Mark Watches ‘The West Wing': S06E14 – The Wake Up Call

In the fourteenth episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, Kate and C.J. unwillingly butt heads with Abbey and Bartlet over plane crash. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Oh my god, this was uncomfortable. By design, of course! But it’s a necessary story because it addresses a logistical problem that was eventually going to come up. If Bartlet is to adhere to a rigid schedule in order to cope with his MS, what happens when he ignores that? What happens when C.J. has to ignore it? This is all a mess before these characters figure things out, and GOOD GOD there’s so much yelling. SO MUCH YELLING. Anyway, let’s do this!

Toby / Annabeth 

So, Annabeth Schott is a national treasure??? God, why hasn’t she been made the Press Secretary yet? She’d be so amazing at it because she respects the press, but has a healthy sense of humor about her job and theirs. Toby’s gotten better, but… well, he’s Toby. And I’m sure he’s got enough on his plate as it is! However, she’s able to deflect the attention of a nosy reporter who’s figured out that Bartlet wasn’t woken for the plane crash. She gives out Valentine’s candies! And SHE IS WONDERFUL. More Annabeth, please!

Meanwhile, Toby is also paired with Professor Lawrence Lessig while helping some Belarusian delegates craft their country’s constitution. It’s one of those plots that’s dense, informative, and ultimately pretty hopeful, particularly since this was never about Toby and Lessig writing the constitution for them. But it was also a humorous plot at times, especially since the head delegate (who was a writer for the biggest local paper) immediately begins questioning the U.S. Constitution. So what was important for these people? Why was Professor Lessig so content without having written a single word for the Belarusians? I’ll talk about optimism later, but this plot was resolved in a way that’s very much like many of the stories told on The West Wing. As negative as things can get, there’s a sense of hope to how this show is written. And in this case, Lessig was certain that the best plan for these titans was to understand why constitutional law should be respected. He knew he could never give them a perfect constitution himself!

The Wake Up Call

The bulk of this episode, however, addresses the titular wake up call that C.J. struggles with. After a commercial flight goes off the radar over the Caspian Sea, C.J. lets Bartlet sleep. He’d defied his own schedule to stay up late chatting with Professor Lessig, which initially was super adorable because it’s so very Bartlet. He turns into a twelve-year-old whose parents are out for the night! But it puts C.J. into such an awful situation because she’s suddenly supposed to responsible for a grown adult who won’t go to bed. It’s awkward!!! Like, the dynamic is so fucked up because she has to order him around like she’s a disappointed mother, but she’s the Chief of Staff, you know?

The problem is two-fold, too, because after C.J. does wake Bartlet up, HE’S ANGRY AT HER, TOO. And it sucks because C.J. is caught between both of the Bartlets, and IT’S NOT FAIR. Bartlet gives the appearance that he doesn’t trust C.J.’s judgment when she has clearly demonstrated that she knows what she’s doing. It’s why she has to be so forceful when she confronts Bartlet about it, which… HOLY SHIT THAT SCENE IS SO INTENSE. And then Abbey takes her to task for something that’s ultimately not her responsibility! Yeah, I felt really bad for C.J. in this episode. On that note, I felt the worst for Kate, who is stuck with Lord John Marbury the entire day. OH MY GOD. I’d forgotten about him, and it seems like he got even more abrasive in the years since his last appearance. I did like that he can’t remember Leo’s name, but he can remember that he calls Leo “Gerald.” That’s some dedication to being utterly wrong that I can respect.

Anyway, “The Wake Up Call” isn’t just about Bartlet’s struggle with MS, though that’s an important exploration. Amidst all of this, the staff has to deal with the lack of Josh. I’m still not sure what Leo’s role is in the West Wing? He’s just… an assistant to anyone who needs him? Regardless, I’m sure that’s yet another thing that’s exacerbating these conflicts, though the plane crash itself is a disaster all on its own. As it turns out, the Iranians mistook the passenger plane for one of America’s spy plane, creating a seemingly impossible situation. Was Iran just trying to protect itself? Will the admit to their mistake or is the Ayatollah to proud for that? When Lord Marbury arrives, the issue is complicated even further, and then the British Prime Minister releases a scathing and potentially chaotic statement, and THEN IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE. Of course, all the personal issues at hand don’t help the situation, but even if you took those out, Bartlet had a tough decision to make.

So I’m glad that Bartlet decides to go with hope in the end. He ignores Marbury’s insistence that they need to bomb Iran now (WHAT THE HELL, DUDE) because he’d rather not risk pushing Iran further to the right. It’s a choice that fits in with Bartlet’s recent policies about making sure that the future of the United States – and the rest of the world – isn’t one marred by mediocrity and cynicism. Bartlet wants Iran to move more towards reforming itself, and so he chooses the option that might help that become a reality.

I didn’t feel like this was the BEST EPISODE EVER, but it’s yet another solid entry in a season that’s taking a lot of risks in storytelling, and for the most part, I love it. A lot.

The video for “The Wake Up Call” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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