In the fourteenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, a number of crises strike the White House staff just prior to Bartlet’s inauguration. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Y’all, what is this season??? I’m endlessly fascinated by the choice to make this (what seems to be) the most consistently uncomfortable serialized storylines on the show so far. But they’re not uncomfortable for the sake of it; no, this feels like an intentional exploration of the very idea of what it means to hold this much power over a nation. Think about it: we’ve got the story of Shareef’s assassination, coupled with Danny’s pursuit of the truth; the reelection campaign demonstrated what it took for Bartlet to win another term; and Bartlet’s interest in a foreign policy that is based more on humanitarian (rather than economic) interests backfires in increasingly disturbing ways. As fun and even whimsical as this show can be, I think we’re touching on some of the most powerfully realistic stories that Sorkin has ever written. The echelons of power are fucked up, and we’re continually seeing how this is beginning to affect these characters.
Oh god, let’s do it.
I don’t know that I have anything significant or insightful to say about Charlie’s role in “Inauguration, Part I.” He largely serves as the lone humorous plot in a mess of disturbing and upsetting tales. Truthful, it’s about the only thing that doesn’t feel new and exciting. We’ve seen him scramble back and forth to get something for the President, and the shenaniganry we see here is pretty much the same. Except I’m not complaining about seeing THE BIGGEST BIBLE EVER!!! Holy shot, THAT THING WAS HUGE. I kind of want to own one????? Could you even imagine how ridiculous I would be if I did have it? You better believe I would find any reason to quote scripture in all my commission videos.
Anyway, there’s still some lingering jealousy on his part towards Zoey’s new beau, which I admit is not terribly exciting? I think that’s mostly because I don’t see where this is going. So, Charlie is jealous that Zoey is with someone new. And? How does she feel? Is Jean-Paul going to ever become anything more than a punch line? I’ll get interested once something else happens.
Technically, this two-parter is an in media res story, since the cold open is the actual Inauguration. The only case of the present story spoiling me too much for the flashback is with Will. This isn’t to say his character has nothing to do here. Oh no, that scene with Bryce Lilly alone is worth the price of admission. (It’s also a neat chance to give Joshua Malina a much meatier scene than we’ve seen from him.) But the present-time opening tells me that the inauguration speech turns out well, or at least that’s how I read Bartlet’s interaction with C.J. So it does deflate some of Will’s moments, since I know he figures out what to write. That being said, it’s what Will finds in the redacted speech that affects the content of the President’s foreign policy, so I’ll save that for the last section.
Also, can Elsie stick around? She’s awesome.
Good god, she’s amazing. There are two really incredible aspects to her role in this episode, first dealing with Danny. It’s clear that C.J. is more uncomfortable than ever with Danny’s persistence, especially given that she knows how close he is to the truth. And C.J. knows that there’s something to this story, so I think that she’s a bit frightened to have it confirmed. Who wouldn’t be??? And when Danny does find the signal agent, and the guy has conveniently forgotten ever speaking to Danny, it’s way too much coincidence to be… Well, a coincidence. So it’s not lost on me that it’s at this moment that C.J. answers the question Danny asked earlier: What would she do if she wanted to have him? THAT IS WHAT SHE WOULD DO. It’s a demonstration of power and a distraction all at once.
And then, mixed in with all of this, is her growing horror at each update on the crisis in Kundu. It’s not just hers, obviously, as we see Josh, Bartlet, Leo, and others react to a literal genocide being acted out in an African country. C.J., though, is the only character who discovers what’s happening in Kundu while on live television. Allison Janney does this thing with her face with each new update! and it’s like how do you act.
The plots of Donna, Josh, Leo, and Bartlet all revolve around this particular storyline in such remarkably different ways, though most characters fall in line with C.J.’s reaction: utter horror. It’s fascinating and infuriating to finally know why Bartlet’s apparent foreign policy was so hated and controversial. The cold open only gives us the frantic reactions of Democrats and Republicans, of people in other branches of the government. Why? What could possibly be so bad about the new policy he was announcing at his inauguration???
It’s fascinating to see how various government officials and Congresspeople react to the idea that we should pursue more humanitarian efforts instead of looking to bolster our economic dominance in the world. And it’s infuriating to find out that the Kundu genocide is a point of contention with these people. People are being slaughtered by the thousands, and now, it’s suddenly not our business to intervene? It’s frustrating to see this play out because in any other context that’s in our vested interest, this country many of us live in is always willing to find a reason to intervene. The United States has a long and disturbing history of imperialism and colonialism, much of which has destroyed cultures around the world. (Purely on a personal note, since my father was half-Hawaiian, y’all should look up how the US annexed Hawaii and made it a state, specifically in reference to what happened to Queen Liliuokalani. It’s a stunning example of this hypocrisy.) So I understand the mounting horror these people feel. I understand why Bartlet ordered that force depletion report, and did so secretly. My father was in the military, so I also knew that disobeying the chain of command was tantamount to treason anyway.
I didn’t expect Reese’s transfer. Even though it was mentioned in the cold open, there was no way that I could have fully understood what happened to him. Jack, of all people, obeyed an order, and HE was the one sent to ITALY. Overnight! Oh my god, that’s so bitter and vindictive, y’all. And Donna is absolutely crushed. She knows he did something for her office, but she has no idea of the scope of it. Oh god, IT’S ALL SO AWFUL.
So now I’m curious how this is going to pan out in the second half of this episode. I really hope Bartlet doesn’t back down from his new foreign policy angle, though I know it’s not going to make him any more popular. We’ve seen hints in this season that Bartlet’s second term is going to be more difficult than his first, so perhaps this is what those clues were referring to. Oh god, I NEED THE SECOND HALF OF THIS EPISODE RIGHT NOW.
The video commission for “Inauguration, Part I” can be downloaded right here.
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