In the season one finale of The West Wing, a tumultuous day leading up to a town hall meeting ends in disaster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
I know I only have to wait literally a day relative to me to see the resolution of this, but that doesn’t lessen the pain. H E L P.
I really like saving my big freak outs for the end, so we’re doing that because otherwise, this review would be an incoherent mess, and I want to make sure to address everything in this episode that I picked up on. “What Kind of Day Has It Been” has all these really neat subtle turns and character growth that I don’t want to be totally overshadowed by that ending. That ending. So let’s start by talking about what Josh does here for Leo, and how it results in a stunning scene that demonstrates just how much these characters respect one another. Leo tasks Josh with talking to Hoynes about his behavior with other Democrats who oppose campaign finance reform. We’re shown once again how the inner machinations of the American political system work sometimes. In this case, Josh has to convince Hoynes that even the mere appearance that he’s coming down on the opposing side of this issue is bad for him. Well, he also has to do this while running. I consider myself a pretty decent long-distance runner, and even I know this is absurd. Having an in-depth and verbose political conversation during strenuous cardiovascular activity? I’ll pass. I can barely deal with moving my feet without falling. Don’t add talking to the Vice President to that! It’s also noteworthy that Hoynes realizes that Josh isn’t bullshitting him. There’s that whole exchange where the VP ponders what the world would have been like if he’d listened to Josh two years earlier. It establishes Josh’s talent, but it also does something else: sets him up for the next scene between him and Leo.
The writers give us a chance to see Josh be wrong and just stand there in his wrongness. It’s done in a way that reveals the deep respect Leo has for Josh. Leo cares enough about Josh to tell him that he fucked up. In an effort to do his best, Josh didn’t realize he’d dehumanized the downed pilot to make a point. Granted, it’s something only one person heard, but Leo knows that he has to stop Josh from making a gaffe like that in public because that would be a disaster. I really liked this moment because it reflects how I approach criticism myself. I criticize the things I love because I love them, flaws and all. And you can see that in Leo, who is quick to assure Josh that he did do a good job despite the mistake. So Josh goes in for the hug, and it’s man-awkward, and I love it dearly. I, too, have totally misread the signal for a hug, so now it’s a personal policy of mine to always ask folks if they want a hug. It’s the best thing to do! Because it’s not just an issue of misreading hugs. Some folks are not cool with physical touch and we should respect that, you know?
H U G S
Well, this is complicated. This season’s story with C.J. has been leading to “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” After having dealt with the stress and frustration of having misinformed the press unknowingly, Leo deals C.J. another disaster: She must willingly mislead the press in the interest of national security. This is a doozy of a predicament. (By gods, I love typing the word “doozy.” What a neat word!) C.J. has a precarious relationship with the press, and anything she does could send them against her in an instant. So how is she supposed to openly lie to them after her accidental lie went over so horribly? It becomes an issue of desire for C.J. What does she want more? To build her relationship up with her batch of reporters? Or does she finally want Leo to accept and trust her? That’s an important issue because C.J. has spent so much time doubting her own worth to the president and to Leo. Ultimately, I think that’s why she chooses to do what Leo wants her to do: She wants to be in his good graces.
Of course, that has more negative consequences for C.J., who enrages Danny after specifically picking him to lie to out of all the reporters in the room. I get that she’s still taking Danny to task for publishing Mandy’s memo, but how much longer will this last? I’m guess that this storyline will be exhausted with this episode, as I don’t know how much further this can be taken in season two. Can we assume that C.J. giving Danny the tip about the Columbia is a sign that she’s ready to move on with him?
By the way, Mandy had maybe four lines in this episode. Come on, writers. You’re not even trying to include her.
I feel like Sam had twice the lines Mandy did. That’s really weird, as he’s often the focus of this show. What gives?
Oh, so I just figured out a new thing in my life: Watching Toby Ziegler tear up is something I don’t think I could handle again. The writers and Richard Schiff have done an incredible job in building up Toby’s characterization, to the point that we understand that he’s not prone to showing much emotion beyond anger. Well, there was that One Day of Joy. Let’s not forget that! Seeing him awkwardly reveal his own shame over not knowing his brother was in space and express his slowly-building terror over the chance that the Columbia might not come back home is just heartbreaking. Like C.J.’s story in this episode, I’m really thankful for the way the writers and the cast have constructed something like this over the course of the season. It gives an emotional weight to “What Kind of Day Has It Been” that I appreciate.
