In the thirteenth episode of the first season of The West Wing, sweet potato babies, this show is getting so good, y’all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
Actually, I had sweet potato tots while on tour. They were divine. Anyway!
- I have so many stories to tell. Oh my god, this episode was so beautifully dense and thought-provoking, so allow me to share everything with you.
- Let me start off by saying that I cannot think of a single show I’ve ever seen that is anything like The West Wing. Nothing! Maybe in terms of realism you could compare it to The Wire or Rubicon, but even then, those are two tonally different shows that have no real similarities to The West Wing. Even the way the plot unfolds in this show feels bizarre. Stories rise and fall in minutes, there’s no singular story (yet) that binds the narrative, and a single episode can have like four separate dénouement in them. It’s so fascinating to watch this show!
- Anyway, on to “Take Out the Trash Day.” I wonder if the other reporters will soon guess that Danny and C.J. are… well, doing something with one another. If I was in that room during that press conference, I would have suspected something. That being said, C.J. is openly friendly and kind to the reporters, so she wasn’t necessarily acting any different.
- I think that most straight people who are decent and aren’t homophobic bigots have that moment where they realize just how awful people can be towards folks who are queer or gay. C.J. had hers in this episode when she was confronted with the reality that some men could still feel embarrassed by their son’s homosexuality even after they’d been murdered for it. Yeah, it only gets worse from here on out, C.J. Better strap in.
- Sex education. Okay, so, as promised in today’s video, I wanted to talk about the draconian system in place because of my lovely school board. We had a “health” class in sixth grade, eighth grade, and then eleventh grade that was mandatory to graduate. I cannot burn the images of those classes out of my mind even if I want to. Only the high school class was co-ed; the rest were separated by gender. We learned what genitals we possessed, what they were for, and then were told to never, ever use them unless we were married. Even when I got to high school, my school district could not demonstrate how to wear a condom. Every health book had all the pages/images that detailed anything about sex or safe sex cut out of the books. I distinctly remember that there was one page that had a diagram of a condom being put on a banana to demonstrate how to correctly wear a condom. Someone had taken a razor to every copy of the book to cut it out. To our amazement and frustration, one of the mandatory test questions addressed a topic that was on the next page of the book, but no one could ever read what it said because there was a giant rectangular section of the page missing. I wish I was making this up.
- And my god, don’t even get me started on how ridiculously inefficient those classes were. I knew I was gay at that point, so all this information about how to have sex with a woman? It was fascinating, I was glad to learn about it, and I was furious that there wasn’t a single mention of having sex with the same gender. There was no mention of anything that was a normative, cisgender body. I desperately needed that information when I was 17. I know for a fact I would have made much better sexual decisions when I went to college if someone had just taught me those things!!! I had to learn from other queers how to have sex. Which I don’t want to discount because IT WAS SO LOVELY and totally welcomed! Actually, when it came to bodies and sex in general, you know who I learned about sex from the most? MUSICIANS. Yeah. Salt N Pepa, TLC, MC Lyte, the Riot Grrrl movement… they taught me more about sex than any of my teachers or parents did. So yeah, I just meant that it was so terrible to me that our health class excluded a huge part of human health just because some bigoted Christians and Mormons ran our school board and wanted me to wait until marriage to even learn about sex.
- So yeah, I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS ABOUT SEX EDUCATION. Is it clear where I stand on this? C.J.’s zest for this subject, then, makes me like her even more than I already did.
- Also, her adorable kisses with Danny are adorable. They are!
- Oh god, is that story about a town in Alabama wanted to abolish all laws except the Ten Commandments true? It has to be. Like, I sincerely believe that is based on reality. That is precisely something my country would do. It is.
- This whole episode, I was expecting more of the racist sociology professor, but the story did not deliver! You can’t introduce an intriguing plot thread like that and then ignore it. It’s not fair.
- Hey, Mrs. Landingham is great in this episode, too. I love that she works for Bartlet, but she is certainly not above trolling the shit out of him. She knows she’ll get away with it because she’s the best.
- I also have a lot of ~feelings~ about public broadcasting. When that Congressional aide said that PBS was “television for rich people,” I wanted to reach through the screen and strangle him. Excuse you, I was extremely poor growing up, and PBS was my life, y’all. Sesame Street, Julia Child (!!!!), Masterpiece Theater, NOVA… the list goes on and on. It was a godsend, the kind of television my mother approved of and I adored. Fuck you, dude, and Toby is once again one of my favorites. Bless his defense of public broadcasting!
