Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E17 – Stirred

In the seventeenth episode of the third season of The West Wing, Bartlet deals with a possible environmental or terrorist crisis while the rest of the team has a very uncomfortable meeting. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

“Stirred” was good. Real good!

  • Given the cold open, I expected that this episode would focus on Leo, especially since we haven’t had a Leo-centric episode since “Bartlet for America.” (I… think??? Oh god, y’all have to remember I took a 16-day break from all my sites for my European trip, so I have this massive gap in my memory. The beginning of season three feels like it was FIVE THOUSAND YEARS AGO.)
  • I was surprised (and immensely pleased) that this instead focused on Vice President Hoynes. I thought the opening scene was foreshadowing someone – mostly likely someone in the press – finding out about those meetings. I was so off the mark.
  • For anyone else who has a first name that is also a widely-used noun, do you ever feel weird using that word? Like, typing “off the mark” is supremely uncomfortable to me because hey, that’s me.
  • No?
  • Okay, I’ll go back to my list.
  • Can we get an episode about Ginger? Hell, all of the aides and assistants? I want an episode with Bonnie, Ginger, Margaret, and Carol. Thanks. Retroactively get on that, Aaron Sorkin.
  • There’s an interesting set-up to “Stirred” that’s the reason why I’ve chosen to do a bulleted list review instead of breaking this up by character. Aside from Donna’s plot, every subplot in this episode is tied up with one another, and it’s harder to separate them in terms of a narrative for a review. And I like that, because the dual issues that the staff deals with – the crash in Idaho and Josh’s meeting – create a fascinating atmosphere within the White House.
  • Even Toby’s story is inherently about what Josh’s meeting covers, and it’s a neat way to signal that a change is coming. The time for the election is drawing nearer and nearer, and we can see this shift in what the White House prioritizes.
  • In terms of suspense, there’s a slow, uncomfortable build surrounding the crash of a truck in a tunnel in Idaho that was carrying depleted uranium fuel rods. Is it terrorism? Is it an accident? Will Bartlet have to order the nearby town to evacuate?
  • Josh, meanwhile, thinks it’s inappropriate for him to continue his meeting – the “mystery” meeting he wouldn’t tell Sam about – upon hearing news of the crash. And then he reveals what the meeting is for and what the fuck! Bruno wants the team to discuss replacing Hoynes.
  • Which immediately changes the meeting and subtext of the meeting that Sam has with Hoynes, even if that’s not why Sam is going to Hoynes in the first place! Like, as soon as Sam convinces Hoynes to take his name off the Internet Education bill, there’s that comment Hoynes makes about not being able to campaign on the bill. Oh god, are you even going to get to campaign at all???
  • Fitzwallace as Vice President. I am kind of INCREDIBLY INTO THIS.
  • Leo as VP??? SIGN ME THE FUCK UP.
  • I admit, though, that as a recovering alcoholic myself, I was a bit disturbed by how willing the team was to insist that if Leo was a Vice President, he’d never be able to make it through the process because of his past. Like Hoynes, I started really early, and what little my brother and I know about our adoptive parents, we know that they were both alcoholics or drug addicts. Add to that a whole lot of stress and confusion over being transracial adoptees, dealing with violently overprotective parents, and poor, (and my own struggle with homosexuality) and you’ve got a breeding ground for addiction. I don’t even know if it’s true that it can be hereditary, but both my brother and I have gone way too far with alcohol, and it’s why I stopped nearly twelve years ago and decided to become straight edge.
  • Anyway, I think there’s also a neat bit of education in “Stirred” in regards to political strategizing, especially as it applied to Hoynes. I always wonder how often this show helps other people learn more about the American political process because it’s so dense and complicated. I thought it was important that the team bring up the possibility of Hoynes going independent and what that would mean for the Bartlet campaign. The way the electoral college works means that one party can win simply because the other one is fractured.
  • (Oh god, every time I hear the electoral college mentioned, I flashback to last year’s elections and sitting in front of the television on Voting Day and desperately hoping certain states wouldn’t go to that evil beast of a human, Mitt Romney. Stress through politics, I swear.)
  • (Which just makes me think about how much stress the elections on this show is going to cause me.)
  • (Help I’ve reached the point of no return.)
  • Okay, BACK TO THE ACTUAL EPISODE. A lot happens in a short span of time. Leo makes his comment about past Vice Presidents and alcoholism (which I completely missed and did not react to), Sam finds out what the “secret” meeting is for, Toby discovers that Secretary Fisher’s scheduler denied Toby’s request to meet, Donna finds out that there’s nothing required for the president to make a proclamation, and then
  • and then
  • H E L P
  • Remember when I said it was clear that the White House was shifting towards the re-election campaign? There’s a pure manifestation of this in Toby’s confrontation with Secretary Fisher. This is one of Toby’s more vicious scenes, and yet another demonstration of political maneuvering by the White House team. Yes, it’s kind of cruel, especially when Toby threatens to take Fisher’s job, but it’s a necessary action. He has to keep the focus on the President for the next year or so. (Wait, the primaries haven’t happened so… not a year yet? I have no idea what day it is on this show.)
  • I haven’t said anything about it yet, but I remember when I got that $300 tax rebate that Bush promised everyone, and then I remember having to pay it back the next year and getting super fucking mad at it. I’m with you, Charlie. Just call it what it is.
  • I tensed up during the scene in the Oval Office where Hoynes was going to admit that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but you know what? I shouldn’t have been. Bartlet is an understanding and empathetic man, and I should have known he’d accept Hoynes.
  • Hoynes then causally admits that he knows the meeting next door is about replacing him.
  • !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT IS THIS SHOW I SWEAR
  • And I loved that Bartlet insisted on keeping Hoynes on the ticket. It was a nice sign of solidarity. Plus, the whole “I like you more than you think I do” bit is so passively beautiful that I can’t deal with it.
  • Fair warning: Teachers changed my life. Mr. Marshall, Mrs. Edwards, Ms. Alford, Mrs. Janewicz… all of them got me where I am today. So you better believe a flood of tears entered my eyes when Bartlet revealed that he had Donna’s old English teacher on the phone.
  • DONE. One of my favorite scenes in the whole show, I swear.
  • And then “Stirred” ends on a haunting note. Leo and Hoynes tell the rest of the team about Hoynes’s alcoholism, but Leo orders the discussion about replacing the VP to be over. Bartlet has given his reason for keeping Hoynes on the ticket.
  • “Because I Could Die.”
  • Excuse me, I’m just going to go sit in the corner with my emotions.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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