In the twentieth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, a night off for the West Wing staff turns into a hectic and stressful lockdown scenario. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
GOOD LORD, THIS EPISODE WAS CUTE AND FUNNY AND THEN IT TURNED INTO HELL. OH MY GOD. “Evidence of Things Not Seen” is a complicated, difficult, and ultimately satisfying exploration of faith and the various ways that it manifests for these characters. LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS BECAUSE WOW, THIS WAS GREAT.
No, that’s not the name of an OT3, though I wouldn’t necessarily oppose it. However, let me take the time to openly state that this episode’s teasing of Josh/Donna is rude as fuck, and at this point, I’m convinced that Sorkin and company are tormenting me on purpose. DONNA SAID JOSH WAS THE MOST HANDSOME SOUND THE FUCKING ALARMS. Oh god, and she’s concerned about Josh’s PTSD being triggered again because of the shooting and wow too much all at once.
Anyway, aside from the absolute explosion of sexual tension present in this episode, Matthew Perry guest stars in what initially was one of the more perplexing side plots in the show. Seriously, I didn’t get it at all until the very, very end, when Sorkin had to spoon-feed the answer to me. That’s not a criticism of what happened, for the record. It’s just that this all remained ambiguous and slightly unnerving. Once Josh said that something was off about Joe, I couldn’t help but start worrying. I trusted his instinct, so I started looking for clues in what Joe said. Was it in the fact that he didn’t sign his questionnaire? His comment about terrorism? (Which was kind of shitty once you thought about it.) Was it his record? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.
Truthfully, it wasn’t until I’d sat through C.J. and Toby’s conversation about faith at the card table that this plot coalesced for me. That Joe was a Republican was shocking (as was the reason he wasn’t in good standing with the GOP), but I loved what his declaration of desire meant: He had faith in public service. He had faith that he could do good under the Bartlet administration, even if he didn’t vote for the President.
Also, MATTHEW PERRY IS GONNA BE ON THIS SHOW. I know he was on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, so I’m kind of hoping he’ll be around beyond this episode. Yes? Please? I like that his character doesn’t seem like anyone I’ve seen Perry be before, especially since it’s not a comedic character at all.
I think it’s easy to see how Bartlet’s conversation with Russian president Chigorin turned to disaster once Bartlet was taken out of his element. So much of what happens here is demonstration of how the group that comes up with the strategy of the phone call Bartlet has to make completely failed. They underestimated how suspicious Chigorin would be; they didn’t predict where the call would ultimately go; and they clearly didn’t have a plan B in place if Chigorin decided to send his people after the downed spy plane.
It’s so fucking awkward. And I’m saying this about a show that thrives on uncomfortable situations, y’all. Just watching Bartlet squirm was frustrating because this is not the Bartlet we know. He’s so much smoother than this. That’s why it’s so cathartic when Bartlet goes against instruction and TELLS CHIGORIN THE TRUTH. But it’s not just about telling the truth. It’s about faith. It’s about getting these two parties to finally trust one another, to advance diplomacy with one another through more honest talks. So Bartlet demonstrates that faith in evidence of things not seen by telling Chigorin the truth and imploring him to meet the United States halfway.
I LOVE IT. God, what a great scene.
The Card Game
Y’all, I thought the card game was just going to be this cute and adorable little subplot about the staff’s night off, but oh my god it got so real. I mean, it was cute to see these characters shed the stress and frustration of their jobs and play cards! Even after the shooting happens, it’s still a nice glimpse at what these people are like when they don’t have to have their defenses up. I’m glad that I was 100% correct in asserting that Debbie was going to destroy everyone, for the record.
But beyond all the humor, there’s some heavy shit going on here, and I think it’s some of the finest writing this season. (Which has been utterly fantastic, for the record.) C.J.’s obsession with egg balancing and the Vernal Equinox may have been silly at first, but I think works as a metaphor for what’s happening throughout this episode. She insists that it’s possible to balance an egg at a specific time during the year, despite that she later can’t even be sure that she has seen it happen. Then we’ve got Will and Toby’s wager about throwing cards, yet another instance of someone lacking faith. These are all innocuous things, of course, but it’s what leads the three of them into the press room at the exact moment when someone fires upon the White House. I know that my video commission for this episode is a fine demonstration of just how not okay this was, but let me write it down, too. I WAS NOT OKAY WITH THE RAPID AND JARRING CHANGE OF TONE IN A SCENE THAT HAD BEEN 100% CUTE. Holy shit, that was terrifying. Plus, this is the first time we’ve ever seen the West Wing “crashed” in the history of the show. IT’S SO SCARY. Well, it also gives us both Charlie and Debbie sprinting to the Oval Office to check on Bartlet, which is about the most emotionally heartcrushing thing ever because they are too much. So there’s that.
What ends up being so fascinating about this is how the egg, the card game, and the shooting all give birth to a conversation about faith between these characters. C.J. has faith in a nebulous collective of humanity, and I thought it was significant that she didn’t define exactly who she had faith in. It fell in line with her faith in the egg, too. Even when Will recounts the reason for why he’s heading out to Wyoming for the Air Force Reserve, she still has hope. And I loved the story Will told because that was also a demonstration of this very struggle we were seeing on the screen. Those missile silo operators had faith in their own instinct, and they refused to act on firing on what turned out to be a meteor, not a South Korean missile.
It’s not lost on me, either, that when C.J. finally balances the egg â€“ proving that her faith in things not seen was true â€“ no one was there to see it.
SO CAN THIS RIDICULOUS, INSULTING, AND OFFENSIVE PLOT BE OVER NOW? I can’t do this, y’all, and it’s even more frustrating that one of my favorite characters is espousing such nonsense this season. It doesn’t help that Sorkin and the writers are still forcing us to imagine what happened between Zoey and Charlie over the years. It’s not something that’s ideal for the audience! These arguments might make a shred of sense if they had any context. They don’t, and then we’ve got to deal with Charlie’s rampant condescension, which is frankly so out of character for him that I’m convinced that Sorkin or someone else was working out their emotional baggage through Charlie. I DON’T GET IT. SHE HAS GIVEN YOU EVERY SIGN THAT SHE’S MOVED ON. SHE IS NOT SUDDENLY GOING TO FALL BACK IN LOVE WITH YOU AFTER SOMEONE SHOT AT THE WHITE HOUSE. But let’s put timing aside. This is, as many other folks have pointed out, an immensely problematic trope from start to finish. It is not romantic or appropriate for men to invalidate and ignore women as Charlie has been doing. The only breath of fresh air here is Zoey’s monologue, which Elizabeth Moss brilliantly executes with intensity. She wants something else. She wants a life â€“ even if it is a romantic one â€“ that is separate from the whirlwind life of American politics. She’s had that as part of her existence for MOST OF HER LIFE! So yeah, Charlie, it is understandable that Zoey would fall for someone who has absolutely no connections to all of this. Also, why is it so unbelievable that Zoey would like someone like Jean-Paul? Unfortunately, that’s another aspect of this that’s badly written. All the audience has is their imagination, since this show hasn’t given us nearly enough information to comprehend why Charlie is so upset and hurt.
Gods, please let this be the end of this. PLEASE.
The video commission for “Evidence of Things Not Seen” can be downloaded right here.
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