Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E19 – The Black Vera Wang

In the nineteenth episode of the third season of The West Wing, I AM TOTALLY GOING TO BE RUINED BY THE END OF THIS SEASON, AREN’T I? If you’re still intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.



Look, there is not a single plotline in “The Black Vera Wang” that isn’t so uncomfortable that it caused my tummy to hurt. It’s all awkward. It’s all miserable. And I am so scared for the end of season three.

Donna is placed into an unbearable situation here because she’s expected to balance her own desire to keep the interns of the White House and the reality of Bruce’s inappropriate behavior. I couldn’t help but think about all the recent news/commentary I’ve seen about how we need to abolish unpaid internships because right. Working full time for free? Yeah. No. So, in that sense, I understand Bruce’s desperation. He has to pay rent. To make people do work for free is an absurd notion, and I hate that it’s so common!

DON’T TAKE ITEMS GIVEN TO WHITE HOUSE EMPLOYEES AND SELL THEM ON EBAY. And let’s accept that Bruce didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to do this. That’s fine! But he is so unapologetic to Donna. He says sorry, but I don’t believe a word of it. He doesn’t care! He got his money, and he’s certainly not going to pay Donna back. Donna, in all her empathy and loveliness, just accepts that she bought her own gift back off of eBay.

Oh, Donna.

PS: Oh my god, when are she and Josh just going to make out? That whole conversation after Josh got back from Helsinki was ridiculous. Just make out already.


Toby has things to do! Unfortunately, he’s stuck dealing with the representatives of the four major news networks, who are reducing coverage of the next election to one hour per convention, instead of two hours a day. And I think that the main representative had a point when he stated that there wasn’t really a compelling reason to continue coverage of an event that never challenged the status quo. I get that. I mean, I don’t ever watch the conventions myself. If anything, I saw this as another example of the ever-growing complexity that the White House team would face as they approached the elections. As I mentioned in the video commission for this episode, The West Wing has a very familiar pattern it sticks to regarding the pacing of a single season: The premiere and the finale episode, as well as those that surround it, are NO FAIR AND THEY HURT AND WHY. (For the most part, I mean. I think once you get specific about the flow of a season, there are contradictions. For example, season two bucks this trend with a string of utterly fantastic and thrilling episodes that are in the middle block. “Noël” is a perfect demonstration of that.) As we get closer to the end of season three and the upcoming election, I can tell that things are only going to get worse.

But I used a specific phrase up there: “ever-growing complexity.” There are so many ways that things can get worse for the Bartlet campaign because there are an absurd number of factors they’ve got to pay attention to. (See: Sam’s entire plot.) Battling the networks? Yeah, this isn’t going to be the only problem they’ll have. It’s not! There was already the open mic gaffe earlier in this very season.

Basically, things are going to get worse.


AND SAM IS NO HELP AT ALL. OH MY GOD, I HAVE HAD THAT WHALE PAINTING FOR A FULL WEEK NOW, AND I HAVE BEEN ACHING TO USE IT, AND NOW I GOT TO, BUT I’M ALSO SAD BECAUSE WOW THIS IS REALLY AWFUL. I’m more aware than ever that it’s entirely possible that Bartlet won’t win re-election. I mean, cast members leave, they move on to other things, and no one’s spoiled me for how long each of these actors and actresses stay on the show. And given that this show focuses on the White House, why isn’t it possible that a different President could sit in the Oval Office?

Still, it’s not happening this season. Clearly, the elections will occur in season four. (Seriously, I can’t imagine the writers stuffing months of this timeline into two episodes.) But that doesn’t mean a disaster can’t happen now. BECAUSE ONE DOES. SAM CAUSES IT DESPITE BEING WARNED THAT HE WILL CAUSE IT IF HE MEETS WITH KAHN. Like… this is exactly like watching someone walk straight towards a cliff and you keep yelling at them not to do it and they walk faster and then they’re running towards the cliff and I swear, y’all. Once Bruno said he was going to show Sam that it wasn’t just bad, I knew there was no coming back from this. Sam got sold out. His close friend sold him out, and thinks he is justified by it. I have only one slight problem, and I think it’s a result of how this story is told. Sam can be quite clueless and egotistical at times, but I wish I knew why he thought he could trust Kevin Kahn. They’re old friends, right? But… that’s it? He works for the opposition, so shouldn’t that alone tell him to abort mission?

