Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S03E20 – We Killed Yamamoto

In the twentieth episode of the third season of The West Wing, Bartlet agonizes over a possible violation of international law to combat a known terrorist who is also a diplomat. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Well, that was deeply unsettling.

Donna

I don’t think that this episode was foreshadowing for Donna’s characterization in future seasons, but you better believe I wanted it to be. I loved seeing Donna out of her comfort zone here because she’s so fucking good at it. In the brief scene in Bismarck, we get a sense for how Donna would perform if she stepped into professional politics. She’s polite, concise, plays the part well, and she’s not condescending at all. Unfortunately, her appearance here played more of a part in Sam’s story than anything else, and it’s not fair! I want Donna in more scenes like this! I want stories of her realizing she’s really fucking good at this, and then quitting the White House, and then she’s a Senator, and then Josh works for her.

There’s your prompt, fic writers. I need it. I NEED IT LIKE AIR.

Charlie

I feel like he hasn’t had his own story in a while, either. Come on, The West Wing! Charlie and Donna are ripe for intriguing narratives! It doesn’t help that we get a lot of cute or interesting glimpses of a plot that isn’t ever resolved. We see him stoically supporting the President as Bartlet visits Mrs. Landingham’s grave. (NO, STOP IT, IT’S NOT FAIR.) We find out that Bartlet is finally ready for Charlie to seek out a replacement for the Executive Secretary position. And then Charlie teases us with the idea that he has found the woman! And then nothing happens. Bah. Really? This is also deeply unfair. Can we have another Charlie-centric episode soon?

Sam

As short as his appearance is in “We Killed Yamamoto,” I really liked what I saw of Sam. After his crushing defeat in “The Black Vera Wang,” he doesn’t gloat or wallow in this episode. No, he chooses to accept that he messed up horribly and then he moves on. I was touched by the concern that Bartlet, Charlie, and Toby ultimately showed him, but I was thrilled with the hint that beneath his calm exterior, he was mad. It provides him with a motivation that I hope to see more of. There’s a tiny peak at it when he invigorates the ecology legislation that Jane and Muriel brought to him. That is what I want to see more of. It’s reminiscent of what we were promised in “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” and in “Manchester, Part II.” I guess that’s also why I haven’t enjoyed season three as much as the previous two seasons. I set my hopes high for the re-election campaign, and I feel like the season has merely trudged from one point to another. More! More anger! More action!

Josh/Amy

I think I’ll always just be eternally confused by this relationship and the way the writers have chosen to characterize Amy. In the cold open, Amy feels like a manic pixie dream girl when juxtaposed with Josh playing the straight man. Except everything we’ve seen of Amy before would suggest that she’d never be this kind of person? And it’s only in this scene that I ever felt this way about Amy. Generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed her character, and I still do, but the way that Sorkin and company write her just makes me feel uncomfortable. I get that this is the point to an extent. “We Killed Yamamoto” explores their relationship dynamic when their politics are in opposition to one another. So part of me wants to see more of this! I think it’s an interesting story to elaborate on. Instead, the plot here comes off as painting passionate feminists as uncaring relationship killers! Like… that isn’t a thing that happens? At least not like this. Because Josh’s whole story becomes about how Amy has ruined his day and he’s this sad puppy dog who gets yelled at by his boss, who rolls up the proverbial newspaper to smack him on the head for not “taming” his feminist girlfriend (OH MY GOD, NO NO NO NO NO), and Josh is just sad y’all. This is less about the political compromises the Bartlet administration is making to appease Republicans and more about men made sad by feminism.

No. Just…. no! It’s not interesting, it’s not entertaining, and it’s certainly not engaging. It’s boring. It’s offensive. It’s grating. And I want so much more from this show!

(I’ve said that a lot. It’s because I really do like The West Wing.)

C.J.

Oh god, HERE IS SOMETHING THAT IS JUST UNIVERSALLY GREAT TO ME AND I REALLY LIKE IT AND I LOVE THAT SORKIN ADDRESSES THE COMPLICATIONS OF THE SITUATION AND WOW C.J. AND SIMON ARE CUTIE PATOOTIES. There is so much sexual tension here that it hurts, and I just want these two to be happy, despite that I recognize how unethical it would be of Simon for him to start a relationship with C.J. UGH, RULES.

I can’t say it’s surprising that these feelings have developed. I mean, I did pick up on it. (For once!) But it’s surprising once you think about how dramatically “The Black Vera Wang” ended, which makes me terrified of C.J.’s stalker. They’re still out there!!! UGH, so part of me wants to ship C.J. and Simon until the oceans dry up, but then the part of me that’s survived Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin is shrieking, “DON’T LIKE A CHARACTER. DON’T DO IT. YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.”

This episode is unfair on so many levels.

Bartlet

So, it’s no surprise that I still don’t like how this season has cast all Middle Eastern characters as terrorists aside from Rakim Ali in “Isaac and Ishmael,” which isn’t even technically in canon. It dates the show, it’s lazy, and it makes things uncomfortable in a way that is clearly not meant to be uncomfortable. Because Bartlet’s story here is deeply unsettling otherwise, since he has to face one of the most difficult and challenging decisions of his entire career. As the evidence against Abdul ibn Shareef becomes more and more damning, Bartlet has to cope with the fact that the people around him are essentially recommending assassination. That’s what’s meant by Fitzwallace’s comment that makes up the title of the episode. We killed Yamamoto after Pearl Harbor, and it was a devastating blow to Japanese morale. So why wouldn’t it be justified of the United States to defend themselves against a possible attack on their soil?

Except that it’s not that simple for Bartlet. Initially, he wants more evidence. “You don’t have the guy,” he tells the Situation Room. Given that Shareef has diplomatic immunity, Bartlet wants a guarantee that Shareef is the kingpin of a terrorist cell. However, when Leo gives him that evidence, Bartlet still hesitates. When the evidence against Shareef is revealed to be inadmissible, Bartlet asks for a less aggressive way to go against the man. He was clearly trying to avoid the inevitable, and it’s Leo who is able to call it like he sees it: Bartlet lives by moral absolutes.

Now, we’ve seen this both in humorous plots and in more serious moments. Bartlet does cling to moral absolutism, and in this case, he can’t justify murder. As far as I’m concerned, that’s how Bartlet sees it. He’s ordering his government to pursue the option of assassination. Even if it protects America, it still bothers Bartlet himself. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of Bartlet’s reluctance, either. If Shareef does show up in the next episode, I can’t see this ending well. So what’s Bartlet going to do? Is he going to give the order? Will he find a way around it? I admit that this is not what I thought the story would be about at the end of season three, but aside from my gripes with the racial framing, I’m interested to see how this is going to end.

Also, I’m scared. THAT, TOO. Oh god, I finish season three this week OH GOD.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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