- One of the things I’m coming to appreciate about The West Wing is the way in which it distills the complicated political process in our nation’s capitol to the audience. I mean, I always like it when a story treats its characters as whole people, capable of the whole range of human emotions and behavior, so I’m glad that the politicians are treated similarly for the most part. Josh and Sam’s meeting on the Hill shows us how items and issues are prioritized, how elections play a huge part in policy-making, and how much more complicated it is to get anything done in Washington. That doesn’t excuse the bullshit that happens in Washington, of course, but it’s refreshing to see it portrayed this way instead of as an issue of Democrats versus Republicans. Josh and Sam made a deal to save Leo, and in the process, they shelved the sex ed report. So much of American politics is based on this sort of maneuvering, you know? And I get that Bruno is being the pragmatist here. He knows that media could not care less about what Leo actually did. They’ll eat Leo alive regardless, and it’ll derail practically everything the White House and the Democrats in Congress want to get done. Lord, that sucks. It does! Yet I do respect that Sam and Josh are optimistic about fighting for what’s right as opposed to what’s practical. I’m sure that this portrayal is far less cynical than reality, but I’m okay with that. The West Wing is like an ideal version of the government we want, not the government we have.
- God, Leo, I am so happy with how you handled Simon Blye. That dude was an asshole, y’all, a condescending and self-centered dolt who Leo was right to blow up at and kick out of the White House. I still maintain that it was Bartlet’s talk prior to this meeting that influenced Leo to look at Simon more objectively.
- Oh my god, I totally fell for Mandy’s story. I did! I expected Mr. Lydell to be embarrassed for his son. And honestly, that’s based more on experience than anything else. I try to be an optimistic, positive person when I can, but I don’t necessarily have the luxury of assuming the best when it comes to things like my sexuality or my race or my class. My experience tells me that most people will be assholes. That’s just how it is! So it was a shock to me that Mr. Lydell was embarrassed not for his son, but for the President FOR NOT BEING STRONG ENOUGH ON GAY RIGHTS. Mr. Lydell, fucking BRAVO. I was both shocked and incredibly pleased to hear those words come from his mouth. I’m disappointed that C.J. sent them home, as I think they could have been a positive force at the signing.
- Let me also say that I really like Danny after he refuses to take advantage of C.J.’s emotional vulnerability to get a lead. That is a fucking awesome thing to do, and my respect for him shot through the roof in that moment. Y’all, that’s what you should do with people, and I’m deeply proud of him.
- But let’s just get to it: Leo’s confrontation with Karen Larsen, the aide who leaked his personnel files to Claypool. I’m utterly shocked and pleased by what the writers do here. As I said before, I want stories where characters are more than just characters. I don’t care if the story is set a bazillion years in the future and everyone is nothing more than amorphous blobs. So watching Karen get the chance to explain to Leo why she did something so awful was incredible to me. Karen’s father, an alcoholic, most likely did a lot of terrible things, so Karen lashed out, justifying the leak by thinking that she was doing something that was both personally cathartic and patriotic. And maybe she was lied to about that, maybe she was told that what she was doing was good for the government, and maybe she was exploited by Claypool or someone else. Either way, Leo is able to recognize that Karen thought what she was doing wasn’t nearly as bad as it was, and he forgives her by OFFERING HER JOB BACK. No, Leo, you are punching me in the heart again. Stop it! Stop it!
- And as a former alcoholic myself, let me just throw my support behind something Leo says. It is very hard to explain to other people what that sensation is like. I have not had a drink in nearly twelve years. I have no desire to drink again, and I don’t even want to carefully test the waters. Perhaps I could use alcohol in moderation again, but I don’t want to find out. I know that it’s not worth it to try because the other outcome is that I’ll have ten drinks at once. I’ll use alcohol to cope with my stress and depression, like I did in high school, and I’ll be back to that place all over again. That sort of addiction doesn’t make sense to most people, and I get that. I get that perhaps some of you don’t understand how drinking every single day until you’re uncomfortably numb is a thing I did for two years straight. That’s okay. I don’t need people to understand. I just need the acceptance that you believe me when I say I don’t want to be there ever again.
- Good god, I love this show.
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