The Town Hall
It’s the brilliance of the narrative in this episode that lends itself to the drama and tension that I experienced. I’m generally a fan of in media res to begin with, so it should be no surprise that I enjoyed it in “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” However, it’s the way in which the writers toy with us that made this so suspenseful. Primarily, we’re given two unknowable gestures, and then our expectations of what those are twisted on us. Initially, I believed that the mime of a plane taking off was a reference to Hotchkiss being found, and the writers purposely misdirected us in that sense. What else could they have been referring to? What else would carry the same weight? Except then Bartlet finds out the exact moment when Hotchkiss was out of Iraqi airspace, so that… oh god, are they referring to Toby’s brother? Some other plot I don’t know yet? Why must you toy with my delicate emotions? Apparently, Aaron Sorkin also lives for this.
Yet even amidst the utter horror of trying to figure out the plane mime or Gina’s horror-struck face, this is all so charming. Get me a thesaurus because I can’t seem to find a better word to describe these people. They are so charming. My god, LOOK AT PRESIDENT BARTLET DURING THAT TOWN HALL. I feel like Obama is real close to capturing this same sense of friendliness and sincerity that Bartlet does here. I’m so used to presidents in my lifetime largely acting like they’re better than me, and it’s frustrating! Two Bushes and a Reagan. No, thanks. And sometimes, I found Clinton captivating, but he wasn’t my favorite politician by a long shot. Bartlet, though? Oh, I’d vote for him. I would! And I recognize that voting for the President of the United States can be a demoralizing and fruitless process. I voted Green in 2004 and 2008, and then for Obama in 2012, mostly out of fear that I could not live with myself if Romney had won and I had voted third party. Yes, I realize that my vote didn’t matter in a mathematical sense, but I voted for my own sense of civic duty and responsibility. Having said that, I also know that this show is giving us a rather manipulated version of a world we’ve never really seen. Again, it doesn’t bother me. This is television, and I am perfectly fine being entertained as well as inspired to think critically about American politics.
I’m wondering if the show is going to deal with the reality of war and the invasion of another country by U.S. military forces. Bartlet threatens to do just that if it’s discovered that the Iraqis have kidnapped Hotchkiss, but it’s the second time the writers have avoided actually bringing war into the story. Of course, now this just has me thinking about the real-world crossovers of the show. How much of American history will creep in to the narrative, and how much will be fictionalized? Are we going to deal with terrorism in a way we understand it in a post-9/11 world, or does that not ever happen in The West Wing? I imagine that had to be a delicate position for Sorkin and the writers. Anyway, I’m getting way, way, way ahead of myself. The point I’m trying to make is that the I’m guessing that Bartlet’s threat will one day have to be a reality, and I’m interested to see how the show deals with it.
So. That ending. My god, it’s so terrifying. It’s strange seeing white supremacists being displayed so prominently on television because I’m so used to acts of terror being carried out by indeterminately brown people when it comes to fictionalized narratives. Yeah, I know this episode aired in 2000, but that stereotype unfortunately existed long before then. I don’t want to say it’s refreshing to see white violence portrayed here because lord, I do not feel refreshed after finishing this episode. I feel rather drained, actually. But in a world where white terrorists are sympathized with and given the respect of the media, and a murdered black kid is said to have deserved his death because he was a thug, I just don’t see this sort of storytelling at all. It’s different. I appreciate it.
I’m going to save my predictions about the turnout from this massacre for Wednesday’s post, as I’d like to have a lengthy piece for y’all. Let me just say that I AM DEEPLY, DEEPLY UPSET, AND I AM REALLY WORRIED THAT ONE OF MY BABIES DIED IN THIS, AND YES, I KNOW THESE ARE ALL ADULTS, BUT I SHALL STILL CALL THEM BABIES BECAUSE MY BABIES.
Holy shit, what a ride season one was. What a goddamn ride.
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!