Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E12 – Guns Not Butter

In the twelfth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, the team races against the clock in an attempt to pass a seemingly impossible foreign aid bill. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Goddamn, y’all, this season is 12/12. I have enjoyed every single episode, and “Guns Not Butter” is no exception. This episode manages to mix some of the funniest gags and long-running jokes with the brutal reality that Bartlet, despite winning his re-election, is about to face a long uphill battle. Danny knows the truth, even if he doesn’t have the evidence. The Republican-controlled Congress is clearly going to wage every battle imaginable. And the White House is going to have to balance all of this while attempting to stay relevant. Oh god, this really feels like it’s building up to something huge.

Anyway, let’s get to it!


So, he’s definitely taking Sam’s place, right? Rob Lowe is out of the credits, his character is only mentioned in conjunction, and Will’s being rather ruthlessly hazed. Well, most of it is harmless! Just bikes and posters and a goat. I want to be best friends with Ron! For the most part, Will’s placed in the background of this episode, only popping up to be called the wrong name by literally everyone. However, as much as I want MORE WILL BAILEY ALL THE TIME, it doesn’t make sense for him to get a prominent storyline in “Guns Not Butter.” He’s still working on the Inaugural speech with Toby, and we still don’t know if Sam is coming back after three months. (I honestly don’t think he will.) So, he’s the butt of about twenty jokes, and for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Also, he offered to feed the goat! Bless your heart, Will.


It’s almost like Sorkin and company realized that they’d just dropped Zoey’s new boyfriend in our laps without a single bit of explanation, and then, in this episode, they go, “Oh shit, we should explain this.” This isn’t the neatest plot in this season – I found it a bit tacky that an issue as important as military folk on welfare was sidelined as a story about jealousy – but I’m happy that we got some time with Charlie. Plus, his story acts as a reminder that these people live and breathe the White House. Nothing’s getting easier for any of them, and Charlie’s potential relationship with Zoey suffered for that. It’s fitting, then, that he pursues this letter further once Zoey’s new boyfriend tries to take Charlie down a notch by implying that he’s powerless. Of course, this horribly backfires once Charlie tries to call in a favor and ends up using his position to draw the attention of the Department of Defense. Whoops. Thankfully, Bartlet isn’t too hard on him after the DoD sends the most passive-aggressive memo I’ve ever seen on this show. Good lord, that was brutal.

I admit that I’m a little bothered that Zoey isn’t really a part of all of this, though. All these men talk about her, and she has like five lines the whole time. Since when was it acceptable to just ruthlessly make fun of French people, by the way??? So yeah, this was a weird story, but I did like that Charlie was onscreen more than usual.


I really don’t think there’s a way to stop Danny at this point. Sure, he’s definitely buying time by investigating all of the flight schools for the fictional pilot of Shareef’s plane. But I also don’t think C.J. has any power to stop him, either. At best, she can dance around the subject. I’m worried that this is going to take a toll on C.J., but not just because of the pressure that Danny’s putting on her. She suspects that Danny’s hunch is fact, and I think it’ll eat at her conscience. Oh god, I don’t think that Bartlet and Leo are going to be able to keep this a secret much longer.

Other than this, I couldn’t help but think of C.J. and her lovely turkeys from the first season while watching “Guns Not Butter.” Except this time, she places the animal in question – Ron the goat – in someone else’s office instead of her own. It’s so beautiful.


Oh, HOLY FEELINGS. SO MANY FEELINGS. The central plot in “Guns Not Butter” concerns the impossible feat that is set before Josh: He must ensure that a vital foreign aid bill is passed or there won’t be any foreign aid for the coming year. In theory, this isn’t a new story for The West Wing. We’ve seen the staff chase after votes, but Sorkin and the writers inject a whole lot more tension and dread into this vote than any of the others. The foreign aid bill is incredibly important, and while Danny’s right that the team doesn’t spend much time defending it’s necessity, I think that’s because this was more a warning of what was to come.

It’s important the main person that Josh pursues – with Donna’s help – is actually a Democrat. It doesn’t look good for the President that a freshman Senator is refusing to take a call from the President to avoid telling him no. Which… wow. Wow. Senator Hardin uses her assistant Ellen to completely refuse to take responsibility for her vote, and it’s brutal. Because of Josh’s fear that he’ll fail the President, though, we get to see him do something that he would otherwise NEVER DO EVER. I mean, y’all, Senator Hoebuck’s idea goes through Toby first, and that’s important. It’s important because we get to watch his face while a person actually asks him for money from the government to fund a study on remote prayer. This literally happened. And you know, I feel like this is another one of those strange things that shows up on The West Wing but is actually based in reality. I would not put it past people in Congress to try to introduce a bill or ask for funding for something like this. (And that’s not to suggest that prayer is worthless, but that we clearly cannot have our government paying for studies on remote prayer for people who may not even want it.)

Josh should have known that this was a silly idea to bring before the President, but it’s a manifestation of his desperation, and Bartlet realizes why he’s so desperate: Josh doesn’t want to disappoint Leo. Oh. Oh. Hello, feelings. How are you doing?

No, wait, the feelings really come out when it’s time for Donna to be FUCKING AMAZING. It’s so disappointing that everything she did was for naught because she was so good at tracking down Senator Hardin. And it ignites all these feelings I have for her as a character because… well, I want more from her! I want to see her do something else besides be Josh’s assistant because I bet she’d be great at it. And yet, I also can’t deny that I love seeing Donna earn Josh’s respect like she does here. He’s proud of what she’s done, even if they lost in the end.

They lost. I’m so thankful that as fantastical as this show can be at times, Sorkin keeps the team grounded. They can’t win everything, and there’s no shame in losing a battle. There’s just motivation to keep going. And I love that.

Bless this season so far. I’d love a photo of the team with Ron the goat, by the way.

The video commission for “Guns Not Butter” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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