In the fifteenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, THIS IS SO MAJESTIC AND GLORIOUS. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Seriously, unless the remaining episodes of season four are all universally terrible, this is going to be my favorite season of The West Wing. This episode is an immense achievement in writing and characterization, and it feels so huge in terms of the showâ€™s sense of storytelling. In addition to this, I just felt so happy at the end of â€œInauguration: Over There (Part II).â€ THIS IS FANTASTIC.
Oh, feelings. Willâ€™s arc has been written beautifully, and I think Sorkin did an incredible job explaining why Willâ€™s issues with the speech he was writing were so frustrating. Heâ€™d been hired to craft the Inauguration speech, and he learned the hard way that sometimes, heâ€™d be asked to write something he fundamentally disagreed with. Itâ€™s disheartening to watch him go through this, and I genuinely thought that this experience would discourage him from ever working for the White House again. Who could blame him? Itâ€™s especially hard for Will because he knows that Toby has used his position to affect meaningful change before, and yet, heâ€™s satisfied with the most non-controversial language humanly possibly that satisfies everyone without actually saying anything of significance. And itâ€™s not like Will hides his feelings at any point during this episode, either.
I had to think of where Will came from when I was thinking about his journey this season. Heâ€™d come off of a successful campaign where he was in control, where he helped a dead candidate win in a district that a Democrat never wins in, and heâ€™d done so with a very palpable sense of freedom. Now, heâ€™s thrust into this controlled machine, and itâ€™s a harsh juxtaposition with where he came from.
And yet, he perseveres. I canâ€™t forget about what Bartlet says at the end of â€œInaugurationâ€ because it reflects Willâ€™s story so well. â€œNever doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world,â€ he tells Will, and thatâ€™s so indicative of what Will truly believed. It was Willâ€™s biting remark about the worth of a life in Kundu that inspired Bartlet to rethink his position on foreign aid and humanitarianism, and itâ€™s his work that produces one of the best speeches that most of these staffers have ever heard. (I do wish weâ€™d gotten to hear some of it.) Still, I was surprised (pleasantly so!) when Toby told Leo that he wanted Will as his Deputy. Itâ€™s not that it doesnâ€™t make sense. It totally does! But itâ€™s also clear now that the show is at least replacing Sam for the time being. (Whatâ€™s going on with his campaign, by the way? We havenâ€™t seen anything about it in a while.) UGH, I was just so happy seeing Will get offered the position. Itâ€™s a fantastic character moment, and itâ€™s a sign of a new era for the show. Hell, this whole season has imbued the show with a frantic kind of energy that I adore. Bravo, The West Wing. Four seasons in, and youâ€™re giving me some of my favorite stories.
Itâ€™s amazing to me how so many different stories â€“ Jack Reese, Donnaâ€™s loyalty to Jack, C.J.â€™s relationship with Danny, and Bartletâ€™s desire to shift foreign policy â€“ all come together by the end of this episode. Itâ€™s one of those quintessentially Sorkin-esque narratives. To me, one of his strongest techniques is creating these deeply layered and complex stories that are able to be tied together neatly and emotionally. As politically dense as this show can be, Iâ€™m always impressed when The West Wing gives me a reason to care about these characters.
The second half of this story surprisingly doesnâ€™t have much to do with the Inauguration itself, though thatâ€™s always looming over the heads of these characters. Weâ€™ve got Danny, who is so dangerously close to the truth, both with Sharif and what happened between the White House and the Pentagon. The interactions Danny has with C.J. are, of course, rife with a whole lot of awkward tension. It doesnâ€™t help that C.J. knows that Danny is on to something with the Shareef story, but then Sorkin shocks us when the big reveal here has virtually nothing to do with that.
Still, I donâ€™t want to ignore that Leo orchestrates a lot of this specifically to keep C.J. out of the loop, particularly the whole bit about the Executive Orders that were â€œrescinded.â€ Leo is doing his best to protect Bartlet, but at what cost? How much longer can he keep C.J. in the dark?
So when the entire group gets that frantic call to return to the White House, I worried about what was going to transpire. Did Danny connect the dots? How is the team going to react to Bartletâ€™s sudden epiphany over Babes in Toyland? (Oh god, could you imagine if theyâ€™d found out where Bartlet got the idea from? If thatâ€™s how Abbey reacted, just imagine Tobyâ€™s reaction. Or C.J.â€™s. ITâ€™S FUN TO IMAGINE THIS.) Itâ€™s through this that Sorkin creates this thrilling and exhilarating collision of storylines. As the staff converges on the Oval Office, the audience is left to wonder which bit of news will take precedence, or which of the two will be more devastating. Then weâ€™re teased by that unbelievable tense sequence where C.J. is shrieking at Danny over some â€œunnamed White House sourceâ€ and everything is on fire and why is everyone yelling and WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON.
It really is some masterful writing, yâ€™all. Weâ€™re delivered two huge blows â€“ the announcement of Bartletâ€™s change in foreign policy to create a â€œdoctrine of humanitarian relief,â€ followed by the reveal that Donna was the unnamed source, and that she said that the White House wasnâ€™t loyal to folks in uniform. Itâ€™s a victory and a disaster all at once. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO DEAL WITH THIS?
Iâ€™m not really sure how the military deals with this, as we donâ€™t really hear of any fallout with the State Department or the Pentagon by the end of this episode. Instead, we learn that Donna â€“ righteous and glorious Donna â€“ was covering for Jack. This gives us one of my absolute favorite scenes in all of season four: Danny, Charlie, Will, Toby, and Josh throwing snowballs at Donnaâ€™s window to get her to come down and go to the ball with them. Itâ€™s sweet, of course, because these people all care about Donna a great deal, and even in the case of Will, whoâ€™s only known her for a couple months, he goes to support her anyway. No surprise: This scene is brutally unfair for Josh/Donna shippers. HE SAYS SHE LOOKS BEAUTIFUL. DONâ€™T TEASE ME LIKE THAT.
Iâ€™m guessing weâ€™re not going to see Jack Reese again, which means that Christian Slater is handled more strangely than any other guest star on this show. He didnâ€™t even get a goodbye episode! Heâ€™s just gone. To Italy. Hmmm. And yet, life goes on for the White House staff. They briefly celebrate Willâ€™s promotion and a successful inauguration, but given the Presidentâ€™s order of troops to Kundu, the team doesnâ€™t get a night off. Itâ€™s back to work, as it always is, because the world doesnâ€™t stop for these people.
What a fine episode, yâ€™all. HOW IS THIS SEASON SO GOOD?
The video commission for â€œInauguration: Over There (Part II)â€ can be downloaded right here.
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