Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E08 – Process Stories

In the eighth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, the staff celebrates a victory as Sam copes with a promise he made that he didn’t intend to keep. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Seriously, I genuinely believe that in terms of the writing alone, this is one of the best episodes of the whole show! LET ME TELL YOU WHY.


Even in the more uncomfortable moments, there’s a joy that these characters experience and radiate that is just so… relieving. That’s the word I was looking for. The lead-up to this election was so stressful, so overwhelming, and so painful that to see practically everyone get a happy ending (for the moment) is just VICTORIOUS.

Let’s talk about these babies. BABIES.


There’s a common theme running throughout this episode: The process of how we arrive at our destination matters. As someone who loves character development and intricate plot journeys, it’s like this was written just for me. In the case of C.J., she begins to obsess over Chris Whittaker, someone Bruno consulted with… a few times? And yet, the man’s on television, acting as a talking head who had much more to do with the President’s journey than he did. Here, the process matters, and that means C.J. gets incredibly defensive over Bruno. While interrupting his attempts to seduce numerous women, yes, but that’s not the point.

I found it touching and sweet that C.J. insisted that Bruno get the credit he deserved for what he did to help Bartlet win his re-election. To be honest, this actually felt like a farewell for his character, as if it was a way for the show to bid him goodbye. C.J. wants to respect what Bruno did for the team, but Bruno, whose contract with Bartlet expired hours before, is happy to let it all fade into the past. He doesn’t need all the credit because he has the most important credit of all: He helped the President win. For him, the process didn’t necessarily matter because the end justify it. Still, I got the sense that he appreciated what C.J. did for him.

Then she crushes Whittaker with words, and let’s just elect her for President, okay? Awesome.


I’m way into seeing Bartlet and Abbey act affectionate towards one another, especially after everything they’ve gone through. Does this mean Stockard Channing is back full time now? I’m going to keep asking this, I swear. I just like her character a lot, y’all! Anyway, one of the redeeming parts of “Process Stories” is the fact that this episode opens immediately after “Election Night,” and we get this intimate glimpse into how everyone deals with the victory. For Bartlet and Abbey, it’s time for them to get a night off.


Because first, Sam’s interrupting with updates about the California 47th, and then Leo is talking about military coups, and then Toby is announcing that Andy is pregnant with twins, and THE POOR BARTLETS. I mean, I can’t imagine not being allowed privacy 90% of the time, you know? Still, it’s part of the job, which is a job that Bartlet just signed up for four more years of, by the way. However, it’s nice to find out that the process – the way Bartlet ran his campaign and the debate specifically – was what got him the re-election. The process mattered.


Like I said in the commission video for this episode, this part of Toby and Andy’s story not only made more sense, but it was sweet. I got a much better sense for what these two characters were going through and why this had turned out to be such a complicated situation for them. You know, in hindsight,  I think this plot just suffered from a lack of time on the screen. Here, the writers explore the political complications of Andy’s pregnancy, and then they do a brilliant thing with it: THEY GIVE ALL THE POWER TO ANDY. Of course, it’s a messy path to that point, at least for Toby. All he can see are the disasters, the controversies, the scandals, the way the media will twist this into a nightmare for Bartlet and for Andy. And yet, that’s precisely why Andy is doing this. I love the idea that she’s purposely trolling for a battle, to expose this sexist hypocrisy for what it is. God, can we please see more of this? Because really, that’s what stinks about this. Andy shouldn’t have to do any of this beyond releasing a statement. It shouldn’t be a fight. It shouldn’t be an issue that she and Toby aren’t married, and even if they are working on reconciliation, that should be their shit to deal with privately.

I am definitely way into this storyline now, y’all.


Oh, Donna, you have a crush. A big one. This can’t go well, can it? I mean, can Donna even date a co-worker? Okay, those aren’t important questions, at least not yet. I didn’t really get a vibe that Reese felt the same towards Donna, though they’ve only known one another for like… six hours. Max. I’m curious how many of you can relate to Donna here, though, because I sure can. I’ve been her more times than I can care to count. When I have a crush on someone and they’re like…. not on the Internet? Yeah, like an in-person human. That’s an important distinction! I have friends I have literally never “met” in the physical world and I group them under the umbrella of “friend” all the time. Anyway, I always overkill it with the whole being super nice thing. I go out of my way (and often times to the detriment of myself) just to impress people or get them to like me. You better believe I did that with my current boyfriend. Though… wait, technically, that means it worked. Oh, shit. BAD EXAMPLE. Or good one! I have no idea if Donna actually has a chance with Reese, right?

Plus, you have to take into account how stressful and difficult Reese’s job is. How is that actually going to work? What if he always has odd hours in the middle of the night? Granted, I’m hella reading into this because this is what I do. Reese has been around for only two episodes. I think I’ll let him grow over a few more before I try to comment on whether or not this relationship is going to happen in the first place.


I don’t know how the show’s going to deal with this, but I gotta say: This is my favorite Sam Seaborn plot yet. It’s energetic. It’s exciting. It’s so strange. And I don’t just mean that Horton Wilde’s win. That’s happened a few times in American politics. But when Sam made that promise to Wilde’s widow, I don’t even know if I thought that was going to happen. It was a neat idea, sure! But Sam run for the California 47th? But… he’s the Deputy White House Communications Director! He can’t. Now, obviously, that comprises Sam’s dilemma. He can’t do both, and I expected that we’d be treated to a terribly awkward scene where Sam would have to withdraw his name to Wilde’s widow.

Y’all, I literally asked when Sam would decide to tell someone other than Donna about his predicament, and then THE NEWS TOLD THE ENTIRE NATION. Oh my god, the mixture between horror and humor that Sorkin and company capture here is just delicious. Sam’s panicking while Toby, C.J., and Josh are elated with the idea. I don’t necessarily mean that they’re into it; it’s Amy who actually suggests that Sam follow through with his promise. No, I think they’re just tickled by how bizarre the sudden announcement was.

Regardless, the news spawns Josh into action, who realizes that Will Bailey’s dedication to Horton Wilde’s ideals (and to the Democratic party as a whole) mattered. It speaks to the title once more. There was a story in what Will had done, and why couldn’t they keep the momentum going? Why not find a way to energize the Democratic party by showing them that they shouldn’t give up on historically un-winnable districts? Why not demonstrate faith in the democratic process again? I admit that this is some pie-in-the-sky liberalism that The West Wing often imagines for us, but I’m still not terribly bothered by it. I appreciate it. It’s almost like this show is a fantasy that shows me how I wish many things happened in our government. But in the end, it’s an exciting choice for Sam Seaborn’s journey as a character. It’s just plain good writing, y’all!








The video commission for “Process Stories” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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