In the nineteenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, a possible landing gear malfunction strands Air Force One in flight. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
So I’ll split this up by the two main locations where “Angel Maintenance” takes place!
On the Plane
- I don’t think this is one of the stronger episodes of this season. Indeed, the pace felt a bit dawdling through most of “Angel Maintenance,” despite that there was a built-in framing device that should have made this feel more tense. However, I never truly worried about the landing gear fiasco, and so some of this fell a bit flat for me. Still, I enjoyed this episode!
- It was a treat, first of all, to see Will and C.J. paired together for most of this episode. They’ve got a fascinating dynamic with one another, and it’s nice to see how well Will can get along with this staff. He still feels so terribly new, you know? And yet, both C.J. and Bartlet ask him to play a role that’s different, too. He assists Bartlet in resolving the Columbia re-certification (sort of) while also helping C.J. come up with a way to distract the reporters aboard Air Force One.
- WHICH IS A DISASTER. But really, who could blame them? They couldn’t hide this from them forever, especially not with that REALLY AWESOME FIGHTER JET flying alongside them. But bonus points to Will for combining every single idea into one distraction. That takes TALENT, my friends!
- For the most part, though, I found that there was a lot more interesting stories happening on the ground, which is unfortunate, given that this whole episode was framed around a plane being unable to land. Ultimately, I figured it would land. What was nice, though, was the way the press corps thanked C.J. at the end of this all. It was genuine, a great way for them to demonstrate that they cared for her or at least appreciated what she did for them in an understandably frustrating situation.
- AND THEN LOL, THE PLANE CAN’T LAND ANYWAY. WHOOPS.
- I could barely handle an overseas flight from San Francisco. I felt like I was on that plane for my entire life, y’all. These people were on a plane for nearly an entire day. No. No, thank you!
On the Ground
- Like I said, I was far more interested by what was taking place on the ground than on the plane. The general theme of this season and certainly this episode is that Bartlet’s second term is going to be viciously difficult for a number of reasons. Without the guarantee of another term, it feels like Bartlet and his staff haven’t quite found the freedom to do as they wish with the government. If anything, it feels like the opposite has happened. The crisis in Kundu has gotten worse, and back at home, Leo, Josh, Donna, and Toby all deal with the drama of Congress and foreign ops.
- In Josh’s case, his attempt to work on a bipartisan bill that would provide cleanup in the Chesapeake Bay becomes hopelessly complicated because of Democrats and Republicans who can’t pass up an opportunity to take out a “vulnerable” Congressman. This is one of the more frustrating things I’ve seen on this show because how often do we actually get to see a Republican and a Democrat working together to produce a meaningful bill that most people can agree with it? Putting aside the real-world implications of this, even on the show it’s a rare sight. Tom Landis and Josh disagree on a few fundamental things and trade humorous barbs with one another, but, for the most part, they’re getting shit done.
- Which is why it’s so infuriating that the two Democrats who witness Josh and Landis working with one another believe it’s more important to sink a necessary clean-up bill than risk helping out Landis in any way whatsoever. And seriously, this is exactly how cutthroat and self-serving many of our Congress reps are! They care more about winning elections than doing work they were elected for.
- I did like that Donna voiced her desire to do more for Josh and the White House, and she did get to do more research! But I’m also gonna need about thirty more episodes centered on Donna rising to power in D.C., because that’s about the most exciting thing I can think of.
- Meanwhile, Toby and Leo have a crisis of their own after five soldiers are killed by friendly fire in Kundu. Through this, the writers are able to briefly bring up the issue of who is often more heavily recruited into the United States military and why that is.
- It’s an issue that I take to heart because my father was recruited into the Army at an early age, and he spoke candidly about how it was because he believed he didn’t have many options out of high school. This is a common anecdote from many people of color and poor folks in the U.S., and my high school, which was mostly comprised of poor people of color, was often subject to extremely aggressive recruiting by the Armed Forces. A very specific narrative was given to us then, and it was always aimed at getting us to believe that our options were limited, and that the armed forces was the better choice out of them all. The carrot was dangled in front of us, too, since we were promised a free four-year education after our service, something that we were guaranteed would be “impossible” to get from anyone else.
- So, Rep. Mark Richardson’s appearance here serves to draw light to the fact that more often than not, communities of color and poor families are the ones who must face the implications of foreign intervention for the United States. This was a very sobering look at something that’s very real, and I appreciated that the writers took great care in portraying this respectfully.
- Plus, it touches on something we’ve seen before. We know that Bartlet appears to be taking the ramifications of his decisions more seriously than before, so it makes sense to view this issue from the point of view of the families affected by it. Granted, I don’t know that there will be a significant story to be found in future episodes, but at least Rep. Richardson got the chance to open the issue to debate.
This episode wasn’t awful by any means, so I hope I haven’t given that appearance. It was solid, but the rest of season four has been so jam-packed with suspense and humor that this one only pales when you compare it to the others. I’m still having a great time watching this show, though, and it makes me excited to think of how else the writers can re-invent the frame of The West Wing itself. Will’s been integrated beautifully into this cast, and now I know the writers can introduce new characters without insulting the viewers. Plus, I’m aware that this is the last season where Sorkin was the showrunner, so I’m eager to see if the future showrunners will change The West Wing in any significant way.
The video commission for “Angel Maintenance” can be found right here.
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