Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E03 – College Kids

In the third episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, the Qumar situation becomes even more complicated, while a visit to a college (and recent events) inspires an examination of the cost of school. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.



Oh, I am so glad she is here. I AM SO GLAD. And it’s neat how this episode both plays with and dissects the humor that Lily Tomlin brings by making her character accountable for what she’s said in the past. In this case, Charlie does his best to try and impart the severity of her current position (which isn’t the same as the job she held before), as well as the fact that her past comment about putting arsenic in the President’s water was probably POORLY EXECUTED. It’s interesting to me that both Debbie and Bartlet make poorly-timed jokes during extremely serious moments, because all that got me to think was that good lord, these two were meant to work together. And while Bartlet certainly thinks she’s a weirdo, I got the sense that both of them harbor this intense sense of respect towards the other one. Bartlet suspected that when he told her that she was all right, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse were true, that for all the humor that Bartlet and Debbie hide behind, they like one another. But I’m speculation/projecting a lot here. I DO THAT. OFTEN. At the very least, I’m happy that Debbie’s passed her necessary tests and will be working in the White House. More Lily Tomlin is never a bad idea.


Okay, y’all should know by know that I love serialized stories, so the fact that Josh and Toby’s experience the previous night in the bar plays heavily into the plot in “College Kids” is extremely pleasing to me. (And to be complete about that thought, literally every plot here is carried over from the season premiere. AWESOME. WAY AWESOME. If season four could keep this up the whole time, I would be a very happy fan.) But I also loved it because it shows these two taking Donna’s advice. They listened to someone else, someone unconnected to the Washington machine, and they turned into into a serious initiative for the campaign.

I must admit to y’all that I take this particular plot very personally, and I imagine there are plenty of you, swimming in debt, who wish so desperately that the tax incentive that Toby and Josh discuss was real. I had to drop out of college because I couldn’t afford to attend it anymore, and there’s always going to be a part of me that wished I could have stayed and finished out my degrees. Coming from a community of mostly poor people of color, I also know how intimidating college was for the vast majority of people I grew up with. Most didn’t even pursue college because they truly believed that it was only for rich families. And I don’t blame them for thinking that way! I remember applying to so many colleges, getting acceptance letters, and then being crushed by the numbers listed in my aid reports. I wanted to go to UCLA or USC more than anything, but when USC said that, after scholarships and grants, that I would need to pay $20,000 a year to go to school, I just cried. I had my dream crushed with a single letter, and it hurt. It’s unfortunate to think about how I am not the only person who has had this experience. When your dream is held so far out of reach from you because of money, it’s incredibly discouraging, you know?

So I love that Toby refuses to give up on this, telling his fellow staff members that they need to make sure Bartlet is the candidate who will find a way to make this happen. It’s beautiful. The radical liberal in me is SO HAPPY WITH THIS.

Of course, that means it’s going to be crushed by pragmatism and lobbyists in the next few episodes because WHOMP WHOMP REALITY.


It took me a bit to understand why everyone was freaking out over the Sullivan case, but I GET IT. I UNDERSTAND. The fear that these people have about third parties is that statistically speaking, many of them would probably take votes away from Bartlet, giving Ritchie the advantage. (Which got me thinking about how the Republican party started catering towards the Tea Party element of its own party to prevent such a splintering and… well, that’s a complex issue in and of itself. Oh god, we could spend so much more time than just this silly review talking about that. ONWARDS.) So, naturally, everyone freaks out.

And then Amy is back! It’s just a brief scene during the Rock the Vote concert scene, but GOOD LORD. I think I will just resign myself to never understanding this because I’m not straight and I just don’t get it. Okay, so it seemed as if Amy and Josh weren’t together anymore, and that wouldn’t surprised me after what happened at the end of season 3. And why would Amy tell Josh that she misses him if they were still dating? But then this suffers from the exact same problem as before. Amy exists in the plot to make Josh angry that his feminist girlfriend is doing things that benefit herself politically and financially. Seriously, it’s apparent now that Josh would be happy with Amy if Amy only ever did things to make his life easy. And if the writers would just explore this a little more, I might be interested in it, but the extent to which this story plays out every time it’s on screen is exactly the same! There’s a hope that they can be fine together, and then Amy reveals she’s doing something good for herself, then Josh gets really upset, and then we never see anything else beyond this. 



Hey, remember when I said that the previous episode did a great job speaking to the chaos of the West Wing? LOOK AT THIS EPISODE. We’ve got the developing political disaster in Qumar, the Sullivan decision, and the possible Waco-esque terrorist threat in Iowa from the Patriot Brotherhood, who, by the way, probably planted the bombs at Kennison State. This is in one episode. Actually, that’s not even an accurate portrayal of how layered this is because I forgot to mention that there’s a re-election campaign hanging over all of this.

Which Bartlet is handling like a champ, y’all. I was so happy that we got a chance to see Bartlet give that speech to the NEA. Martin Sheen is so good at this role. He’s a truly exemplary speaker, and watching Bartlet improvise that speech? Goddamn, I’d probably vote for him, too.

Of course, as I said, this is far more intense and layered. The Qumar problem has gotten so much worse, y’all, and it’s not that I’m surprised by it. In one sense, this is exactly what I expected to happen! But then, at the same time, it totally isn’t. A country isn’t going to take the disappearance of someone like Shareef by ignoring it. However, what Qumar did decide to do has put the U.S. into a frustrating circumstance. So Leo brings Jordan Kendall in to advise the president. (omg JORDAN IS BACK!!!!) And IT’S STILL AWFUL. Fuck, could you even imagine what it would be like to find out that your president ordered a secret assassination and is now trying to cover it up? Well, Kendall doesn’t know what Fitzwallace and Leo came up with, but Bartlet does, and there’s a very visceral moment where he realizes how far this has gone. How the hell are they going to get out of this??? Y’all, there’s only so much more they can do before the truth comes spilling out, and that is going to be a fucking disaster. If Jordan Kendall, as experienced and brilliant as she is, can’t foresee the legal ramifications of what they’ve done, how can Leo, Bartlet, or Fitzwallace do the same?

Plus, now there’s a possible siege going on in Iowa. I made reference to Waco earlier because it’s a little hard not to compare what is ostensibly a white separatist terrorist group to that disaster of a event in our nation’s history. I suspect we’ll see more of Agent Casper and the Patriot Brotherhood in the next episode, as well as further complications with the Qumar issue. Somehow, the President has got to keep his campaign going, too. I don’t envy Bartlet at this point of the story at all. Basically, this feels like the lead-up to the end of season two. We’re on the precipice of something huge, and it’s not just the upcoming election anymore. Qumar isn’t going away, and I’m frightened of the twist that’s waiting up ahead. BECAUSE Y’ALL KNOW THAT IT’S THERE. Oh god, I am so unprepared for this season.

The video commission for “College Kids” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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