In the twelfth episode of the first season of The West Wing, everything goes wrong at once. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
God, what an INCREDIBLE episode, y’all.
The Perfect Storm
“He Shall, from Time to Time” presents us with one of the most chaotic sets of days in the White House that we’ve seen. (So far. Oh god, it’s totally going to get worse, isn’t it? Oh god.) Within the same 48-hour period, the President is struck down by the flu, collapsing in the Oval Office, while the team struggles to prepare for the upcoming State of the Union address. Oh, and the story about Leo’s past with addiction is leaked onto the Internet. IT’S SO MUCH HAPPENING AT ONE TIME. OH SHIT, I also forgot that Indian and Pakistani forces were moving along the ceasefire line. JESUS. Someone give these people a break!
Except they’re not going to get one at all. It’s fascinating to me that this show uses crises like this to help develop characters. The West Wing is about serialized character drama more than anything else, though I admit this is also the first time that the show has hit a stride when it comes to serialized plots. Through Leo’s crisis, we see how his staff members and friends support him. In one instance, C.J. is beautifully sympathetic and supportive of Leo, offering to sit down with him to go over the possible media onslaught he’ll face the next day. And then we have Josh and Sam, who orchestrate a statement of support for Leo against Leo’s wishes. I was initially shocked as to why Leo was so irate. Wouldn’t it be good for the president to offer his support? But this is more about how Leo wants to face this in a way that implicates only himself. He doesn’t mind the help, but he tells Sam that he doesn’t want to take down anyone else with him. God, that’s such an honorable thing to do, you know? He’s well aware of how vicious the media is going to be with him, and he also recognizes that his past doesn’t exactly exonerate him of any guilt. His history of addiction is his and his alone, and I respect that he doesn’t want it to negatively affect anyone else.
I think it was smart of Sorkin, then, to not focus “He Shall, from Time to Time” entirely on Leo’s interrogation by the press. I don’t know that we needed to see that. Plus, it shifts the focus back to the main plot twist revealed in the middle of the episode: the President has multiple sclerosis. I had an aunt die of multiple sclerosis, so the reveal was particularly brutal to hear. And it really put Abbey’s behavior into context. I thought at first that Sorkin was pitting her nurse-ly nature against Bartlet’s charm for comedy, but that’s not what I was witnessing. She was trying not to panic.
We’ve also got Leo’s reaction to this, which is intriguing in the context of what’s happening to his life. You can tell Leo was almost mad that the President hadn’t shared this aspect of his life with him, especially since Leo had told his friend about his addiction problems. At the same time, I think Leo understood that this wasn’t quite the same thing. We get that brief moment where it seems like Bartlet is about to break into tears; it’s the only time I’ve ever seen the President afraid. WHICH REALLY MESSED ME UP. The man was so terrified that his disease would prevent him from being elected that he and his wife kept it to themselves. Which speaks a whole lot to the nature of ableism in the United States, right? Bartlet can clearly do his job. We’ve seen that! But he has to fear the fact that his opponents would use a disease to derail his campaign. That’s fucked up, y’all.
There are a few other brief plots I wanted to bring up. Toby. Toby. Okay, I’m definitely sticking by a prediction I made in the video commission for this episode. Seriously, Toby’s going to murder someone out of anger one of these days. There’s no way around this. The man’s anger gives me strength. On a more serious note, I loved that what seemed like an ancillary plot became such a big moment for his character and the administration. That one specific member of Congress who couldn’t even keep his facts about Arthur Miller correct enraged me so much! My anger was Toby’s anger. But it was awesome that this provided an epiphany for Toby, who realized that the Presidency couldn’t run away from their own government, that people like that Congressman were a perfect example why we needed a National Endowment for the Arts. So it should be the White House’s goal to pursue a government that was good, that refused to leave people behind, that sought a meaningful interaction with its citizens.
I also found myself feeling slightly less irritated by Lord John Marbury. I’m not sure that his plan will work out, but he was right that the U.S. had been buying what it wanted from its allies and enemies for decades. He’s kind of spot on. So while I still reserve the right to be generally irritated by his presence, he appears to have resolved the Indo-Pakistani conflict for the time being.
But I’m pretty stoked that C.J. is so adorable. IT’S PERFECT. Oh my god, that whole scene in her office is so ridiculous, but I don’t care. She warns Danny not to bump the desk. She tries to take the fish with her! She runs into her own door! Oh lord, she’s portrayed like a giggly teenager, and it’s just my favorite thing.
Let me close this out by also suggesting you watch the video for this episode for the final scene, in which I freak out over the fact that President Bartlet basically created the Mayor from Buffy. HE TOTALLY DID.
The video commission for this episode is now archived on MarkDoesStuff.com for just $0.99!
Mark Links Stuff
– I have been nominated for a Hugo in the Fan Writer category! If you’d like more information or to direct friends/family to vote for me, I have a very informational post about what I do that you can pass along and link folks to!
– I have announced what the next books I am reading on Mark Reads will be, as well as updated y’all on the events, cons, tour dates, GOING TO EUROPE OH MY GOD, and general shenaniganry going on in my life. I have a similar post up on Mark Watches, detailing the next two shows I’m doing as well as the return of Double Features, and I finally explain what happened with my Vimeo account. Check these posts out!
– Mark Reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is now published and available for purchase! It’s available in ebook AND physical book format, and you can also get a discount for buying the ENTIRE SET of digital books: $25 for 7 BOOKS!!!
– Video commissions are open, and you can commission a Mark Reads/Watches video for just $25!