Regardless, now that awful ad has gotten free airtime. How? HOW ARE THEY GOING TO REBOUND FROM THIS?


Let me get this repetitive bit out of the way: This season’s constant focus on the ambiguous Middle Eastern/Arab as the perpetual enemy is tiring. I get it, it’s 2001/2002. It’s topical. It’s dated. But it still isn’t fun to watch.

There. Got that out of my system. Because OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS SO AWFUL OTHERWISE. This is some of the tensest writing we’ve gotten from Sorkin and company, and as each new detail about the possible terrorist attack is released, we’re left feeling more and more helpless. Martin Sheen is brilliant here, and I love how he portrays Bartlet as both bewildered by how surreal this threat is and determined not to leave his staff behind.

I suppose it’s surreal to watch this as an American because it is rare for there to be terrorist attacks like this on our soil. (Relatively, when compared to the rest of the world, I mean.) That’s why I picked up on some of the subtle expressions on Bartlet’s face during “The Black Vera Wang.” I honestly don’t know how I’d react to something like this, and as Leo kept telling Bartlet to prepare himself for new outcomes, I saw this blank look pass over Bartlet. Because what the fuck do you do when you find out the White House might be the target of violence? What do you do when you’re told that you have to go into hiding so you can survive, but your friends and co-workers aren’t allowed to? I was reminded of Josh’s questions from the previous episode, too. How can they be sure this is going to happen? How much can they depend on the intelligence they’re getting?

And for what it’s worth, I think Sorkin analyzes all these political and emotional issues extremely well in what little time this plot has in “The Black Vera Wang.” Because at the end of this, we find out that while the intelligence was sort of right, it was also sort of wrong. They had the wrong coast and the wrong target. Not only that, but then Bartlet learns that the spy who was supposed to have helped them might be a terrorist himself.

Again, I’m uncomfortable with the fact that nearly every Muslim/Arab character fits a single narrative on this show. It’s not my favorite thing. My hope is that the upcoming episodes will continue to address the complications of a world where terrorists do exist, and not paint an entire culture with one brush.


Trigger Warning: Obviously, we have to talk about stalking and violence here. I saved this for the end because of this.

There are some interesting developments here aside from that shocking ending, such as the suggestion that C.J. might be developing feelings for Special Agent Donovan. I mentioned this in the video, but I understand C.J.’s frustration with having to change so much of her life because of this asshole. So we’ve got a complex situation: C.J. is annoyed with Donovan as much as she is intrigued by him. (Perhaps that’s why she thanks Donovan for being in Rosslyn?)

But there are two significant scenes in “The Black Vera Wang” that are electrifying. The shopping sequence is just TOO MUCH. I don’t know if anyone who has ever been stalked has dealt with this, but you soon learn to scope crowds of people for someone who is off. I do this all the time! Granted, it’s not on the same level as a Secret Service Agent. I DO NOT MEAN TO IMPLY THAT. But when Donovan told Hogan that you’d know it when you saw it, I knew exactly what he meant. Look, I have to meet a lot of people frequently, and I’ve had to develop a defensive form of observation in order to keep myself safe, and every time I’ve ever had a flare of intuition about a person’s behavior, it’s proven to be vital to protecting myself.

That’s why Donovan is so frustrated and furious at the end of this episode. If you go back to that scene in the department store, you can see how he takes his eyes off of the room while he talks to Hogan. He even tells Hogan that he shouldn’t be talking to her! Perhaps he is also developing feelings for C.J., and it’s distracting him from the job. Regardless, he slips up, and C.J.’s stalker is able to be in that room and see her emerge from the dressing room wearing the splendid black Vera Wang dress. Which he then references in his next death threat to her.

Yeah, this triggers me, and it’s extremely upsetting. I will be exactly 0% okay if this ends badly. I’m letting y’all know now.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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