Mark Watches ‘The West Wing’: S04E04 – The Red Mass

In the fourth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, there’s, like, one good thing here that is great, and then everything else is really unfair and scary and this season is going to hurt me over and over again. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark for watch The West Wing.


  • Consider this season’s score as a 4 out of 4. This is a damn fine start to the season, and it’s gotten me even more excited about what’s to come!
  • I can’t believe I actually said that this was the first time we saw who Amy was working for. UM, THE STACKHOUSE FILIBUSTER??? Oh my god, my brain forgot like four episodes that he appeared in. I didn’t realize it until the end of the episode, and by then, I’d already embarrassed myself. Whoops.
  • SO! Stackhouse is great. HE’S REALLY GREAT. It’s fantastic that this episode opens from the perspective of Amy and Stackhouse, not just because of the humor that comes from Amy accurately predicting both Donna’s and Josh’s reaction to Ritchie’s AMA speech, but because the idea of Stackhouse running as a third party candidate is so appealing. Granted, it’s a pipe dream that lasted less than forty minutes worth of episode time, but I LIKE IT.
  • How Ritchie is going to win this election: by being a constant reference to George W. Bush. I mean, okay, I suspected as much, but I didn’t expect that it would be so continuously blatant. A great deal of what Josh, Toby, C.J. and Donna worry about and discuss is the low expectations that Ritchie faces in the upcoming debates. Or… debate (the singular), I should say. Ritchie’s persona – that he’s a down home country boy who is a real American – sets the bar so much lower for the debate, while Bartlet’s persona – that he’s an elitist leftist politician whose a part of the Washington machine – means that the bar is so high enough that unless he performs perfectly, he’s bound to “lose” the debate. (Oh god, IT’S OBAMA/ROMNEY ALL OVER AGAIN. All over again. And Bush/Kerry. Or Bush/Gore. I am experiencing horrible flashbacks to those debates, I swear.)
  • So how exactly are they supposed to deal with this? The answer doesn’t come until nearly the end, so there’s a lot of freaking out on the part of C.J., who worries that if Ritchie appears even the minimum level of capable, he’ll win by default.
  • I would have loved a scene where we got to see Donna in a meeting with that motivational speaker. Not fair.
  • Though I did like Josh’s little speech to Donna after she got back.
  • Okay, so, one of the things I love about a good story is how a later scene can completely re-contextualize what you’ve once experienced. That’s happened a few times over the course of this show, but in “The Red Mass,” Sorkin does this WITH ADDED HEARTBREAK to the scene between Leo and Israeli Foreign Minister Ben Yosef. Their conversation was heated, intense, and uncomfortable, especially once it appeared that Yosef understood why Leo was so invested in getting Israel to delay their response to Qumar. Except we all missed how. HOW? HOW DID WE ALL MISS THIS? (Well, how did I miss it, is what I should say, because I never figure out anything ever. I’m sure some of you did because you don’t have my brain.) Oh my god, how responsible is Leo going to feel for this? What about Bartlet? How much worse can this get? 
  • Yeah. Every time I ask that, this gets worse. I should stop doing that.
  • How about Charlie getting Anthony to argue about the separation of church and state, which then inspires him to write a vulgar letter on the back of a copy of the First Amendment? BEST. BEST BIG BROTHER EVER.
  • Is it okay that I admit that I don’t understand a plot or a reference? I feel like that’s okay for me to do that for y’all. Because I don’t get Sam’s story and the whole “Horton Wilde” thing. I don’t! Is it Sorkin seeding a future story involving… Democrats picking better candidates in districts where they’ve historically lost??? Maybe? Heart attacks? I feel like nothing happened here.
  • Despite that I referenced Waco in the last review, I have to admit that this story didn’t exactly pan out how I expected it, but that’s actually good. For once, something didn’t end in disaster! Of course, literally seconds go by before Sorkin brings down the hammer of sadness on us by having Yosef killed. THANKS. THANKS FOR THAT.
  • Actually, thanks for the scene where Amy finally rips into Josh and begs him to STOP. BEING. MAD. AT. HER. She was the one who lost her job because of what he did at the end of season three! She was the one who needed to work somewhere else! WHY IS EVERYTHING ABOUT JOSH? My god, I feel like it came a bit too late, but it was SO SATISFYING TO WATCH.
  • I’m curious to see what the format for the lone debate is going to be. How is that going to benefit Bartlet? For real, can we get the whole debate covered in a single episode, too? Oh god, does Toby’s comment to C.J. mean that we’ll get a prep episode as well? THIS IS SO EXCITING. THERE IS SO MUCH FUN AHEAD FOR US.
  • Again, I admit that if Stackhouse had been a genuine part of the upcoming election, I would have loved it. But I also enjoyed Stackhouse’s respectful way of bowing out of the race so that he could support the President. This episode – and the previous ones in season four – are all constantly building and building the tension of this massive story arc, and I really am pleased with how this is going.

The video commission for “The Red Mass” can be downloaded right here.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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