Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S05E04 – Han

In the fourth episode of the fifth season of The West Wing, C.J. clashes with Leo and Bartlet over her growing moral reservations, while the Vice Presidential confirmation takes a shocking turn after Will and Toby finally agree on something. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Okay, count me as a fan of season five so far. If I hadn’t know that Aaron Sorkin had left the show, I wouldn’t have noticed at all. I can only imagine how daunting it was for John Wells to take over the helm of The West Wing because he’s got four years worth of canon and character development to contend with. It’s intimidating, and all I have to do is reflect on what I’ve just seen. Of course, this is just the start of Wells’ reign, so I’m interested to see if he will do anything different from Sorkin. So far, he’s got a knack for capturing the complex and emotionally destructive sort of storytelling that I’ve liked throughout the show, and “Han” is no exception.


Let’s start by acknowledging that Donna’s diet analogy ended up being EXTREMELY BRILLIANT. Can this please be the start of Donna getting to do more for the White House? I mean, look, get Pierce to do all the grunt work, and she can go off and travel to places and be brilliant and I just want more Donna forever? I don’t think that’s at all surprising to hear from me, but this show keeps teasing a possible future for her and then not giving it to me. Donna is so much better than her job, and I want her to explore that! Is that too much to ask? Is it????

Also, her aunt and uncle were adorable, and I’m glad that Josh kept all those cheese jokes to himself. I think Josh would love The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco because they have a board where all you contribute are cheese-related puns and wordplay, and it’s fucking amazing. CURD YOUR ENTHUSIASM. I saw that the other day and had to sit down because the pun was so good.


You know, it seems like John Wells is following Sorkin’s lead by taking some sort of plot and hinting at it so vaguely that it ends up leaving me more confused than anything else. So, does Toby have a problem with Will or is he looking to get a promotion or…. I don’t know? I’m a bit lost when it comes to trying to figure out what the hell was going on between Toby and Leo. That has happened a lot on this show, hasn’t it? Anyway, it was clear that the two were marginally irritated with one another and that this was probably exacerbated by the short time span they had to turn around a speech that neither one was very excited about. I was interested to see more of Bob Russell, but he was fairly middle-of-the-road politically, and Will’s speech reflected that. So it was cathartic when the two spoke so openly about how they felt!

I JUST DIDN’T EXPECT THEM TO FORGET TO TAKE IT OUT OF THE ACTUAL COPY OF THE SPEECH. OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE. Bless Bartlet, who is such a good speaker that he is able to improvise his speech while the teleprompter spews forth every single bitter word that Toby and Will came up with. However, it’s Russell himself who provides us with the biggest surprise after he asks Will and Toby for a copy of the speech, not only proving that he has a sense of humor, but informing the two that he’s kind of their problem now. HAVE FUN WITH THAT, GUYS. Oh god, okay, I’m seriously interested in Russell now. SURPRISE ME, JOHN WELLS.


Oh my god, it’s Ted from Breaking Bad I CAN’T UNSEE IT. SORRY. Okay, not that sorry, actually, but still. So, this episode forced me to ponder why Ryan Pierce was around because prior to this, he was a punchline. And that’s it! He didn’t serve any other purpose except to annoy Donna and Josh. So while Josh is trying desperately to get Congressman Thiele to not be the sole Nay vote on Russell’s confirmation, Ryan just… hangs around? Does nothing? He definitely doesn’t  help Josh pretty much ever, though that’s by design. He’s not allowed to help, and Josh constantly stops him from being helpful at all. At least Donna has found a way to integrate him into her schedule!

So I think it’s important that Ryan found a way to take things upon himself to help Josh and then didn’t take credit for it. Oh, y’all, I need to know what Ryan did! He was nice?!?! That’s it? Thiele seemed so deadset on not voting for Russell, so what did Ryan do to convince him otherwise? NOT FAIR. NOT FAIR.

This episode also features Josh and Donna not getting together in any way whatsoever, despite that they were like half a foot from each other’s face at one point, so I suppose I’ll just wallow in despair over here because they were made for each other. And yet, despite my clear investment in a ship that has very little basis in canon (YET YET), I actually like the idea of Amy and Josh exploring a relationship. However, from this point on, I’m actually going to require more of what we see here: direct addresses from the text itself that it’s actually happening. Like the Charlie/Zoey plot line in season four, there was way too much that happened off screen to make sense for the audience. (Read: me.) Here, though, Josh demands to define what’s happening between them, inspired by C.J.’s earlier comment about defining language about the economy. Seriously, can they actually figure this out? I’d like that.

Jai Yung Ahn

But the central plot in “Han” revolves around North Korean pianist Jai Yung Ahn, who secretly informs Bartlet that he’d like to defect from his country, which happens to coincide with a crucial round of negotiating with North Korea. This is one of the most relentlessly uncomfortable plots on this show EVER because the issue at hand is one about personal freedom versus national security. And yet, even if you took away the negotiation issue, this still would have been suspenseful. Jai’s handlers are hawkish and overbearing, so trying to help Jai without creating a national security crisis would have been bad enough.

Instead, we’re forced to sit through that horrifying first meeting between the State Department and Immigration that’s just 1 BILLION PERCENT NOT OKAY. Seriously, y’all are talking about a person. Do you realize that? C.J. is the only voice there willing to openly sympathize with Jai, and it really does fit the general unease she’s been feeling this situation. As I mentioned in the video, this isn’t the first time she’s expressed reservations about what the White House is choosing to do. It’s just magnified more than it ever has been before. So yeah, I was DESTROYED when C.J. said she didn’t disagree with Bartlet’s ultimate decision; she was DISAPPOINTED. Wow, that is A MILLION TIMES WORSE IN EVERY RESPECT. But can you blame her? She’s well aware of how delicate the United Nations’ negotiations are, and she knows that the success of said negotiations is important, but allowing Jai to seek asylum is absolutely the right thing to do.

And yet, Bartlet chooses to put the decision into Jai’s hands. It’s a risky move, obviously, and we’re never quite sure if Jai understood the decision that was before him. I think that given his body language, he did comprehend the choice he’d made. His body seemed to droop with disappointment and sadness at the end of his performance, when he thanked the president instead of making a spectacle for his own benefit. God, it’s just so sad. Can you imagine how much hope that young man had when he came to America? He was willing to risk his life and his status back home to pass that note to Bartlet, and now he has to return to his country anyway.

Of course, because the writers aren’t content to just let this depressing story end, the final scene is unfair forever. The secret U.N. negotiations were halted anyway. MEANING THEY PROBABLY COULD HAVE HELPED JAI REGARDLESS.

GOD. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME. Jesus, C.J. looked about forty kinds of DONE in this episode, and I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of her discontent.

The video commission for “Han” 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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