Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E16 – The California 47th

In the sixteenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, the staff heads to California to help Sam, while Will stays behind to work on some projects Toby has left him. AND THEN EVERYTHING IS A DISASTER. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

GOOD GOD, THIS EPISODE IS SO STRESSFUL. And funny! But so much stress-induced tension, too. Let’s do this.

  • So, I admit that I was excited that the Bartlet administration was moving away from economic interest-based foreign policy initiatives, and then the very first use of said policy has these really, really creepy imperialist overtones to it. I think Sorkin expected that I’d feel all victorious that US forces captured the airport in Bitanga, but this doesn’t feel as much like an exercise in humanitarian action as it does as colonization, or at least the beginning of it. Granted, I think that’s because the deliberate parallels to the genocide in Rwanda that Sorkin has put into this story means we’re asked to fill in the details of this on our own. The plot is simplified to create two clear moral sides: the US forces and the President of Kundu, with the ambassadors playing the role of… what? Messengers? They don’t have much characterization in this episode anyway.
  • Well, let’s address some other things before I get back to the Kundu problem. So, Jean-Paul! I am just so flummoxed by his inclusion in this season. It was already bewildering to have Zoey dating someone else, and now, she’s cast aside with absolutely no character development whatsoever aside from what Jean-Paul tells us about her. Which is lazy writing in and of itself, but that’s not quite the point I want to make. Jean-Paul hangs around in every episode he is in specifically so that characters in the White House can make anti-French jokes and criticize European values. I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THIS PASSES AS ACCEPTABLE EVER. It happens every single time Jean-Paul is on screen! Everyone complains about him being obnoxiously French! He goes to Versace fashion shows! He believes American working habits are ludicrous! I’m surprised that Sorkin hasn’t just had someone with a shitty mustache come pelt Jean-Paul’s body with a baguette, because that’s seriously the level of writing we’re getting for his character. What is the point of this? I guess that’s what ultimately bothers me about this. Why did you bring Zoey back if she wasn’t going to be the focus of her own return? The story is always about Jean-Paul being French, and Charlie being hopelessly in love with her despite the fact that she clearly doesn’t want to date him. I don’t get any of this. I really hope there’s something to this by the end of this season, because I’m just confused.
  • On a more positive front, can we just talk about how endlessly adorable it is that the entire staff agrees to work against their own interest when it comes to the Democratic tax plan just to help Sam out in his nearly impossible race? I can’t ignore this. IT’S SO NICE. Impractical, yes, but I’m willing to excuse it simply because FEELINGS, Y’ALL. JUST SO MANY FEELINGS FOR THIS. And it’s weird to me that I’m finally full of all these emotions for Sam, given that it took me so long to warm up to him. But oh god, his story in “The California 47th” is just so good.
  • I think that this is an excellent depiction of the negative and positive aspects of personal politics within a party. The White House supports Sam at their own expense, and Holcomb brings Sam’s campaign down to benefit himself. (I JUST REALIZED THAT HOLCOMB WAS PLAYED BY THE GUY WHO WAS ALSO GLENN GUGLIA IN THE WEDDING SINGER. That’s how I knew his face!) We’ve seen this before, but I loved the contrast of behaviors surrounding Sam.
  • Oh my god, just watch Andy’s face while Toby is being an asshole about her pregnancy. It’s a thing of beauty. Also, shut up, Toby.
  • So, I felt really bad for Will in this episode because the joy he experienced the previous night is brought to a sobering end when he finds out that his staff that he inherited from Sam’s time at the White House have all quit overnight because of Will’s promotion. I suppose I understand that they were upset, but still. All of them? And then I worried about how the interns were being portrayed. There are overwhelmingly more men in positions of power and on the staff in the White House, and C.J. and Nancy are pretty much the only women who command attention/power on a regular basis. Suddenly, there are four new women characters! Who are initially portrayed as fools who can’t write. Sigh, really? Like, I get the idea that interns aren’t totally qualified in this case, but you had to make them all women, too? I’m hoping instead that Will does something awesome like… make them into writers? Hire them? Something better than just having them there as a punchline?
  • (I swear, I know I’m complaining a lot, but I did like this episode a lot!)
  • Let’s talk about disasters, because the White House exemplifies Murphy’s Law in every sense of the adage. There’s a freeway mix-up, which decimates the evening commute in Los Angeles, which I know from experience is a death sentence for people in that city. (Oh god, I had already moved by the time Carmageddon happened, which was when a huge portion of the 405 was closed for construction. The 405 – like the 5 Freeway mentioned here – is a vital thoroughfare for people traveling between Orange County, the South Bay, West LA, and the Valley, and it was seriously billed as the fucking apocalypse. It ended up not being so bad.) People get trapped in Disneyland because of the mix-up. (I WOULD NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS AT ALL. I WOULD LOVE IT.) And then Bartlet, in his infinite wisdom, decides to shout loudly about the French just seconds before he’s about to speak in favor of Sam.
  • Oh, and Donna talks to a Communist.
  • I loved her realization that Communists look just like everyone else! Because what was she expecting? For them to be painted crimson red, just like the blood of the capitalists they slaughtered?
  • Also, I kind of hate that photographer. Look, I lived in Hollywood, and so I have a very biased dislike of paparazzi and the sort of people who make a living ambushing people like this. No. No.
  • For the most part, this episode is actually kind of whimsical in that way where Sorkin toys with these characters and the serious nature of what they’re doing. Of course, I should have been prepared for the abrupt tonal change that hit me just at the end of the third act, because that’s also something Sorkin is known for on this show. The US intervention in Kundu becomes unbearably important once it’s revealed that the President Nzele is literally marching thousands upon thousands of the opposition to their deaths, attempting to complete his genocide before the ultimatum deadline. It’s a horrifically sobering moment because the implications of what this decision has caused are suddenly very, very real. So what the hell do they do? How do they do this while minimizing American casualties, if they can do that at all?
  • This is followed by a deeply unsettling scene where some random guy – he literally isn’t named at all – decides that it’s perfectly okay to criticize Andy for having a child while not being married. And before some of y’all decide to say that this is too far-fetched, that the man and his wife are just fabrications meant to demonstrate the opposition (which is something Sorkin has done before), let me just say that I have seen people do exactly what these fuckheads do here. People presume they are entitled to give their opinion on a person’s body, specifically one who’s got a uterus, and they think that you’re overreacting if you don’t accept their entitled criticism with grace. And then we’ve got that woman’s thinly veiled racism, because you better believe it’s not hard for me to imagine that her next comment was how Zoey was better than Charlie.
  • I’m kind of glad I didn’t see the actual fight, as I’m sure I would have been a lot more upset. Plus, the sudden cut to Toby and Charlie getting booked is as funny as it is disturbing. Actually, probably more funny than not.
  • Oh god, how is this all going to be resolved? Charlie and Toby are in jail. Sam fires Scott Holcomb after he rejects the idea that he should come out against Bartlet’s tax plan. WHICH HE HELPED WRITE. Yeah, that’s a great idea, Scott. Now, Toby is going to help run Sam’s campaign. In… jail? Yes? And Sam just compelled Bartlet to reveal the Democratic tax plan! HOW EXCITING.
  • EXCEPT THAT THREE MARINES HAVE BEEN TAKEN AS PRISONERS BY PRESIDENT NZELE. GODDAMN IT. He’s already close to completing his genocide, and his demands are so absurd that they’re downright offensive. It’s been days since Bartlet announced his new foreign aid policy, and this is what happens in the very first humanitarian act in Bartlet’s second term.

The video commission for “The California 47th” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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