Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E02 – 20 Hours in America (Part II)

In the second episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, everything is emotional forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.

Well, that was one of the best episodes of this show period.


I mean, there is not one bad plot in this entire episode. This is easily some of Sorkin’s most consistently emotional and powerful writing we’ve seen from the man, and I just want to take this episode and hug it close and never let it go and this is what this show has turned me into.

I’ll repeat what I said in the commission: My favorite Sam scene ever is in this episode. I know that this is a follow-up to what I said in my review of the first half of this premiere, but the story really comes to fruition here. Sam really had no idea what it was like to be Joshua Lyman and to have his job, so his role in these two episodes is to step into someone else’s shoes. It’s a humbling experience for Sam because, as we’ve seen over the course of this show, Sam can be kind of egotistical about his knowledge and expertise. And he does do incredibly well at his job! But what he does in the White House is nothing like what Josh does, and that’s what Sam’s discovery process is about.

So we get this remarkable scene in Sam’s office when MALLORY SHOWS UP. HI, MALLORY. IT WAS SO GREAT TO SEE YOU AGAIN. And through this, Sam has this incredible epiphany about the Oval Office, about Josh Lyman, and about himself. I love that he says that the Oval Office is where things are happening, not just because it relates to his understanding of the chaos of the place, but because it allows him to have a new appreciation for what Bartlet does as well, you know? It’s like Sam gets a taste of what it’s like to have a position like Josh’s and Bartlet’s. IT’S BASICALLY VERY NEAT, I ENJOYED IT, AND I DIDN’T HAVE TO USE MY WHALE PAINTING TO TELL HIM TO STOP. All in all, the best.


Real quick, two things I hated.

1) Nancy calling Fitzwallace a “sissy” for not wanting to nuke EVERY LIVING ORGANISM WITHIN A 7-MILE RADIUS in Qumar.

2) Mohammed al-Mohammed al-Mohammaed bin Basir. I’m writing this THREE DAYS AFTER THE FACT. Like, I wrote this review, this section just had me hating Nancy, and then a thing happened. That thing? I heard a white gay dude refer to a seemingly Middle Eastern man (HE WAS NICARAGUAN, YOU ASSHOLE) as “Mohammed al-Mohammed” and I realized what a horrible fucking line this was. And I completely missed it. I thought Toby was talking about a real person!!! Did Sorkin seriously drop in a line in his show where a character comes up with the most racist caricature of a name and no one said he shouldn’t do that? BOOO.


She doesn’t have that big of a role in this episode since her story mostly supports what Charlie goes through with Andrew. I did want to comment on her SUPER EMOTIONAL SCENE with Anthony, though, because endless pain. It’s so sad to see Anthony lashing out because of Simon’s demise, especially since it’s not fair that C.J. is the brunt of all that pain. She is trying so hard to help Anthony out, but she works in the White House. I can’t imagine a place where people have less free time than the folks who work there. So the deck was stacked against her from the very beginning.


SO MANY CHARLIE STORIES IN ONE EPISODE, Y’ALL. We get THREE unbelievably heartbreaking/emotionally destructive scenes involving him, and it’s like my request to have a Charlie-centric episode was answered thrice. Oh my god, can we talk about this.

First of all, we get to see the return of the lovely Lily Tomlin as Debbie Fidderer, who y’all know I was rooting for with every cell in my body. But her second interview goes even worse than her first one. She seemed like such a perfect fit for me, but she refused to tell Bartlet why she was fired from her previous job. Of course, that made me even more suspicious. What the hell happened? Why did hiring Charlie cause her to lose her job?

BECAUSE SHE REFUSED TO HIRE THE GUY THAT HER BOSS WANTED. SHE CHOSE CHARLIE OVER A CONFLICT OF INTEREST. Oh my god, and despite how unfair this was, she still refused to rat her old boss out. My heart, MY HEART. Y’all, I am so excited for Lily Tomlin to become a part of this cast.

