In the sixteenth episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, the show proves that it can still destroy me after over a hundred episodes. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide
Oh god. OH GOD.
Let’s start out with some of the more lighter fare before I address one of the most difficult and challenging plots this show has ever given us. So! Charlie and Kate: I’m way into them hanging out??? It’s always fun to suddenly realize that two characters in an ensemble cast have never really spent much time together. That’s part of the joy of this season, you know? We’ve got C.J. and Margaret, Will and Donna, and now Charlie and Kate. Oh my god YES. I’m into it! And even if their interaction doesn’t result in Kate getting to meet a potential interested man, that doesn’t make their scenes less entertaining. Oh god, IT WAS HER EX-HUSBAND THE WHOLE TIME. Of course! OF COURSE IT WAS. Asking about if she was single, knowing she worked at the White Houseâ€¦ I DIDN’T SEE IT COMING.
Butâ€¦ Will and Kate. Didâ€¦ did that just happen? Is that a thing that’s happening? Holy god, those eye caresses were fucking intense, y’all.
C.J. / Cliff
It’s so fascinating to me how “Drought Conditions” so obviously forced me to think about Margaret’s wardrobe choices over the course of the show, and now I realize that no one else could pull off Margaret’s look. No one! Because once C.J. put on that sweater, it was clear that she couldn’t rock it. Nope. NOPE.
Anyway, I love that this episode is set in the West Wing itself, but combines ongoing stories between the White House and the campaign. This truly feels like the most serialized season of the whole show, and y’all know how I feel about that. In this specific episode, the writers address the strange vacancy left by Josh leaving the West Wing to run Santos’s campaign. I’ll get to how this affected Toby in the final section, so for now, let’s discuss C.J.’s attempt to find a replacement. I was pretty shocked that it took them all this long to find someone, but then C.J. said that she expected Santos to drop out before this point, so it makes sense that they were all just biding their time for the inevitable. Which, for the record, is not so inevitable anymore because 19% OF THE NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTE. OH MY GOD.
But I didn’t even remember when Cliff was a character on this show! I DIDN’T. It wasn’t until he came into C.J.’s office with Leo to discuss the President’s drought plan that I recalled his role in the show AGES AGO. That feels so long ago! And by gods, he hasn’t changed much, has he? He’s smart, vicious, spot-on, and a total jerk. He’s great at his job and completely irritating. So I just need to take a moment to thank the writers â€“ every single person who contributed anything at all to this episode counts â€“ for having Leo reply to C.J.’s protestations with, “That’s worked for us in the past.” And then Josh, in all his irritating and obnoxious glory, walks right into the room and proves Leo right. I feel like the stars have aligned to give us this perfect and holy moment, and I shall treasure it until my body has decayed to dust and returned to the cosmos.
SO, CLIFF CALLEY AS THE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF. What the hell WHAT THE HELL. I need to see more â€“ a lot more â€“ of this before I tell how I feel about it. It’s weird, right?
Even thinking back on what I just witnessed, this is hard to talk about. It’s not entirely out of nowhere, and there have been subtle hints that Toby was not pleased with his role at the White House. We know he was quietly bothered by Josh leaving them behind, and we know that his family is very important to him. Except for his twin children, since they’re never ever brought up ever. Which is super weird, y’all. Anyway, that doesn’t make any of this easier. The writers deliberately frame this episode in an in media res narrative that’s confusing as hell, especially since we have no idea who this new character is that Toby is speaking to about the events of the past few days. Why does he have a cut on his cheek? Why does he seem so upset? What the fuck is going on?
It was a bit overwhelming and confusing, though, when the show seemed to be saying that Toby’s frustration with Josh leaving the West Wing to support Santos was the cause of his rage and disappointment. I’m not saying it was unheard of or impossible, but without any other context, it certainly came across as being sudden. But that’s because this episode was about a collision between Toby’s resentment for Josh and the extreme pain he was feeling over the suicide of his brother. That’s not to suggest that Toby wouldn’t have reacted to Josh leaving at all if his own brother hadn’t died recently; I think that his partnership with Rafferty is evidence that he was serious about his grievances with Santos and Josh. It’s just that Toby is in a dark, grim place during this episode, and it’s one that definitely causes him to act poorly.
Of course, it would be criminal to ignore how Josh exacerbated the issue and was the person to initiate the fight in Toby’s office. God, the whole thing is uncomfortable on a level that I can’t even comprehend. Toby resented that Josh didn’t ask him to work to elect Santos. Josh resented that Toby was making his job harder. And the whole thing came spilling forth in the most ugly display of male ego and misdirected rage that I’ve ever seen on this show, AND IT KEPT GETTING WORSE. SO MUCH MORE WORSE WITH EVERY PASSING SECOND. Josh is literally attacking his colleague over this, and while I get why he’s mad at Toby, he escalated it to this.
I think that I understand Toby’s rage, though, and even if it is misdirected in one sense, I think it’s not hard to see why Toby would feel upset at Josh for dropping everything and walking away from the White House. It’s what he believes his brother did. The scene where he emotionally confesses to C.J. that his brother committed suicide upon learning he had cancer is one of the most brutal and difficult scenes this show has ever given us. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Toby so emotionally raw, and that’s part of the reason it fucked me up so much. But as someone who was once suicidal and has also lost friends to suicide, it’s always hard to deal with the emotional reality of suicide. There’s no easy way to cope with it if you survive it yourself, and there’s no quick coping method for losing someone you love. It’s always going to be a messy, scary, and disorienting experience, and in this case, Toby projected some of his (justified) anger at Josh. When you put this in the context of his conversation with Rafferty that frames this episode, it’s clear that this is why he tells her that he’s been wondering if he’s wasted his time in the White House. I don’t think he has, but we don’t really get to see an emotionally vulnerable Toby, you know? His tearful confession is part of the healing process, but now I’m curious if he really is plotting some sort of exit plan. He absolutely gave Senator Rafferty the health care plan that used to be a part of Bartlet’s early platform, and he did so unapologetically. Has he had enough? Is this the last we’ll see of these feelings, or is he going to let it build?
Honestly, though, this show has been pretty damn uncomfortable in the past, but this is SERIOUSLY NOT OKAY. Gods.
The video for “Drought Conditions” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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