Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E10 – Arctic Radar

In the tenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, THIS SEASON IS SO GOOD. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Y’all, I’m so pleased with this episode. SO GOOD.


Interlaced throughout “Arctic Radar” is an engaging story about the future of the White House and its staff. In the wake of Horton Wilde’s victory in the California 47th, it’s now time for Sam to begin his transition to… well, that’s still uncertain. At the very least, he’ll be out of the White House for three months while he campaigns. What happens after that, though? That’s left for the future. For now, though, Toby’s got a monumental problem on his hands: He cannot fill the vacuum left in Sam’s absence. Much like when Sam had to take Josh’s place at the beginning of the season, Toby realizes just how vital Sam has been to the speechwriting process. Initially, this is all I saw the plot as. How do you replace Sam when the position requires someone of exceptional intelligence? (And while I understood Toby’s point, I was irked that he used the example of hiring someone who was African American because… oh, come on, you can come up with an example that’s far less loaded than that. No, thanks.)

That’s when Sorkin presents us with an opportunity that, in hindsight, was always there to begin with: WILL BAILEY TAKING SAM’S PLACE. As I mentioned in the video, I don’t know any of the casting spoilers for this show, so I have no idea how many episodes Joshua Malina is in. This made “Arctic Radar” a whole lot of fun to watch because IT WAS SO EXCITING TO REALIZE THAT WILL COULD TAKE SAM’S PLACE. It’s not just a fascinating bit of character development, but it provides the writers with a way to deal with Sam’s departure if he does win the California 47th.

And then, there’s a surprise punch in the heart waiting in the end. Like I said, I thought this was just about Toby not trusting another person to take Sam’s place. However, after Will presents Toby with a stellar example of his talent, Toby suddenly finds himself opening up about his own doubts as a writer. It’s a sobering, grim moment, one I didn’t expect. I love the way it’s filmed. Toby is shrouded by darkness in that room, hinting at the struggle he has with his own ability, haunted by the thought that he’s not going to be remembered for writing Bartlet’s second Inaugural speech. It’s such a raw moment for the character, especially since he’s not known for being this emotionally honest.

I think Will’s advice is actually spot-on. Look at how much Toby’s been dealing with lately! And we don’t even know what’s going on with him and Andy, either. Taking a break – and getting a relief pitcher to rest – might be precisely what Toby needs. However, the final line hints at the possibility that maybe Toby just needs to jump head first into this with Will to help him instead.



AHHHHH SO MANY FEELINGS AND AHHHHHHH JACK REESE BASICALLY SHIPS DONNA/JOSH AND AHHHHHH I CAN’T DEAL WITH THESE TWO. I CAN’T. Please tell me I was not the only person who saw the way that Josh stared at Donna after Jack pointed out that Josh basically knows Donna like a girlfriend and ahhhhhhhh IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING? I mean, this story was such a mess after Josh thought it was appropriate to tell Jack about all of Donna’s idiosyncrasies, except he did this because HE FINDS DONNA ENDLESSLY ENDEARING.

Y’ALL. MAKE IT HAPPEN. Oh god, I realize that is a useless thing to say, but a boy can hope. Like, if Christian Slater’s entire role here is to basically get Josh to realize that Donna is perfect incarnate, then I’m fine with that. I’M SO FINE.


And yet, Josh still does something I hate in this episode, despite that otherwise, I think this is one fine example of why The West Wing is a great show. It’s even more egregious given that he makes that really unfortunate Jackie Robinson comment and the text criticizes him for making it. THAT IS GOOD. THAT WAS A GREAT SCENE AND REALLY GOOD WRITING. And then Josh goes on that rant with the Star Trek fan that is so transparently and obviously Aaron Sorkin telling fans of his show how they are to enjoy The West Wing. What an awful, disjointed, and downright offensive scene. It’s fucking abysmal. First of all, I DON’T THINK YOU KNOW WHAT A FETISH IS, AARON SORKIN. Because trust me, it’s not making lists to determine your favorite episode of a show. It’s not! I assure you that the vast majority of fans who do this aren’t then masturbating to said lists. (My comment assumes that Sorkin meant fetish in the sexual context of the word. If not, then my bad.)

I just hate the way this is executed. I hate that the woman just agrees with him, I hate that it’s framed in this ridiculous “hobby” logic, as if that excuses everything that preceded it, and I hate that we’re expected to believe that Josh would even say something like this. The dude is OBSESSED WITH SPORTS. WE HAVE ESSENTIALLY SEEN HIM DO THE VERY THING HE IS CRITICIZING.

Oh god, no.


I feel like one of the general themes of her character is that we should never, ever cross her. She will crush you and do so with a giant smile plastered on her face. (Of course, if you’re Charlie, then it’s acceptable. Charlie will win. Charlie cannot lose. Charlie is the answer.) I admit that I’d love to see a plot for her that’s a little more in-depth than what we get in “Arctic Radar,” but I was pleased to see her take that reporter down. (That actor was on Angel, wasn’t he??? In the pilot, right??)

Bartlet/Vicky Hilton

In addition to the plot involving Sam, Toby, and Will, the other main story that we get over the course of this episode concerns a soldier, Vicky Hilton, who was ordered to end a relationship with another officer and now possibly faces a dishonorable discharge for her actions. For the most part, this isn’t even about the solution to this issue. Leo is convinced that the White House shouldn’t get involved in the problem, despite that every staffer feels that this is wrong for a different reason. (Though I must repeat myself here: Could this show stop referring to any issue that Amy brings up as being from “the women”? I understand wanting to speak in shorthand, but it’s always done in this derogatory manner, and it’s really gross.) Leo’s job is to filter what does and does not get to the President, so that’s why he asks Charlie to try to keep the U.N. Secretary General off of Bartlet’s desk.

But why shouldn’t the President get involved in more things? Why are they afraid? This is Bartlet’s second term. He isn’t going to win over a Republican majority in Congress, so why not do whatever they want? Of course, this all comes to a head in one of the most hilariously entertaining scenes in the whole show. Oh my god, look how red Bartlet’s face gets when he yells at the phone. It’s glorious. I haven’t spoken of it yet, but these actors have such brilliant comic timing. That’s talent, y’all. The writing is spectacular, too, but the way these people pull it off is such a treat.

Ugh, I just love it when Leo gets all feelings explosion at Bartlet. More of this? More of it, thanks.

The video commission for “Arctic Radar” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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