Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S06E01 – NSF Thurmont

In the first episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, there is a lot of shouting and discord here, and with a notepad in hand, Donna Moss destroys me now and forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Good lord, THAT WAS FAR TOO INTENSE TO WATCH. Y’all, season six has started off with a whole lot of uncomfortable dread, but I also can’t deny that in terms of acting and writing, this is some quality shit. There are two basic plots spread across “NSF Thurmont,” so I’ll address it that way.

The Meeting

A good part of “NSF Thurmont” is about the lead-up to the impossible, and Bartlet faces countless obstacles along the path towards brokering some sort of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The dread we experience here, though, isn’t about the meeting’s outcome; no, we’re left doubting whether the meeting that Chairman Farad referenced in the previous episode will even happen at all. All the signs point to no, not just in the universe of the show. These two groups are facing insurmountable issues that they have against one another, to say the least, and getting them into the same room to even consider addressing them has always been out of the question. The show does a so-so job portraying both sides, and like most depictions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the writers lend more credence to the idea that the Palestinians are largely just terrorists who are murdering tons of Israeli citizens. Hell, it’s not until Bartlet gets Prime Minister Zahavy on the phone later in this episode that anyone even begins to talk about the oppressive behavior of the Israelis. Still, it’s hard to pack a conflict like this into such a small span of time, which is something I referenced in the review for the season five finale. At the very least, the writers are able to grasp the complexity of the issues enough to be able to convey that to the audience. We get that these two parties hate each other, that negotiating anything between them is virtually impossible.

However, it’s Leo who provides the biggest pushback against President Bartlet, continuing from what we saw in “Memorial Day.” But Leo’s issues with Bartlet’s decision to attempt to broker a peace are exacerbated by a number of outside forces. There’s pressure from the Senate and the House; Bartlet’s approval rating is plummeting; the vast majority of the American public wants immediate action; and then we’ve got these complicated notions of justice and vengeance floating about the episode, none of them brought to the forefront of the story in great detail. I still got the sense that Leo not only believed that Bartlet was making a political misstep, but he plain just disagreed with what Bartlet was doing. I actually expected the show to make a bigger deal out of the fact that Leo was a military man, but instead, Wells chose to make it a subtle backdrop to his character. You could tell that Leo was much more comfortable with the people in the Situation Room, and there was that quietly devastating moment when General Alexander praised Leo, unaware of the irony of what he just said. These moments established Leo’s certainty, and then COMPLETELY TORE THEM APART. For every time Leo expressed his concern to Bartlet, Bartlet utterly snubbed him, favoring Kate Harper’s subtle optimism and creativity over Leo’s dependability. And I think dynamic played out beautifully, especially since Kate represents a younger mind who comes from a different world than Leo does. Her willingness to come up with other options infuriates Leo, and he’s often curt and kind of rude to her, you know?

Of course, much of what makes this episode such a stressful and traumatizing experience is watching the relationship between Leo and Bartlet fall apart. It’s a bedrock of this show, something we’ve been able to depend upon and expect for five full seasons, and the more Bartlet is being very fucking Bartlet, the more Leo wants to stop him. I mean, isn’t this precisely what Bartlet does all the time? He clings to hope in the face of impossibility; he tries to find the solution no one expects; and when it comes down to it, all of his best moments as President revolve around his desire to change the world for the better. But again, Leo is a military man. He’s also got to contend with the rising tide of disapproval coming from LITERALLY EVERYWHERE.

It speaks to the idea of justice. Leo and many others believe that the only way to gain justice for the four deaths in Gaza is to take lives. I might understand their pursuit of Nasan, but ultimately, I’m right with Bartlet. If their attack claims innocent lives as collateral damage, does this count as justice anymore, or is the act merely to quell public unrest in America? Does killing innocent people make us actually any safer, or is that an illusion? And if someone whose child is killed in that bombing seeks out the people who made that decision or fired the actual bomb to obtain justice, why is that any more immoral than what we do? I appreciated that Bartlet was so staunchly against the idea of furthering this “Russian roulette,” and I was glad he realized that whatever he chose could have long-lasting ramifications for foreign policy. Those are the things Bartlet should have been thinking of, so it became more and more frustrating to watch Leo refuse to let Bartlet consider this shit. AND THEN THEY ARE BOTH YELLING AT EACH OTHER, AND I COULD FEEL LEO’S FRUSTRATION THROUGH THE SCREEN AND PART OF ME WANTED THIS TO END IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE WHY, but then part of me secretly liked how long the scene lasted because holy shit, these two can act.

It’s with Kate’s help that Bartlet is able to pull off the impossible, and it was just simply amazing to me that he managed to get the Palestinians and Israelis into a single room together at Camp David. But it’s not lost on me that this was done without Leo, and I’m beginning to think I should have made a prediction about Leo and Bartlet’s relationship. That scene where Bartlet shut Leo out of the Oval Office? WOW. WOW. IT’S REAL. THIS PAIN IS REAL. So what does that mean for these two? Is Kate going to play a bigger role? (SHE’S IN THE OPENING CREDITS, YES.) How is the talk itself going to go? I actually thought we’d get a “To Be Continued…” at the end of this, but I guess not. Still, I’m expecting some heavy serialization in the following episode. For reasons. Like:


After “NSF Thurmont” ended, I realized that Jason Isaac’s character played a similar role to Amy in the season four finale. He was there to force Josh to think about his feelings for Donna. After Colin tries to pressure Josh into opening up about his reason for FLYING TO GERMANY TO WAIT ON A CO-WORKER, he launches into a brief story about a girl he once took advantage of. And like some Cupid in human clothes, he’s GODDAMN RIGHT. Josh has been taking Donna for granted for years. I couldn’t help but think of where Donna came from and how she came to be a part of this group. Donna’s always been one of the most dependable people in the history of EVERYTHING, and if Josh’s impulsive trip to Germany to see her is not a subconscious demonstration of how much he actually cares about her, then I don’t know what else to tell that man. I mean, I suppose it’s not even a subconscious thing anymore. Colin’s known Josh for like three days and he can already tell that Donna is special to him. Rude, Jason Isaacs. RUDE.

But really. REALLY. If we are gonna talk about rudeness, then let’s do it: Donna’s notebook. “Nice hat!” SCARED. THE TEARS. THE LOOK OF UTTER FEAR. Y’all, the first words out of Donna’s mouth after a surgery that may have given her brain damage are, “Josh… Josh.” SHE CALLS HIS NAME FIRST. Oh my god, I can’t. I CAN’T DO THIS. This show has teased me for five fucking years with this ship, and now this? I didn’t do anything to you, The West Wing. Stop hurting me in this way.

The video commission for “NSF Thurmont” can be downloaded here for just $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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