Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S05E03 – Jefferson Lives

In the third episode of the fifth season of The West Wing, the aftermath of Zoey’s kidnapping and the return of Bartlet brings about chaos. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Trigger Warning: We will have to discuss/address PTSD in Zoey’s plot here.

Yeah, this episode is really, really great. I’m a huge fan of emotional continuity, and I think that “Jefferson Lives” addresses the ramifications of what’s happened in a respectful, heartbreaking way. LET’S DO THIS.


There’s not much of her in this episode, but it actually works in favor of the subtle development we’re seeing for her character. Toby spends part of this episode insisting that there’s something off about the way that C.J. answers or addresses the Abdul Shareef controversy, and it’s not until one of the last few scenes that we begin to understand why Toby was so insistent about this. Despite that I predicted this like two seasons ago, it looks like C.J.’s own guilt over what has happened and what she’s helped cover up (unintentionally at times) is beginning to haunt her. What I got from her scene with Toby was that she agreed with the resignation letter that… someone wrote. Yeah, I didn’t pick up on the name or position of that person. Whoops! It happens. Generally, my memory is pretty good for these things, but I missed that one. Anyway, that image of her watching the fireworks from her office implied to me that she was struggling with her role in all of this, that perhaps she was more disturbed by the reveal of Shareef’s assassination than she’d let on. I’m interested to see if this will be addressed in the future, or if this is going to be contained to this episode.


WELL THIS IS A BIT WEIRD. I mean, look, I can’t ignore that it was Amy who pointed out to Donna that she was clearly in love with Josh, so isn’t it strange that this happened at all? I suppose this might just be another one of those plots I don’t understand yet. I initially thought that this was going to explore Amy’s role in the White House while Abbey dealt with her daughter. Amy was given a lot more responsibility in the wake of Abbey’s unavailability, but this plot was abandoned for the awkward kissing scene in Josh’s office. Did these two turn to one another because they’re both overwhelmed by the prospect of what’s ahead of them? Was this just a temporary comfort or something bigger? Why do I ask so many questions that clearly won’t be answered yet?

So yeah, everyone knows I’ll sail the S.S. Donna/Josh into the sunset, so I’m hesitant to say much about what’s happening here. I don’t get it yet, but I’m trying to be cautious so I don’t say something utterly foolish and then y’all laugh at me for being so wrong and…. shit. I just realized I could have done that anyway. Bah, oh well. I don’t know where this is going!

The Vice President

I suppose my dreams of Leo McGarry as Vice President have now been destroyed. A BOY CAN DREAM, but apparently, that’s all I can do. Still, good lord, what a mess. You know, did Sorkin do this on purpose when he knew he was going to be leaving the show? Regardless, I actually found this to be terribly realistic. Like I mentioned in the video for this episode, I’m satisfied that the writers didn’t resolve the cliffhangers at the end of season four by neatly tying up every plot thread with a sparkly bow. (I’ll accept some sparkly bows regardless, though.) These are extremely complicated issues at hand, and confirming a vice presidential candidate with a Republican majority in the house was bound to cause problems. However, the team is flabbergasted by how both the Republicans and Democrats voice their distaste for Secretary of State Berryhill. I wasn’t surprised that the Republican leadership were going to make it difficult to confirm him, but floating a list of possible candidates who were all completely awful or boring? That’s just cold, y’all. COLD. And bless the writers for coming up with some of these potential candidates. SO BORING. ENDLESSLY BORING.

Bob Russell, though? I was intrigued, I admit, by his plainness. He wasn’t boring, but he also wasn’t a threat. (ALSO CAN WE GET THE SUPER LIBERAL LESBIAN PLEASE. This show needs more queer people as soon as possible. It’s overwhelmingly straight.) But that’s sort of the point of his character and why Bartlet ultimately chooses him. He’s safe. Well, sort of. I said I was intrigued by Russell, and it’s that little aside he has about bucking expectations that has me interested. What does he mean by that? What surprises does he have in store? IS HE A WIZARD? One day, there will be wizards on this show, I’m hoping for it.

I am very eager to see how the rest of the staff deals with the choice of Russell, though. Oh god, look at Toby and Will’s faces when Leo tells them the of Bartlet’s choice. This is gonna be fun, y’all. And by “fun,” I clearly mean “very painful and entertaining.”

The Bartlets

Whenever I hear some fool on the Internet saying trigger warnings are nonsense and that triggers aren’t an important or serious thing, I certainly want to shake some sense into them. One of the things the writers of The West Wing have been able to address extremely well over the course of this show is how post-traumatic stress disorder manifests in people, how it’s different for each person, and why triggers are very much a real thing. We say that in Josh in season two, and in this episode, all three Bartlets struggle with the trauma of recent events in varying ways. For Bartlet himself, his pain manifests in dreams and glimpses of memories in the past. It’s fascinating to me that his fear for Zoey presents itself in two separate memories of her riding a horse. Both involve Bartlet coming to terms with Zoey’s independence and her willingness to prove her fearlessness to her father. I know that Bartlet’s overprotective nature has largely been a running joke throughout the show, but it’s rooted in something very real for him. And now that the very threat he spelled out to Zoey early in the show came real, how is he ever supposed to feel like he can let her go? However, the writers explore what this means for Zoey. If she’s living under the eye and expectations of her father, how does that affect her behavior?

It’s Charlie who picks up on the fact that Zoey is not only completely not all right, but that she’s once again trying to portray herself as being this fearless to her father. Zoey wants to impress Bartlet in a way, and so she goes on that walk with the press. But she’s not okay at all, and we watch her as she’s horribly triggered and has to PRETEND SHE IS PERFECTLY FINE. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, and I know from personal experience just how hard it is to pretend you’re all right in a public setting after having been triggered. It’s a terrible thing to navigate! On top of that, we find out that her triggers are KEEPING HER AWAKE. OH MY GOD, THIS EPISODE IS TOO PAINFUL.

Abbey Bartlet has her own fears and anger to navigate, and I’m thankful the writers haven’t ignored her fury over how a political decision came to affect her family. I honestly think that Abbey is right here, that the kidnapping of Zoey was directly related to the assassination of Abdul Shareef. This is also a complex problem to deal with because it’s not like Bartlet and Leo knew that this would be the outcome of their actions. However, once they suspected it at all, they didn’t inform Abbey or anyone else of the threat, so Abbey’s main concern here is off safety. Where can she and Zoey be safe from the ramifications of Bartlet’s actions? Ugh, it’s just so heartbreaking to think about, isn’t it? That’s what I got from her conversation with Leo. Like Leo and Bartlet did to her, she doesn’t want him to be a part of this decision that she’s making. She’s putting herself and her daughter first. Who could blame her???

It’s all so terribly complicated. I feel like something even worse than what just happened is waiting around the corner, and that dread permeates this episode. It’s not just that, though. I wonder how Bartlet will be able to repair his family. Everything just feels so broken, you know? And I don’t know how to put it back together. I’m enjoying this season just three episodes into it, but I have to admit that things have never felt so chaotic and stressful before. These issues aren’t going to be neatly resolved in a single episode.

The video commission for “Jefferson Lives” can be downloaded here for $0.99. In case you missed the announcement, here’s an explanation for why I must start charging for video downloads.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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