Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S06E19 – Ninety Miles Away

In the nineteenth episode of the sixth season of The West Wing, C.J. and Cliff discover that Leo has been holding secret talks with Cuba, and in unearthing the truth, they find out that Kate has something to hide, too. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Well, this was a strange episode, both tonally and in terms of placement in the season. I liked it at times, and the unfolding mystery of Leo and Kate was totally fascinating to watch. At the end of this episode, though, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away from this. Did anything change? If the next episode deals with the campaign, will it largely focus on Cuba, or is this a self-contained story? We got a glimpse of Leo’s alcoholic past, as well as hints about some sort of trouble Kate had in Cuba, which is left infuriatingly ambiguous. And I admit that the final reveal of this episode is a huge deal, namely because we haven’t seen Leo in a state like he is here. AND OBVIOUSLY LEO AND KATE. WTF. WTF!!!

But how much of this episode rests on that final reveal? Too much, I think, because I can’t see how this episode carries any other weight aside from revealing that Kate and Leo have a complicated past involving Cuba. That’s the distinct problem that I have in discussing this episode: I can’t speak with a shred of authority on Cuba. I’ve studied it, read some utterly fantastic books on the subject*, and I have Cuban-American friends who have spoken to me about their experiences, some from those who lived there during Castro’s Cuba, others who grew up here, in the shadow of their parents’ flight from that country. But that just means I know some things, and it’s very little at that. So I can’t tell you about anything brought up here and verify whether it’s true or not. I think the framing of “Ninety Miles Away” feels strange, since this is supposed to be a big “cliff-jumping” moment for the Bartlet administration, and yet it’s one that will enrage Cuban-Americans. That feels… wrong? Like, perhaps y’all should choose a better legacy to leave behind? Which isn’t to say that ending the embargo against Cuba is a bad idea in and of itself, but so much of this episode mentions how the Bartlet administration is going to be on the receiving end of a wave of bullshit and negativity, so… okay?

That’s why I said this feels so tonally strange. The episode teeters between portraying Bartlet and Leo as visionaries who are going to change the world as we know it, and then constantly reminds us that what they’re doing is going to upset like a million people and turn everyone against them, and I’m so confused. But nothing is more confusing than Kate Harper, who is given some of the most confounding dialogue ever, and I wouldn’t hate this so much if we were given any clue as to what the fuck she’s saying here. Why does she keep naming places, forwards and backwards? These are passwords for… a thing? Did she help fix the Cabrerra election when she was part of the CIA? If so, why would she spend her day randomly repeating the password system she used back them to people who have no idea what she’s talking about? What was Andy referring to when he said that he knew what the job was doing to her? Was this a reference to her ex-husband? Was the black eye due to her job or her ex? Was she supposed to be watching Leo McGarry?

I am not the kind of person who needs everything in a story answered, and truthfully, I do enjoy stories that are ambiguous enough to leave conclusions up to the reader/watcher. (I mean, come on, I loved the LOST series finale.) But to tease us with so much and give us so little is cruel! Unless I’m forced to eat my words next week when the following episode reveals everything, of course. IT WOULD BE JUST MY LUCK THAT THIS WOULD HAPPEN. However, I don’t think that’s the case, and I don’t think we’ll ever see more of this. Which… AHHHHH. What does this do? Does this change how we view these characters, or does it become an unanswered mystery that’ll plague me forever and ever? PROBABLY THE LATTER. And for what it’s worth, this episode does a similar thing (though with less intensity) to Charlie, which is to give him a story that seems interesting, only to abandon it COMPLETELY because… I don’t know? If you took out the bug plot, this would be the same episode.

I’ve loved this season a great deal, but how do you follow “La Palabra” with this? Admittedly, that’s a lot to live up to, but this is just a weird story. IDEK, TELL ME HOW Y’ALL FEEL.

The video for “Ninety Miles Away” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

* Just off the top of my head, I’d recommend you check out Child of the Revolution: Growing Up in Castro’s Cuba by Luis M. Garcia. If you’d like a perspective of Castro’s Cuba from a gay man, I cannot recommend Before Night Falls by Reynaldo Arenas enough. It’ll break your heart. For fiction, Jardín by Dulce María Loynaz is just… christ. Incredible. Read up!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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