SUPPOSED TO LAUGH AT ONE OF THE MOST AWKWARD THINGS EVER? But it was nice to see these people play with Toby’s paranoid and irritable nature. Through this, even Toby has to acknowledge that Bartlet is finally ready. During the debate itself, Toby gets to see the Bartlet he wanted appear on the screen, and it’s so awesome. He can’t handle it! I was Toby in these moments: Bartlet was too much, and I wanted to leave the room because I was unable to deal with him.


Can C.J. and Albie Duncan have a thousand more scenes in this show? Because watching them interact is a pleasure. She’s got a difficult job here because… well, the last time we saw Duncan on the show, he was busy making the President bored through condescension, which personally made me adore Duncan. And while it’s always risky to cross political lines for support, C.J. was more concerned that Duncan wouldn’t stay on topic or that he’d go off on some tangent and utterly ruin the support he was supposed to give Bartlet. But he does have a certain charm to him, and I sort of felt like he was being ridiculous on purpose. That was all but outright confirmed post-debate, which is why I liked that C.J. interrupted his interview to refer to his earlier conversation about the inherent complexity of trade. It actually speaks to a larger theme that Sorkin and Paul Redford address in “Game On,” which is that soundbites ultimately don’t do us a service as a people. So much of the debate focused on how Ritchie’s simplicity was insulting more than anything else. Again, this isn’t surprising, especially since Ritchie feels like one giant reference to George W. Bush. But I don’t particularly mind that Ritchie’s characterization is so one-note, especially if you put him into the context of that time and our modern political world. One-note politicians who can’t support the very things they’re voting for? Yeah, that sounds painfully familiar.

Okay, actually, let’s talk about that.

Bartlet/The Debate

This episode is pretty much everything I wanted it to be. We got to watch parts of the debate; we got the lead up to it; we got the small quirky moments that made it memorable; and the writers still navigate the serial narratives involving Qumar and Sam that have been in every episode of this season so far. It’s a brilliant script, and I am just so exhilarated by the experience. One of the smaller plot points (at least initially) involves the President’s lucky tie. You know, I don’t think it’s entirely fictitious that there’s a staff of people who plan out the President’s wardrobe down to the last detail as we see here. However, Charlie soon begins to panic after the very same tie that’s supposed to offer good luck is destroyed at the cleaners. For me, it speaks to the idiosyncrasies that people have that help them deal or cope with certain aspects of their lives. When Bartlet is later talking to Abbey about how unimportant the tie was, I think she recognizes that her husband often performs well under pressure. It’s true! It’s not that the tie was lucky; it’s that it was a last-minute replacement. So she cuts off his tie, thereby creating a similar environment to four years prior. It’s about getting Bartlet in the right mindset, you know?

AND Y’ALL, HE IS ON FIRE. This episode gives us Bartlet being Bartlet and CRUSHING RITCHIE WITH SASS AND LOGIC AND STYLE. Honestly, it’s a great way to address the team’s fear going into the debate, that Bartlet would be viewed as irredeemably arrogant if he was the smartest guy in the room. However, as Toby and C.J. later discuss, he was going to be viewed that way regardless if he actually was, so why not go all out?

HE GOES ALL OUT. Holy shit, that line. That line. “Can we have it back, please?” IT’S SO GOOD. IT’S SO AMAZING. The delivery isn’t the only thing that rules about this. I am just so tired of hearing about how evil our federal government is for wanting to have national issues that they deal with. Certainly, there are plenty of reasons to criticize aspects of our government! I don’t think they’re flawless by any means. But the federal government (through taxation) provides so many essential services to our country that it irks me when people want to get rid of them. (BLEH LIBERTARIANS BLEH.)

So, yeah, the debate is a spectacle, even if it’s a wishful one. I kind of don’t care because it’s nice to imagine that one day, our society will value what Bartlet demonstrates here: a willingness to debate the issues in a manner that appreciates the nuance and complexity of the world. Like I said, that is what “Game On” inherently supports: a better conversation about our country.



After the credits started rolling, I asked myself an incredibly important question: HAS SAM BEEN PLANNING THIS THE WHOLE TIME? Was he always interested in this??? When did he decide he wanted to run in Wilde’s place? HELP ME, THIS TOOK ME BY SURPRISE AND I’M STILL IN SHOCK.

First things first: I hope that the twist at the end of “Game On” means that Joshua Malina will at least appear in another episode or two. Can Wilde win? I want to see more of Will Bailey, who is incredible here. In just one episode, Sorkin and Redford have given us this fully-formed character who is so different from the rest of the cast. (Which makes me worry that he’s just a one-off. NO, NOT FAIR, I WOULD LIKE MORE OF HIM.) He’s a passionate Democrat who doesn’t shy away from difficult or complicated situations. I think that perfectly describes the predicament he is in: difficult and complicated. His candidate died, and he is still running the campaign! What’s so impressive about this is that Will believes wholeheartedly in his cause. He is willing to stick this out because he knows the alternative (Wilde’s opponent) is so much worse than a dead guy. (Neat fact! I would love to think that Horton Wilde is a reference to Mel Carnahan, who won the 2000 Senatorial election against Republican demon John Ashcroft. After he died. How many of you knew this because of the David Cross joke? THAT’S WHERE I LEARNED ABOUT IT. PS: John Ashcroft is awful, and his work on the Patriot Act and escalating the War on Drugs will make me hold a hateful grudge towards him until the end of time.)

Part of me thinks that Sam is blown away by the dedication that Will demonstrated in “Game On,” but then I have to wonder if Sam was always interested in this. He grew up in Orange County (which actually explains most of Sam’s more egregious behavior because OH GOD YOU HAVE NO IDEA), so I’m sure he thought about it before he went out to tell Will to stop the campaign. Hell, even that was surprising to me! I had no idea that Sam was supposed to go tell Will to stop embarrassing the party. Was he? Leo didn’t seem to understand why Sam was going to Laguna Beach at all. How much has Sam been hiding from us?

Well, I’m going to need to see the next episode as soon as possible. Hell, does this mean that Sam is going to leave the White House??? Will he still be a big part of the show? EVERYTHING IS A MYSTERY.

The video commission for “Game On” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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