Oh, but Sorkin wasn’t done with me or Charlie yet. No, because then he steps in for C.J. after Anthony uses that one misogynistic slur against her, and I HAVE NEVER SEEN CHARLIE ACT LIKE THAT AND OH MY FUCKING GOD. Not only does he defend C.J. by asking that Anthony at least keep his disrespect for her to himself, but he then makes himself Anthony’s Big Brother in the process. Hi, Charlie, I love you. As if this wasn’t enough, then there’s one last moment to drive the nail into the coffin holding all my feelings: Charlie’s sister gave him a photo of his mother and him. Yeah, that is not okay. It’s the second episode of season four, and already Sorkin is doing his inanimate object torment with me. Fucking hell, not fair.


I don’t think that the domestic terrorist attack that happens halfway through “20 Hours in America (Part II)” is going to be contained to just this episode, but holy hell, what a jarring change in the tone and scope of this episode. It does allow Sorkin to give Sam the epiphany regarding his own talent (speechwriting, versus what Josh does), but it also tests Bartlet, who is dealing with two major crises of his own. With the poor performance in the stock exchange threatening to sent the economy in a downturn, Bartlet’s also has the Qumari government to fear. Yeah, shit is even worse than they could have imagined after Nancy reveals that Qumar is going to blame Shareef’s death on the country they want to attack: Israel. So now they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place: Do they reveal themselves as the perpetrator of Shareef’s assassination, or do they risk a war based on a complete lie? At the very least, Bartlet isn’t willing to shy from the responsibility of what he and the Chiefs did, but that’s doesn’t provide a solution to their problem. Admittedly, I can’t even imagine how they’re going to deal with this and run a successful campaign. Plus, how are they going to keep this a secret from the White House staff???

And yet, amidst this, the pipe bomb attack strikes. The episode has this jarring shift in tone (that’s intentional, obviously), and I just sat there in horror. So much of the talk of terrorism in season three was foreign, so it was also a bit shocking to me that this was a domestic attack. God, THIS IS HOW SEASON FOUR STARTS. Who was responsible? Why did they do it? Would there be another attack? None of these questions were answered, but to be honest, I didn’t expect them to be. I couldn’t help but think about Sam’s words about chaos theory. You can’t control what goes on the world, and this is an example of that. So what can you do? You can react, and you can find the beauty and order in the chaos, and that’s what the White House is expected to do every day, even when things aren’t as horrific as they are in this episode.

Donna, Josh, and Toby

How can I choose a favorite plot in this episode when they’re all so amazing? Simply put, I love what Sorkin does with these characters’ story. I’m happy I picked up on the fact that this was meant to stick Josh and Toby into an environment where they were the only people still in the Washington state of mind. For the bulk of “20 Hours in America (Part II),” Donna is forced to listen to these two bicker. Endlessly. Granted, what they argue about is extremely relevant to season four. How will Bartlet’s campaign be run? Toby is still stuck on the issue of Bartlet being the smartest person in the room, but Josh is worried that Toby’s focus is on beating Ritchie, not winning the election. And yeah, those are two separate things! There’s an ideological aspect to what Toby wants, but Josh wants something that’s more practical.

However, it’s Donna – wonderful, brilliant Donna – who provides the most fascinating dynamic to this plot. After spending so much time getting these people home, after listening to hour upon hour of fighting and ideological warfare, she finally has to call out Josh and Toby for so gloriously missing the point. They missed the journey. They missed out on the fact that they’ve been meeting actual citizens with needs and opinions and desires because they were so concerned with AN ARGUMENT. God, Donna, THANK YOU FOR THIS PERSPECTIVE. I mean, she points out that she’s writing letters on behalf of both them to the surviving families of the terrorism victims. If that isn’t a sobering moment, then I don’t know what is. Plus, it’s precisely her call-out that encourages Josh and Toby to actually sit down and listen to Matt Kelley in the scene that follows this. I don’t know that they ever would have done so without her.

DONNA FOR PRESIDENT, Y’ALL. What a stunning opener for season four. I’m actually really excited to see what’s coming up next.

The video commission for “20 Hours in America (Part II)” can be downloaded right here.

Mark Links Stuff

– If you would like to support this website and keep Mark Does Stuff running, I’ve put up a detailed post explaining how you can!
– Please check out the All Mark Watches videos for past shows/season are now archived there!
– I will be traveling for many events! Check the Tour Dates/Appearances page for up-to-date tour events.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in The West Wing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.