Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E18 – Privateers

In the eighteenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, Abbey enlists her new Chief of Staff, Amy, in trying to get an anti-abortion amendment stricken from the new foreign ops bill. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

You know, for tackling a lot of heavy issues, this episode is one of the most consistently funny episodes of the whole show. LET’S DO THIS.


Being used is a nasty thing. I admit that I fell for Burt’s ploy here, believing him to be a panicked employee desperate to do the right thing without his company retaliating against him for telling the truth. Shit, in hindsight, Burt’s completely manipulated Toby by acting the part perfectly. That’s kind of a scary thing to realize after the fact, you know? Plus, in less than a day, Burt got the White House embroiled in his company’s willful pollution and cancer-causing products, and he did it with very little regret as to how he did this. Tonally, it’s a bit strange within “Privateers” because it’s about the only plot here that’s deeply serious from beginning to end. I dunno, I guess I don’t feel much towards this because I can’t see it having any lasting effects on the show as a whole. It’s clearly a one-off story (PLEASE DON’T LET ME BE WRONG ABOUT THAT, OH GOD), and only Josh got involved in it. I don’t even think that the rest of the staff will ever hear of it.


I feel like it’s not a stretch to suggest that one of the dudes credited as a writer or in the “Story By” credit was the one who came up with Charlie’s story here, because it just feels so dudely. Now, I know I’m coming into this with a bias. I have been stalked many, many times by people who refuse to listen to me when I tell them I don’t want any contact with them. So, straight up, I do not find Charlie’s behavior in “Privateers” to be romantic at all. It’s creepy. And I agree with Zoey that you can’t refuse a person’s request to cut off contact in a way that’s respectful because you’re inherently disrespecting their choice! Elisabeth Moss does portray Zoey as properly uncomfortable by the whole thing, but I really don’t like how this focuses on Charlie gallantly refusing to give up on his love! Who is his boss’s daughter. And that boss is THE PRESIDENT.

I just don’t feel this, y’all. Can Charlie be given a new story soon? This one is a mess.


I am going to first admit that I don’t understand why no one could just tell Matthew Lambert that because of his felony record, he needed an escort. I really don’t get why this had to be all mysterious, but you know what? I don’t care, because watching Donna Moss trail Matt and his girlfriend without telling them why she’s doing it is one of the funniest things ever. AND THERE ARE A LOT OF FUNNY THINGS IN THIS EPISODE. Oh my god, she took an awkward, uncomfortable situation, and she got so much joy out of it. Just watching her face as she trails after them all is too much. Bless you, Donna.

Amy and Abbey

It really is great that most of “Privateers” focuses on these two women and the struggles they’re going to face. In a way, this episode feels like an unintentional acknowledgment that the character of Abbey Bartlet has been poorly used. With Amy at her side, Abbey seeks to influence politics more fiercely than she has before. It’s unfortunate, then, that the very first task before Amy (on her literal first day!) is so damn difficult. And absurd. Both. Both at the same time.

This isn’t the first time that these characters have had to deal with someone in Congress sticking a ridiculous amendment on to an important bill. Welcome to America. It’s extremely frustrating, especially in the context that’s presented to us here. A Senator is trying to legislate who gets foreign aid based on what they do with their doctor. I know that’s being reductive intentionally, but I can’t fathom who would think it’s okay to tell people in another fucking country what’s moral to do with their body. I’m thankful that Abbey and Amy’s rejection of this legislation is so detailed, too! They list the myriad of reasons why this is wrong, why it’s wrong to let it go unchallenged, and why certain people who don’t have reproductive systems shouldn’t have any say on the issue. At the same time, this episode acts as an exploration of what it means for Amy to have this job.

Basically, it’s fucking hard. Even if you put the hazing/pranking aside (I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT TO A DOOR), the two crises that Amy is given are ridiculously complicated and bizarre. How is she supposed to convince the President’s senior staff to get Bartlet to threaten to veto his own foreign ops bill? This is the same bill that’s taken forever to get passed, and this would be yet another roadblock. And Mary-Louise Parker does a fine job showing us just how frustrating this is.

Like I said, though, there’s an absurd element to Amy’s first day as the Chief of Staff. The pranks are increasingly ridiculous. The idea of attaching an anti-abortion amendment to the bill is ludicrous and offensive. And then there’s Marion Coteworth-Haye. I… I don’t even know how to write about this without devolving into laughter. This episode just gave me one of my favorite things in the entire world: C.J. Cregg breaking out into laughter as soon as Mrs. Coteworth-Haye spoke. And bless Helen Slayton-Hughes (ETHEL BEAVERS ON PARKS & RECREATION!!!!!!) for coming up with that ridiculous fucking accent, because that made the scene even better. How could you not laugh at that?

Y’all: THE FRANCIS SCOTT KEY KEY. I AM SO DONE. I also just realized that that scene felt like it belonged on Parks & Recreation, did it not???? PERFECTION. PERFECTION.

Anyway, after watching Amy struggle with this nearly impossible task and doubt that Abbey even trusted her, it was nice that at the end of the day, Abbey recognized just how hard Amy had tried to make this work. Their first day may have only comprised of a single victory, but it’s a victory they’ll take. As “Privateers” opened, we close in the residence. I thought that was a neat way to start and end this episode, and I hope it’s a sign that both Amy and Abbey will appear more regularly. This episode was a blast to watch, and after the emotionally heavy material in the previous one, I welcomed the chance to spend most of “Privateers” laughing.

The video commission for “Privateers” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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