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 itâ€™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. Letâ€™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 Iâ€™d feel all victorious that US forces captured the airport in Bitanga, but this doesnâ€™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 thatâ€™s because the deliberate parallels to the genocide in Rwanda that Sorkin has put into this story means weâ€™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 ofâ€¦ what? Messengers? They donâ€™t have much characterization in this episode anyway.
- Well, letâ€™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, sheâ€™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 thatâ€™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 DONâ€™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! Iâ€™m surprised that Sorkin hasnâ€™t just had someone with a shitty mustache come pelt Jean-Paulâ€™s body with a baguette, because thatâ€™s seriously the level of writing weâ€™re getting for his character. What is the point of this? I guess thatâ€™s what ultimately bothers me about this. Why did you bring Zoey back if she wasnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t want to date him. I donâ€™t get any of this. I really hope thereâ€™s something to this by the end of this season, because Iâ€™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 canâ€™t ignore this. ITâ€™S SO NICE. Impractical, yes, but Iâ€™m willing to excuse it simply because FEELINGS, Yâ€™ALL. JUST SO MANY FEELINGS FOR THIS. And itâ€™s weird to me that Iâ€™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 â€œThe California 47thâ€ 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 Samâ€™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. Thatâ€™s how I knew his face!) Weâ€™ve seen this before, but I loved the contrast of behaviors surrounding Sam.
- Oh my god, just watch Andyâ€™s face while Toby is being an asshole about her pregnancy. Itâ€™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 Samâ€™s time at the White House have all quit overnight because of Willâ€™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 canâ€™t write. Sigh, really? Like, I get the idea that interns arenâ€™t totally qualified in this case, but you had to make them all women, too? Iâ€™m hoping instead that Will does something awesome likeâ€¦ make them into writers? Hire them? Something better than just having them there as a punchline?
- (I swear, I know Iâ€™m complaining a lot, but I did like this episode a lot!)
- Letâ€™s talk about disasters, because the White House exemplifies Murphyâ€™s Law in every sense of the adage. Thereâ€™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 â€“ like the 5 Freeway mentioned here â€“ 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 heâ€™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 theyâ€™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 thatâ€™s also something Sorkin is known for on this show. The US intervention in Kundu becomes unbearably important once itâ€™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. Itâ€™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 â€“ he literally isnâ€™t named at all â€“ decides that itâ€™s perfectly okay to criticize Andy for having a child while not being married. And before some of yâ€™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 personâ€™s body, specifically one whoâ€™s got a uterus, and they think that youâ€™re overreacting if you donâ€™t accept their entitled criticism with grace. And then weâ€™ve got that womanâ€™s thinly veiled racism, because you better believe itâ€™s not hard for me to imagine that her next comment was how Zoey was better than Charlie.
- Iâ€™m kind of glad I didnâ€™t see the actual fight, as Iâ€™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 Bartletâ€™s tax plan. WHICH HE HELPED WRITE. Yeah, thatâ€™s a great idea, Scott. Now, Toby is going to help run Samâ€™s campaign. Inâ€¦ 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. Heâ€™s already close to completing his genocide, and his demands are so absurd that theyâ€™re downright offensive. Itâ€™s been days since Bartlet announced his new foreign aid policy, and this is what happens in the very first humanitarian act in Bartletâ€™s second term.
- DISASTER EVERYWHERE.
The video commission for â€œThe California 47thâ€ can be downloaded right here.
Mark Links Stuff
– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the MarkDoesStuff.com. All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– I will be traveling for many events! Check the Tour Dates/Appearances page for up-to-date tour events.