Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E09 – Swiss Diplomacy

In the ninth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, the team faces the very sudden realization that a victory doesn’t mean they get the day off. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Yeah, I already love season four. As I said in today’s commission, it’s been such a remarkably consistent and entertaining experience that I’m eager to continue diving into the future of this show. So many good stories!


Okay, let’s start off with… I suppose it’s a complaint, but I have to admit that I may have just misheard the line. BUT: Did Josh make a dog-eating comment after being asked to have dinner with the wife of the Vietnamese diplomat? Did that just fucking happen? Granted, Donna has a couple moments where she sort of calls Josh out on his stereotyping (ACTUALLY THAT’S CALLED RACISM but whatever), but still. How did anyone let that line get on the air? It’s fucking abhorrent, distracting, and gross. NO. DON’T DO THIS.

So let’s talk about Vice President Hoynes, who I kind of forgot about? Yeah, I guess I expected him to play a part in the show running up to the election, but instead, he quite literally fell into the background of the show. Hell, he wasn’t even mentioned in any of the episodes before this, was he? Even if that’s strange in real-world terms, it actually has a fascinating effect here: Hoynes re-appears in a way to remind the team that this is their last chance to run the country. There’s not another election for Bartlet. Josh gets wrapped up in a frustrating dilemma then. Just hours after winning re-election, they’ve got to deal with Democrats, including Hoynes, who are all vying for a position as the next President. HOURS. THEY JUST WON HOURS AGO. Josh makes a good point here: How the hell are Bartlet and his team supposed to manage the government if their party is already fighting amongst themselves over something four years in the future?

In an episode where there are a lot of uncomfortable moments, I think Josh’s conversation with Hoynes tops the list. My god, it’s unbearable. After Hoynes already compromised himself to serve the President, he’s being told to stay quiet AGAIN. God, I can imagine just how horrible this must feel, you know? Granted, there’s a twist to this that makes it especially painful: PRESIDENT BARTLET HAD CALLED ALL THOSE PRECINCT CAPTAINS, NOT HOYNES. Oh my god oh my god. And it perfectly relates to what Toby goes through, doesn’t it? Bartlet is trying to return a favor. He’s trying to help someone who took a hit to support him, but nope. nope.


Let’s just talk about Toby and Karen Kroft, then, since it’s so fitting. Actually, you know what? How perfect would this story have been in “Process Stories”? Karen reminded me of Will Bailey’s words at the end of that episode. Toby calls her into his office to discuss an offer for her, a way for the Bartlet team to thank her for deliberately taking a hit in her own election to bring up the issue of a gas tax. So he offers her the position of Director of the National Parks Service. Yeah, we don’t know all that much about Kroft, but it was still clear to me that this meant a lot to her! It was such a nice gesture.

Except then Toby has to take the offer back. Wow, what’s with this episode being so uncomfortable all of the time??? They won, it should be a celebration with puppies and rainbows! Of course, that’s the point: The government doesn’t stop once a President is elected. They’re still in office; it’s nearly two months until Inauguration Day, and they’ve got a country to run. Unfortunately, due to a technicality, Karen’s not going to be a part of that administration, and Toby has to be the one to tell her. However, like Will Bailey, she realizes that the end result of her battle isn’t the most important part. The journey was. The exposure she got fighting for the gas tax was worth it. Sure, she lost her re-election bid, but she appreciates that she stuck to her morals in the process. How often do politicians get to say that? Ugh, just when this show introduces an awesome side character, I’m certain they’ll never bring her up again. BOO. BOO.


I’m going to keep saying this because it’s fun and I can’t believe it, but IT’S REALLY HAPPENING. SAM IS RUNNING. Holy shit, it’s so exciting. Except… no more Will Bailey? Ugh, I want to know so much more about his character and his sister and his cute little face, but it looks like he’s out. Granted, he clearly deserves a vacation. Is it bad that I still have hope that Sam might actually win the election? I think having Will on board as campaign manager would certainly better the odds, but still. I’m very familiar with the conservative politics of Orange County; I lived there for a while (until I could not stand one more second in that place GOOD GOD) and got to see it acted out on the news all the time. Sam has a difficult journey ahead of him. I just hope that by some stroke of luck or destiny, Will Bailey still appears on the show. (For the record, I know nothing regarding casting or casting news for this entire show, so please don’t inadvertently spoil me. I stay away from IMDb for shows I am watching for a reason!)


So, as I’ve mentioned, it’s a common theme across “Swiss Diplomacy” that the White House has to jump right back into things after the re-election. Actually, that’s a familiar thing for most of the show, you know? Events don’t occur in the domestic and foreign arena in a way that’s convenient to the White House or to their schedule. So, just after finding out that he’s going to keep his job for four more years, he gets a bizarre crisis dropped into his lap: the son of the Ayatollah of Iran has a rare and life-threatening congenital heart condition that can only be remedied by one of three doctors in the United States. Through the Swiss, Leo finds out that they’re trying to get the boy into surgery as soon as possible, but soon learns that it could easily turn into a diplomatic disaster.

I think Sorkin, Kevin Falls, and Elin Attie largely do a fine job with conveying the ridiculous number of complications that would present themselves if such a thing actually happened. The Ayatollah can’t outright ask for help, so it happens through the Swiss. Two of the doctors aren’t available, and the third is morally opposed to helping the child since his relatives were tortured and murdered by the Ayatollah’s regime. Oh, and it could turn into a public relations disaster if it’s leaked. GREAT.

But for Bartlet (and for Abbey, too), the ultimate logic comes down to this: Do they let a fifteen-year-old child die for what his father did? Bartlet says no, absolutely not. Abbey says that a doctor is obligated to treat the patient in front of them, moral standings aside, because that’s what they’re supposed to do. When Bartlet speaks with Dr. Ehsan Mohebi, though, he expresses this with a lot more sensitivity to Mohebi’s fears. I liked that he told Dr. Mohebi that in the end, it was his choice. The Ayatollah “made his bed,” he says, and Bartlet will respect Dr. Mohebi’s choice. Instead, he chooses to instill Dr. Mohebi with a little bit of hope. What if his actions change the world? What if they’re the start of a transformation?

I know I’ve said that I appreciate the more cynical and realistic portions of The West Wing, but it’s really the show’s saccharine and wishful sense of hope that gets to me. Like I said in the last West Wing review, I love when this show gives me a glimpse of what our government could be like as much as I enjoy the accuracy. It’s a nice mixture between the two, and in this case, I’m glad that Bartlet tried to find a solution that was hopeful.

Ugh, y’all, this season is SO GREAT so far!

The video commission for “Swiss Diplomacy” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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1 Response to Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E09 – Swiss Diplomacy

  1. Will says:

    Hey Mark,

    Your comments about season four are pretty spot-on. My main issue with season three was the pacing. Simply put, it was off. It started well enough with the administration dealing with the public revelation of Bartlet’s MS and the early episodes concentrated on that and what the team were anticipating with regards to the fallout.

    Then the storyline was dropped for the next several episodes with no mention of it being made and when we eventually get back it to, it’s swiftly resolved with Bartlet accepting a censure from Congress and that’s that. Aside from Leo’s appearance in front of the committee investigation this matter, we never saw any of the other characters undergo this (inlcuding Bartlet himself) and frankly that was a missed opportunity on the part of Sorkin and Co to get some real dramatic juice out of the storyline.

    Season four has not only hit the ground running but picked up momentum and has maintained a solid pace with the debate, the election, the victory and now it’s about getting back to business.

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